“I was born in Syria, and my dad was the only English teacher in the city…everybody knew him. Because of that, education was always a trademark for us. In fact, in my family, there were so many doctors who came before me. But medicine didn’t really appeal to me, I was leaning more toward mechanical engineering…something with more math and science. Then my grandfather died of COPD…and I realized that a good doctor could have helped him. So I started thinking…and being a physician became much more attractive to me. After graduating high school, I finished six years of medical school in Damascus and went on to do my residency in Aleppo. During this time, I would see signs for doctors in western countries and I’d think to myself, “How can I go there?” It was always my dream. I quickly learned that in Syria, to be a doctor, you also have to be a politician…it’s what you have to do to survive. After three years, I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I started looking into my options. To become a doctor in the United States, you have to study medicine in English again (in Syria, it’s taught in Arabic), pass three exams in English and go to the embassy and get a visa, which is the biggest obstacle. Then you have to travel to the U.S. for interviews…and at the end of all of this, you might not even match. So it’s a long, risky, expensive trip. But I started studying anyway, and in a couple of months, I was ready. I passed with very good marks and received my permit to travel. I stayed for three months to do my clinical skills assessment and to interview, then I had to go back to Syria. I didn’t match. The next year, I tried again. I didn’t match. Luckily my family was very supportive…if I needed anything, they were ready to help me, they were behind me. But I decided I’d had enough, so I went to work in Saudi Arabia on a two year contract. Still, the U.S. was my dream. So a year later, I tried again. This time, I matched. It was the best feeling ever…my world was flipped upside down. I knew I couldn’t go back to Syria…they could take my passport and stop me for any reason, so I called my parents to come and see me in Saudi Arabia and to say goodbye. That was the hardest time for me because I knew it was very possible that I would never be in Syria again, that this would be the last goodbye. The feeling I got when the plane took off was like a tree being pulled from its roots. I still have three brothers and four sisters inside. People in Syria are just like you and I, all they want is to raise their kids, get an education and live a good life.”

— Dr. Obaeda Harfoush, Capital Regional Pulmonary Associates

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