A Long Road,
Written By: Dr. Elsa Raskin, M.D.
Taken from “This Side of Doctoring, Reflections from Women in Medicine”
Edited by Eliza Lo Chin
I graduated from Geneva Medical School in Switzerland, and before starting residency, I took some electives in the United States to broaden my clinical experience and improve my English. During a hand surgery conference in New York, shortly before I was to return to Switzerland, a very attractive fellow approached me and asked me out on a date. Initially I declined, but he persisted until I finally agreed to venture out with him. We immediately fell in love. At the time, he was finishing his orthopedic training at New York University (NYU). Although I had strong feelings for him, I was eager to return home to familiar surroundings and my prearranged residency in plastic surgery.
Through countless letters and phone calls, our overseas love only grew stronger. Months later, he arranged to attend an orthopedic course in Davos, Switzerland, and during the same trip, met my family in Geneva. We traveled to Paris together, where we decided to get married. Because his transfer to Switzerland would have been impossible for administrative reasons, I had to be the one to move. As soon as I completed my general surgery internship in Switzerland, I packed up and moved over.
I enrolled in the general surgery program at NYU. The majority of our rotations were at Bellevue, the largest and busiest city hospital in New York City. Most rotations entailed being on call every other night, although, on some services, I worked until midnight on my “off” nights as well. Realizing that I could not maintain this pace for another five years, I began considering other options. Ophthalmology and oculoplastic surgery were appealing fields, but quite honestly, after six months at Bellevue, anything else seemed attractive. We were also thinking of starting a family in the near future, and a more achievable career goal for me seemed like a good idea at the time.
After obtaining a research grant in ophthalmology, I completed a residency at New York Eye and Ear and enthusiastically embarked on an oculoplastic fellowship at Children’s Hospital in Pennsylvania. During the fellowship, however, I realized the shortcomings of the field: I could offer my patients only limited surgical options or refer them out. I sadly remembered my original career goal and became angry with myself for having surrendered my dream so easily. Amid all the changes in my life-moving to a new country, getting married, trying to navigate a foreign medical system, I had somehow lost myself, lost a little of the momentum. So many of my women doctor friends described similar experiences. When they married and moved to other countries, most ended up becoming housewives. I just couldn’t let the same thing happen to me.
Eventually, through several contacts, I obtained a position with the Pittsburgh plastic surgery department. Simply needing to take a chance, I left Philadelphia in the middle of my oculoplastic fellowship. My husband was extremely understanding, having seen me desperately trying to find my way.
The Pittsburgh plastic surgery program offered a wide variety of surgical cases, and I found myself learning quickly while taking on major reconstructive procedures. Although this was a time of professional fulfillment, I was lonely living in a strange city without my husband.
An unexpected pregnancy came along to complicate matters. I now had to face both a grueling schedule and morning sickness alone. I also realized that, according to the requirements of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, I still nee