Overcoming My Fear: Life as an International Medical Student

Elizabeth Armenis
Published on Jun 16, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

On the long road to becoming a physician, there isn’t just one path. Choosing to go to med school internationally was not the path Elizabeth Armenis originally envisioned taking, but she’s diving in headfirst. In this article, Liz (who you may remember from our recent Instagram takeover!) discusses the fears she had becoming an international medical student, and shares the lessons she continues to learn from the experience.

Fear. The word has boiled my blood since I started my premed years. It all started from the long hours of studying, a low MCAT score, and a less-than-friendly premed advisor defining me by only a test score. Discouraged, I skipped ahead to plan B: teaching 12th grade physiology. Besides the fact that I look like a defiant fifteen-year-old teenager teaching high school, this was not where I wanted to be after graduation. I was worried that no US medical school would take me with a low MCAT score. Instead, I applied to a Caribbean school. A whole other level of fear was about to arise: dealing with the stigma of being an “international medical student.”

Osmosis illustration of a premed student considering where to go to medical school.

My biggest fears as an international medical student

Here are the top three fears I experienced being an international medical student:

1. Fear of not being good enough. 

My premed advisors told me I wasn’t, so it must be true! I had a great GPA, attended all my classes, became a scientific scuba diver to be able to publish my research, volunteered during undergrad, and traveled to Peru to be a part of a medical clinic. If I could do all that and still not be good enough, how would I make it through medical school—especially a non-traditional route?

2. Fear of failing. 

My low MCAT score was haunting me before I started medical school. “How could I pass medical school with that score?” I thought. Following the first week of medical school, who doesn't fear to fail after that information overload? (My colleague, Jennifer, wrote a blog on overcoming failure that students in this position will find really helpful!)

3. Fear of what others thought. 

At my undergrad, if you even whispered Caribbean, you would quickly be surrounded by premed students ready to tear you down. So, imagine when I decided to take the international med student route; I feared what all my friends would think. I waited a whole week to announce the news that I had been accepted because of fear that I would be mocked or made fun of. 

Whatever fear you may be facing before, during, or after medical school could take a toll on your mental health and success as a student or health professional. I came to a low point during my first semester of medical school. I chose to seek help from a counselor to challenge these fears and focus on positive outcomes. I had to realize that not every person or path to becoming a health professional is the same. Whether you are an international medical student or a US medical student, medical school is still hard, and every student comes from a different background, struggle, and life circumstance. I overcame my fears by changing my attitude, thoughts, and study habits. 

Osmosis illustration of a student in snorkeling gear studying underwater.

Lessons I learned being an international medical student

Here are the top three lessons I learned being an international medical student:

1. Be good enough for yourself first. 

I made sure I did what I needed in a day to feel good and whole. I made sure I got enough sleep, mapped out my day, got in some exercise, and (obviously) studied hard to be able to pass exams. By practicing self-care, I built the self-confidence I needed to believe that I was good enough to study medicine and become a physician. 

2. Work hard and take failure as a chance to grow. 

During medical school, I came across Osmosis, which I began to use religiously because it had everything I needed to succeed in my courses. I created flashcards, previewed lectures with videos, and did many practice questions on Osmosis. I worked harder than ever, and I got Dean’s list at my school. I also completed basic sciences. Osmosis was my flying pig to the phrase “When pigs fly.” Because of Osmosis platform and my own hard work, I was able to successfully get through the first half of medical school, which seemed impossible at first.

Osmosis illustration of a quote explaining the benefits of international medical study.

3. Stop caring what others think. 

I got into a medical school, passed my exams, and am enjoying every moment of the process. That is all that matters! They might care that I came from an international medical school when I start rotations, but they’ll forget that when I bring my uniqueness and hard work ethic to the table. When there’s a critical patient in the ICU, the attending will not care where I went to school. They will care if I am competent, hardworking, caring, and able to work with the team. What’s to stop me from succeeding like many of my colleagues? 

So, you got into an international medical school: CONGRATULATIONS! You are on your way to becoming a unique and awesome physician! Attending an international university allows you to bring different experiences and cultural thoughts to the table. Embrace it and work hard for your dreams!

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Armenis is a third-year medical student from Ross University School of Medicine in Barbados, and a Regional Lead in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program. She was born in sunny Miami, Florida, and is planning to go into Family Medicine. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, as well as, planning the next scuba diving or Disney World trip (whenever that may be)!

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