The Story:

As a little kid, I would pray every single night before bed. First was the "Our Father" followed by a "Hail Mary." Then I would tack on my own little prayer. "God, please protect my family, friends, and the world... or give me the power to do so." I asked God for power.

As a kid I thought superpowers from TV shows were what I wanted. I wanted to grow up to be a superhero, and that's how I would change the world. A Power Ranger, Spiderman, you name it, I'd have taken it because I thought that was the only way you could make a BIG difference.

As I grew older and the reality of that dream coming true faded, so did my desire to pray. God had let me down, or rather, He didn't answer a kid's genuine desire to help other people.



Fast forward 15-20 years later, my academic career seemed to be a non-stop success and I relished every moment of it. I crammed and picked up concepts and ideas very quickly, which became instrumental in passing tests. I became selfish, thinking that my success was due solely to my hard work and sacrifice. I began to look down on other people for not doing as well academically.

"They just didn't want it badly enough," I told myself. "If they had the discipline to not party or go out all the time, or to not waste so much time with friends or on TV shows, etc., then they could do just as well. Maybe then, they wouldn't have to whine so much about not doing well and wish things weren't so hard." Yeah, that was me. Total douchebag.

I carried that attitude through college and into medical school. Then, my moment of awakening came when I had finally applied for general surgery. I had considered applying for plastic surgery because I was enamored by the results of reconstruction in Craniofacial Trauma. However, I figured it would be "safer" to apply for general surgery, get "better" trained, and then decide what subspecialty I wanted to do.

My attitude about life changed during that interview season. I was normally very carefree, which allowed me to ease into clubs and groups that matched my wants and needs. Now, I had a grand vision of what I imagined by life to be as a Surgical Oncologist working at UCLA, curing cancer day in and day out. I needed to stay at UCLA for general surgery residency. I couldn't imagine my life moving anywhere else or doing anything else.

The amount of pressure I put on myself destroyed me. I appeared more nervous and desperate, and it reflected in my performance. Not because I couldn't handle the work or education, but because I was too mentally strained to focus on what actually mattered.

This carried over to my residency interviews, which obviously went poorly as a result. The Monday of Match Week, I got a phone call around 8am letting me know that I didn't match into ANY program I had applied for and listed.


I was devastated.


After the years of hard work, late nights, sacrifice, and pain, how could I possibly NOT match into ANY program? There had to be a mistake. This just doesn't happen to me. Not after all the work I've put in.



Little did I know that I was just entering the two most physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically taxing years of my life. I was completely lost, and for the first time, there were no guarantees in life. The hard work and academic success that I had built my life on were completely stripped from underneath me.

I eventually took a preliminary position in General Surgery at UCLA, hoping to fill any empty spot that happened to open up there later. But there was no guarantee that a spot would be available. There were 3 residents who were supposed to have spots waiting to get off the research track and back into the clinical track as it was. I could apply again through The Match and potentially waste another $5,000 on failed interviews. I could hope to land an open spot at another random program across the country whenever it opened.

I could apply for a different specialty. I did enjoy Psychiatry. Radiology would be easy and make a lot of money. Interventional Radiology is sort of like surgery, and makes a lot of money too! But that's so hard to get into. A friend switched into anesthesia, and she liked it decently well. There was a Urology spot opening up at UCLA, which is really prestigious, but do I really want to look at penises for the rest of my life? I could quit medicine altogether. Do business. Be an architect. Law school maybe? There are SO many options.


I became paralyzed by fear.


"Limitless" options are the enemy when you become focused on yourself, and what you want for your future. I also became paralyzed by doubt. Which choice is the right choice for me? I could choose poorly and end up unhappy for the rest of my life....

Everyday became a struggle. I would have to work my butt off to try to be as good of a resident as I could. I have to MAKE them see that I'm good and that I'm worthy of a spot. Half of the days, I marched into work invigorated by this thought and the prospect of making my dreams come true by my own heroic efforts.

The other half of the days, I came to work depressed because I had screwed something up the day before, or because I wasn't performing to standard, or even because someone just didn't like me and was trying to ruin my chances at ever finding a categorical spot. What if this never works out the way I want it to?! How does one carry that mental weight around each day?


You don't. You can't.


At least not by yourself. You lose yourself. Depression. Porn. Using girls in superficial relationships just for sex. Addiction to videogames. Anything to lose yourself in a moment of ecstasy, so that you can numb the pain for just a little while. Anything to make the hurt go away.



Eventually, it hurt so much that I started to pray again. This happened around halfway through my second year of preliminary general surgery residency at UCLA (spending 6 months doing 28-hour calls every 3 days at the county hospital really did me in). One emotionally draining morning in bed, I actually leaned on God because I had nothing else to lean on.


"God, if you're out there, please help me. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know where I'm going or if it's even the right thing. Please help me be strong. I've always felt that you had something big planned for me when I was growing up. I don't know if that was all just foolish or wishful thinking now. Help me figure out what I'm supposed to do."


I prayed that prayer every single day for months on end. I suppose at that point, I believed in God enough to depend on Him, but not to wholly trust in Him or His plan (I wasn't even sure He really had a plan). I really had no choice at that point.

It's interesting, because I didn't even realize this until now as I'm typing this. The second half of my second year of residency was amazing in terms of my progress. I became much better clinically and my technical skills excelled. Of course, I didn't realize it had all improved after I started praying because I figured it was of my own doing.



Eventually, a third year spot in Plastic Surgery at Loma Linda opened up. I thought to myself, "There is no way in the world those guys are going to take me," but I decided to apply anyways just for kicks. After submitting my application, they didn't get back to me, so I figured they must have rejected me already.

I forgot about that position until several weeks later when Judy, the program coordinator, called me while I was post-call at work. She asked if I was still interested and invited me for an interview. I jumped at the chance and began a long series of interviews over the next several months.

[I need to include a really funny story here, but I can't do it until after I graduate - if I make it that far.]

After a long time of deliberation over what seemed to be weeks, Dr. Hill gave me a call and offered me the position!




Two years of waiting, struggling, trying to keep my faith, and believing in myself. Going through the most emotionally and psychologically taxing two years of my life, I finally had a glimmer of hope and direction again. I didn't know what would happen from here, but I knew that I had been BLESSED in a major way.



My Thoughts:

I didn't deserve that spot. The odds were stacked against me. There were plenty of residents out there that initially wanted to go into plastics and who I'm sure had higher scores and more publications, etc, than I did. But somehow and for some reason, people believed in me. Judy told me she had liked me. Dr. Hill, the program director, liked me enough to give me a shot at this. My previous attendings and colleagues liked and respected me enough to stick their necks out for me to help me get this position.

God worked in so many unbelievable ways to get me to where I am now. There is no way I would have made it here without His doing, and there is no possibility that I would have found my way without first praying for it.