A First Generation Immigrant

I am a first generation Turkish- American woman. My father,  a Turkish Airforce cadet,  won a scholarship to study engineering at the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana in the early sixties.  I was born during his Master’s study.  My older brother, also a physician, was born in Turkey five years prior. My father studied English for six months at Georgetown University before beginning his Engineering studies.  After six years of study, we moved  back to Turkey so my father could  fulfill his military obligation. Back in Turkey  he witnessed a lot of corruption in his profession of Structural Engineering. More than once he was threatened or coerced into signing off on unsafe building projects. It was completely against my father’s nature to submit shoddy or unsafe work.

My father is a very disciplined and ethical man with a strong work ethic. I believe he took after his grandfather who was appointed to be senator from my father’s home town of Malatya when Turkey first formed its democratic government in 1923. My great- grandfather was politically very outspoken. He never actually  served in the senate, though.  Someone poisoned his tea and he died at the age of forty-two.

Dismayed by the corruption in Turkey, my father decided to move back to the US to pursue his career. He found a job in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is just across the border from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. We settled in Canada until my mother and brother could secure their American visas.  Four years and two American visas later ,we moved to Southern California , when I was nine years old.

My brother was to pave my way into medicine. My father wanted him to be a doctor. I remember them sitting at the kitchen table discussing what MCAT scores he would need to get into medical school with his GPA. My father always reminded us that when he came to the US he didn’t even speak the language and he got his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees. He told us,  “I am paying for your education, you speak the language. You should be able to get at least a master’s degree,  if not better.” I can’t imagine moving to another country and studying their language for just six months and even passing a single class. My parents left their entire family in Turkey and built a life for their children. They wanted their children’s success to be proof of the value of their sacrifices.

It is in this context of my childhood that failure was just not an option. I was not as focused as my brother initially for years of sacrifice. It took my parents some pushing and prodding. As a female applicant in the late 80’s I was part of 30% of the entering class,  so I had somewhat of an advantage as a minority applicant.  I interviewed at six medical schools. I was accepted at five and an alternate in the sixth. The first two years of medical school were awful. I was living alone,  on the east coast miles away from family,  and in constant fear of failing out of school.  I thought about quitting twice but managed to hang in there. The clinical years were much better and I got my confidence back.  I cried tears of joy through our entire graduation ceremony. I couldn’t believe I actually made it.

My parents were devastated when I had to close my practice after the case of Sham Peer Review.  I was divorced at the time with minimal savings. I spent months looking for a job that was commuting distance of my ex-husband since we shared custody of our children. I was offered several jobs only to have the offers retracted when they found out I was named on the  Medical Practitioner’s Data Bank. My medical license was not suspended but because I had a summary suspension of my hospital privileges the effect was just as bad. Physicians in  surgical specialties, like Ob/Gyn, need hospitals for a significant portion of their practices. I was told that hospital committees would be hard pressed to grant me hospital privileges again. I was severely depressed, embarrassed and ashamed. I felt I had let my parents down. I am so grateful that I had my children which served as a buffer against self harm. More than once I thought I had no reason to live.

Eventually,   I found some part time work at a hormone replacement clinic and then as a wound care doctor. I worked for about a year in a small African country delivering babies but missed my kids terribly so I returned to the US.  I started taking a lot of Family Medicine CME courses and eventually found a rewarding outpatient job as an Ob/Gyn/Family Medicine physician at an FQHC- a Federally Qualified Healthcare Clinic.  It’s been seven years now and I still have PTSD from the ordeal.  Experts on Sham Peer Review cases have observed patterns around the circumstances and types of doctors that are targeted by hospital committees and State Boards. The targeted doctors are often foreign born, foreign trained and apparently those with foreign names. Small town hospitals, new grads and female physicians are also commonly targeted. My first job interviewer as I finished my residency suggested I change my first name. I thought it was ludicrous, but now I understand.  I achieved my MD with my maiden, very foreign surname. Changing any part of my name would be an insult to my parents that was beyond repair. It was never an option. I couldn’t have finished my studies without their unending support and my parents still proudly state that both their children are physicians.




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