"I can be a really good surgeon and make really good clinical judgements and I can still have my nails done, I can still feel like a woman, and look like a woman."
Dr. Tara Margarella (NY Med, Chief Surgical Resident)
To start, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a story that serves as a motivation behind this new blogging adventure I hope to embark on. A few years ago, I posted a picture on Facebook of my obnoxiously multi-colored but absolutely adorable Chanel espadrilles in the same frame as a few (bloody) teeth I had just successfully extracted. The picture caption read "When you really really love oral surgery, but you're still a girly girl 💁🏻". One of the comments was from a fellow NYU College of Dentistry female colleague who responded with the quote I used above by Dr. Margarella. I instantly loved that quote and I still do. In fact, it's partly the inspiration to start my new Instagram blogging endeavors.
However, in retrospect, I was actually insulting myself and further propagating this idea that a woman who likes fashion and takes care of herself in a very feminine way is somehow contradictory to a women who also likes oral surgery. That's definitely not the case. And I hope that as I start this new blog I can inspire other women who love being women and also love medicine, especially those who love surgery, to really embrace both of these passions because they are not mutually exclusive.
Today I am a first year Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery resident at Boston University. What does that mean? Well it means that I just finished dental school (graduated in May 2017 from NYU College of Dentistry) and now I am in my second year of medical school. Wait what?
Before we talk about my seemingly complicated residency let me take you back to how it all started. I skipped a few grades and started my rigorous academic journey at the age of 16 at the University of California, Berkeley.
I graduated from the Berkeley in May 2010 with a B.S. in Microbial Biology, a B.A. in Near Eastern Studies and a minor in Farsi. At the time I was pre-med, meaning I intended to apply to medical schools and was completing the prerequisites required. I knew I wanted to take a year off for myself because I was so very young at the time and didn't feel like I "life experiences". After graduation, I joined a Crohn's disease clinical research project to get exposure to a hospital setting. Although I was in the hospital dealing with patients and shadowing physicians, there wasn't a lot of hands-on experience and I felt like my artistic side was completely lost in this field. I dropped my research position and started teaching elementary school children in the meantime. Let me just say, being a teacher during my time off was such a rewarding experience. I've always respect my teachers but after taking on that role my admiration for life-long teachers multiplied.
Needless to say, I lost interest in becoming a physician. I still loved medicine but I wanted to DO THINGS with my hands. So what was the solution? Dentistry. Dentistry is the perfect combination of art and medicine (at least that's what I wrote in my personal statement when I applied to dental schools). During my transition time as a teacher, I studied for the DATs and prepared my application. In the fall of 2013, I packed my bags and moved all the way to Manhattan to start a new adventure at NYU College of Dentistry (and of course live my wildest dreams of channeling an effortlessly gorgeous and daringly fashionable Carrie Bradshaw). Towards the end of my second year as a dental student I fell in love with Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.
This was everything I ever wanted. It was art. It was challenging. And above all it was fantastic medicine. I especially fell in love with the world of Cleft Lip & Palate reconstructive surgery. This was my calling. I wanted to help make smiles. I wanted to touch people's souls. I wanted to be an Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon.
This path has not been easy and I had to overcome many challenges including skeptical men who questioned my capabilities. But I still got there, with groomed hair and Gucci sneakers.
The final chapter of my academic story (and I promise this will be the end of this long bio). Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery is a very competitive speciality. If you want to be a good applicant, your resume had to be impressive. Because my decision to pursue this speciality came later than most students in the field, I had to hustle and make up for lost time. I quickly found valuable mentors and started doing research, founded the very first Cleft Lip & Palate student organization at NYU (called Generation Smile) and submerged myself fully in the speciality. The more surgery I observed, the more I fell in love.
A year later, I gave up sleep completely and took the NBME Basic Science exam (CBSE) during the middle of dental school. What does that mean? Well it means that as a dental student I had to take a medical school exam and pass while continuing to see my patients, take dental school exams and juggle a personal life. I had to teach myself two years of medical school in just two months. With an amazing support system, I completed this very difficult step in my career and did well. I prepared my application to residency, submitted in early August and waited. I applied to 18 programs in total. This is not a lot of programs and it was a risky move. But it was important for me to only apply to programs that were well rounded and could offer me excellent surgical experience as well as a strong educational background. I also wanted to be in a major city so I limited my program choice to California (near my family) and a few locations in the east coast including Boston and New York. I was offered 14 interviews. I attended 10. I ranked all 10 schools and in January 30th, 2017 I matched into Boston University dual MD 6 year OMFS residency program.
Now when you want to apply to OMFS you can apply to a 4 year program or a 6 year program. The difference between the two is that the 6 year program is a dual degree meaning you would have a DDS but also go back to medical school to obtain an MD. Of course, I chose the longer route because like my dad always said to me "you'll always take the toughest path". And I do. And I love it. I wanted the MD-DDS dual degree because I wanted to have endless opportunities. The dual degree will allow me to apply to fellowships after residency if I so choose. It will also give me the background and experiences necessary to be able to communicate with my fellow colleagues from different medical specialities in the operating room. Finally and most importantly, it allows me to better care for my patients.
I started my program July 1st, 2017. I am technically a resident but I am now part of the second year BU School of Medicine class as a full time medical student. Once I graduate from medical school in 2020, I will complete 1 year of general surgery, 8 months of Anesthesia and 2+ years of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery service. At the end of 6 years, I will be a surgeon. Yes I love Chanel espadrilles. Yes I love the classic Lady Dior bag. Yes I love the Anastassia Brow Wiz Pencil in Ebony. And yes I LOVE holding a 15 blade.
Thank you for joining me on my new adventure!
For daily posts, follow me on Instagram @fifteenblades
ABOUT MY PHOTOGRAPHER
A BLURB FROM MY PHOTO EXPERT
Hi everyone! My name is Akram Habibi. I’m a second year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine and a hobbyist photographer. I started learning about photography by watching Youtube videos and ended up buying my first camera the same evening I finished my MCAT (absolutely no rationale behind that decision). It forced me to dive into something completely new. I was totally out of my comfort zone but that was the beauty of it. I quickly started doing landscape photography back home in New York and here in Boston. Fast-forward about 3 years, I started working with Rola in August 2017 for her Instagram page and blog. It was another huge step in some uncharted territory, but it’s been such a great experience! All I can say to anyone is to continue trying new things that excite and challenge you. I hope everyone continues to enjoy the photos!
Follow me on Instagram @habiibs_