Cultural challenges strengthen urology resident’s resolve
When Marcelo Barboza, MD was 18 years old, he traveled abroad for the first time, leaving his home in Brazil to live in Germany for a year.
“It was out of my comfort zone,” Barboza said. “Imagine someone picks you up out of your home and puts you in a new country where you don’t know anyone or speak the language. It was very different, but it was so awesome for so many reasons.”
After that, Barboza knew he wanted to live abroad again someday. Now, he’s living out that dream as a first-year resident at Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Urology.
Barboza’s path to Indiana wasn’t an easy one. In Brazil, doctors typically go straight to medical school after high school instead of first completing an undergraduate degree program. Barboza finished his medical school program and a residency program in urology in Brazil before deciding to do another urology residency in the United States. He went through the match process twice and in the meantime completed a research fellowship at the University of Miami and at IUPUI to gain more experience. It took him three years to get to residency at IU School of Medicine.
“I think that the whole struggle during those three years was part of the hardships of being a foreign medical graduate,” Barboza said. “It’s hard to prove yourself and prove you’re good enough, because schools liked my research work, but it was hard for them to know how I would be as a doctor.”
On top of trying to prove himself professionally, he also experienced financial stress and the pressures of making the right decision for his family. During his residency in Brazil, Barboza worked hard to save as much as possible, saving about half of his salary for five years before moving to the United States.
“The research fellowship in Miami was a volunteer position, so I didn’t get paid,” said Barboza, who married his wife Andreia in March 2016. “It’s hard to not know what will happen and then spend all your savings. There’s a lot of unknowns.”
He and his family have also dealt with cultural and language differences that have been challenging at times. Barboza speaks four languages, with Portuguese as his first. He is also fluent in English, German and Spanish.
“It’s worse socially than with patients, because with patients it’s pretty straightforward and mostly formal conversations, but with friends, it’s different,” Barboza said, adding that humor in particular can be challenging. “How can you make that thing that is in your mind sound the way you want to be funny?”
Because of those challenges, Barboza said he believes having strong resilience is an important characteristic for international students and residents to have. And resilience is something he saw demonstrated by his mother while growing up in Brazil.
“My mom was a single mom,” Barboza said. “She is a very strong woman. She worked as a veterinarian and teacher, and eventually she entered the army.”
Barboza’s mother, Marcia, always loved animals, and she continued working with them during her time in the Brazilian Army. They moved around a lot, but spent a couple of years living at an army base in the Amazon rainforest. The center had a zoo where his mother worked as a veterinarian.
“Now she’s retired, but she still adopts and cares for stray animals,” Barboza said. “At one point she had 10 dogs. She bought a bigger house so she could help them all.”
While Barboza misses his family back in Brazil and the transition to the United States has been a difficult one, he, his wife and his new baby girl Giulia, who was born in August 2019, are happy with their decision to move to the Midwest. The qualities he saw in his mother growing up have helped him adapt to living in a new place.
“As a foreign graduate, similar to the army, you have to have certain characteristics to help you survive in a new environment, and my mom for sure passed a lot of that on to me,” Barboza said.
And he thanks the faculty at IU School of Medicine Department of Urology for their mentorship during his research year in Indianapolis and helping him get ready for residency.
“I am grateful to the whole urology department for making me feel at home,” Barboza said.
For others struggling with adapting to living, working and studying in a different country, Barboza said his best advice is to be open to learning new things and take advantage of new opportunities.
“Having the right mindset is so important,” Barboza said. “I came with the mindset that I would do my best in whatever I can and try to adapt and not try to make things adapt to me.”
Learn more about the IU School of Medicine Department of Urology residency program.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.