Medical

On Moving Across the Country for Medical Training

Moving across the country for medical school was the scariest thing I ever did – and the best thing I ever did

I looked out the window as the plane touched down on the runway. I heard the gentleman next to me ask, “So what brings you to Kentucky?” I didn’t know if he assumed I was a visitor because I looked so curious peering outside at the very green landscape or he caught a glance of my “Kentucky” guide book half peeking out of my purse. I smiled and told him I had come for an interview.

Before that, I had lived in southern California my entire life. I aspired to go to medical school and landed in central Kentucky. I moved there not knowing a soul – and without any family or friends close by. I had to find a roommate online a few months before classes began, accepting that I was going to be moving in with an essential stranger. Because home and my tight-knit family were all I had ever known, I was depressed counting down the months, weeks, then days before I left California for medical school. I was terrified that I would never fit in or make any friends.

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Those first few weeks were the toughest. My dad came with me to Kentucky to help me get settled in but had to leave after a few short days. I still remember crying for hours and hours right after he departed for the airport, and I ended up all by myself in a dark apartment. On the first day of orientation, I didn’t know who to approach or talk to, as it seemed everyone already knew each other. Luckily, the most handsome fellow medical student asked me if I wanted to study together. I immediately said yes because I was so anxious about finding friends in this unfamiliar place. My family couldn’t fly out to attend the white coat ceremony held for new medical students, so I wound up being the only student that was there alone. I remember being surrounded by excited families and all I did was frantically look around for an escape. Thankfully, the loveliest classmate found me and invited me out to lunch with her family following the ceremony.

I was admittedly very homesick for months, but over time Kentucky grew on me. I experienced fall for the first time—the most beautiful, nostalgic time of the year when the leaves change colors and there really is the scent of pumpkin spice in the air. I also learned what a true college town was like—filled with spirited, enthusiastic fans that are insanely full of life. Most of all, I found out that this place has the kindest, most welcoming people—that southern hospitality truly does exist.

I chose to stay at the same institution for residency training after medical school and then took on a different residency after switching specialties. My planned four years away from home somehow became ten. It was in Kentucky that I started off as a nervous, young student and matured into a strong, capable physician.

And that roommate that I met online? She is one of my closest friends to this day. That classmate that invited me to lunch when I was all alone? She was my bridesmaid and her whole family even came to my wedding. That handsome student that asked me to join him for study sessions? He’s now my incredible, loving husband.

Looking back, I always tell others that are apprehensive about a big move that it’s perfectly fine to worry—it’s difficult not to when you’re uncertain about what the future holds. But try not to be too apprehensive—always keep an open mind as a huge life change can be the greatest thing that has ever happened, no matter how tough it may seem at first. And always remember to be patient—adjustments do get better with time. I now advise others that if they have the opportunity, they should move away from home for at least a year or two. It’s eye opening, a great experience for personal growth, and can be very life-changing. I’ve found that you really do always discover your true self in the most unexpected places.

I look out the window as the plane touches down again in northern Kentucky. I am now returning from interviewing and accepting a fellowship position back in southern California. While gazing at the lush scenery outside, I suddenly experience a remarkable sadness that I never thought that I would feel when I first landed here. I’m finally heading back home but I’m really, really going to miss this place.

I hear the nice man beside me ask, “So are you visiting or are you coming home?” I smile. Then I start from the beginning.

K
Hailing from Orange County, California, Karen Tran-Harding is a radiology resident at the University of Kentucky that found love, education, 1.5 residencies, and two corgis in the heart of the bluegrass. Hailing from Orange County, California, Karen Tran-Harding is a radiology resident at the University of Kentucky that found love, education, 1.5 resi...