Blog: Light the Flame 🔥:A Message from One Underrepresented Minority to Another, by Dr. Ian C. Bostock

When I sit across a student or resident with an interest to pursue a career in surgery, despite how adverse it may seem, I will try to light the flame. We need to have an infectious sense of encouragement. There’s something special in all of us, and it is very important that we invite everyone to the table. Promoting diversity and equal opportunity will make us stronger.

Dr. Ian C. Bostock, MD, MS, Thoracic Surgery Fellow at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

I came to this country because I wanted to train in an environment that allowed me to be exposed to excellent surgical training and participate in clinical research. When I was in the process of applying to residency, I attended a major academic conference to present a research project. I was incredibly excited! This felt like my big break. As a naïve surgeon-to-be, I wanted to check out some of the big training programs in the city. I came across a surgeon who appeared to be quite successful and happened to be from my home town; let’s call him Dr. X. I took a chance and sent him an email.

Dr. X responded to my email in a very cordial manner. We agreed to meet in his office after his operating room day, which worked well with my conference schedule. I walked into this world-renowned institution and I immediately felt a sense of potential. I imagined myself walking the halls as a surgical intern and learning how to operate. When I arrived at Dr. X’s office, I sat outside for a few minutes while he made his way over from the operating room. When I saw him, Dr. X seemed to be in a bit of a rush. He asked me to come into his office and I sat across his desk.

I spent a total of eight minutes in Dr. X’s office and I remember every bit of it with great detail. Before I could open my mouth and explain who I was and why I was there, he began to tell me about how difficult it is to become a surgeon in the United States. He went on to say that he had seen many foreign medical students try to make their way over to the States and into surgical training with very little success. He said that I looked like a smart person, but probably not a brilliant one. “Only brilliant people become surgeons in this country”, he said. Finally, he told me that not because we were from the same place, or spoke the same language, it meant that he would endorse me in any way. He recommended that I go back to Mexico, quickly said goodbye to me, and wished me luck.

A year later, I matched at an outstanding training program. I went on to successfully complete my General Surgery residency with excellent mentorship. I am now entering my last year of Thoracic Surgery training, focusing to become a Thoracic Oncologist. In the future, I hope to never forget this experience. When I sit across a  student or resident with an interest to pursue a career in surgery, despite how adverse it may seem, I will try to light the flame. We need to have an infectious sense of encouragement. There’s something special in all of us, and it is very important that we invite everyone to the table. Promoting diversity and equal opportunity will make us stronger.