A journey to hematology – a dream come true

Dr. med. Ana Zelic Kerep

YoungEHA proudly presents our first blog authored by a guest writer, Dr. Ana Zelić Kerep, a resident physician in the Department of Hematology, University Hospital Center Zagreb, Croatia.

A journey to hematology – a dream come true

by Dr. med. Ana Zelić Kerep

I am a young hematology resident from Zagreb, Croatia. Well, young is relative, given that I graduated 8 years ago, and in the meantime did my internship, worked as a family doctor, started internal medicine rounds, lived abroad a year, got back, had a baby and started my PhD. But I still feel very young when it comes to my hematological journey. Currently, I am on maternity leave and in 6 months I will be returning to complete my residency and hopefully be a full-fledged hematologist in three years’ time. 

So, how did I decide to pursue hematology? I had no idea in medical school what I wanted to do when I “grew up” as a physician. In fact, my entire life I never once thought I would, indeed, become a doctor, the first one in my family. My first love was molecular biology, but when the time came to start university my heart chose medicine, as I felt the calling to help others and alleviate pain. Throughout medical school, you guessed it, I did not want to do hematology, AT ALL. I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to pursue until I nearly graduated.

A serendipitous meeting took place while I was working with someone from the physiology department at my alma mater (a project unrelated to medicine). After a while, I got to know this person, and, this person got to know me. She introduced me to my mentor, one thing led to another and I ended up working on my graduation thesis in a lab, nonetheless on multiple myeloma cell lines. Little by little I discovered I still do have a passion for molecular biology, but I did not want to let go of the beauty that is clinical medicine.

Then came the internship. At that time, the mandatory one-year internship included a 6-week internal medicine rotation. I chose to do hematology, just to get a taste of it. That sparked a fire that has not gone out ever since. The magic happened. For the first time ever, I had a clear goal in front of me. Hematology embodied my two great passions: molecular biology and clinical medicine. The wonderful people I saw there working tirelessly (who later on became my colleagues) motivated me to try to pursue it.

There was only one problem. There weren’t any openings for hematology residency. For a couple of years. And even if there were, there was no guarantee that I would get in, anyway.

I waited patiently. All the while working in a remote town, feeling like I am getting farther away from hematology. Hope was slowly drifting away. For over two long years I was away from my dream and drifting farther away.

So, no openings, no opportunity to prove myself, no way of starting the residency I wanted. The prospect of hematology seemed bleak. Every time a position was open, I applied. I just went for it. I left my family practice for the day and went head-on. Interview after interview, knowing that there was nothing more I could bring to the table. I applied even when I didn’t fill the criteria. Rain or shine, I was bound to show up at that interview. I didn’t prepare much for those interviews. I knew why I wanted hematology – the perfect combination of molecular and clinical. The challenge and a neverending pursuit of knowledge. Science. The small everyday victories of helping those who could not be helped anywhere else.

After many interviews, highs, and lows, I received a phone call one day. “Congratulations!” said the voice on the other end. I was really confused, waiting at the bus stop, preparing for a 3-hour commute to my office. What could anyone possibly be congratulating me for? “You got the residency, the heme residency.” I was stunned, how unreal it seemed to me. All the hard work and perseverance paid off! Turns out that my mentor from med school recommended me and that really tipped the odds in my favor. I was ecstatic.

I wish I could say it was a smooth transition. After thousands (literally) of consultations as a family physician, I was in a completely different place. Mentally and physically I was burnt out (that is a topic for a different blog post). All of a sudden I was a part of a huge machine, with no time to put myself together or savor the moment of finally being where I wanted to be. It took some time to adjust and find my place in the new environment. It didn`t matter if I wanted to do this for years, I still needed time to find that passion that led me all throughout my life.

What is hematology and how did I end up here? I see it now as a process, a journey, rather than a goal. The challenge makes it exciting and new; yet still, it combines the basic and clinical so well it satisfies my professional aspirations. The dream of hematology became a reality, with little increments of pursuing my interests and a little bit of good luck and good timing. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.

Want to hear more from Ana? Follow her on twitter @AnaKerep, and watch this space for more.

Are you interested in becoming our next guest blogger? Contact us at YoungEHA@ehaweb.org.

Last Updated on Thursday 16 January 2020.