Dr. Julia I., DO
Q: HOW DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO GO INTO MEDICINE?
A: Deep down, I think I always knew. I took a year off after college, moved to Kenya and honestly that’s what decided it for me. The ability to be able to travel anywhere in the world and still care for people was something that opened my eyes – medicine is a universal language. Even if we don’t have the same native speech, I can still tell when there’s pain, I can still tell where they hurt, and I can still tell when I cause them relief of that discomfort. That’s something very special to me and I think it helped decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
Q: HOW DID YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AS AN ATHLETE INFORM YOUR LIFE AS A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR?
A: I sustained a few significant injuries in high school and college as an athlete and dancer. I got really frustrated with feeling that my doctors didn't really understand my injuries or the support I needed to get back into dance or the sports I was playing. It was like ‘Let me fix this one problem and not deal with your biomechanics, not deal with anything else that’s probably going to lead you to injury down the road.’ That passion for human movement; that’s what peaked my interest in sports medicine specifically.
Q: WHAT DRIVES YOU TO KEEP ACHIEVING?
A: I’m a big fan of the idea of taking the road less traveled. I think it pushes you to get outside of your boundaries or to get outside of your comfort zone. They say greatness never comes from comfort zones and I totally live by that statement.
I asked a friend, “What’s one word that you use to describe me?” And he said, “Unstoppable.” And it registered for me that that’s exactly what it is. I don’t think that to myself by any means, but that’s truly how I function.
Q: WE LOVE THAT. EXPLAIN HOW YOU FUNCTION…
A: Sometimes we need to be our own “hypeman”. I’m like, okay, I hit this goal, what’s next? How do I get to that next step? What do I need to climb over, dig under, walk by, hula hoop around - whatever it is. What do I need to do to get past that next obstacle? And it’s not because I’m not satisfied, it’s just because I think there can always be more done and more for my future self to achieve.
Q: HOW DOES THE CONCEPT OF BEING UNSTOPPABLE INFLUENCE YOUR WORK AND YOUR ROLE AS A WOMAN IN SPORTS MEDICINE?
A: I think this concept of being driven and passionate about furthering your craft – that’s how you leave a legacy. That’s how you make the people who follow behind you get better.
Q: AND YOU GO ABOVE AND BEYOND TO SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE, RIGHT?
A: I Iove lecturing at conferences and mentoring students or residents, especially females in sports medicine. This field is still a boy’s club, and I want them to see a strong woman who can handle herself and isn’t begging for a seat at the table, but simply is there because she belongs there.
Q: HOW HAVE YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES IMPACTED YOUR WORK AS A DOCTOR?
A: I think that being told, “sit down, be quiet, this isn’t your place, this isn’t what you’re supposed to do”, makes you push harder to be the voice for people that don’t feel heard. The things I have gone through myself as an athlete, as a woman, as a young person, as a dancer, as an immigrant – all of the things I’ve dealt with have helped mold me into the person and the doctor I am today.
Q: WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE UNDERSTOOD ABOUT YOUR CAREER THAT THEY DON’T?
A: People might see me now and go, ‘Oh wow, you’re doing really well. You’re only three years out of your training and you’re already x, y, and z.’ What they don’t see is the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it everyday. Sometimes it takes years for someone to become an overnight success. There was a lot that went into it beforehand, and there's a lot that's still going into it now.
Q: 2020 WAS A REALLY INSANE YEAR FOR YOU – YOU WORKED THE FRONTLINES, YOU GOT COVID-19 AND YOU ALMOST GOT DEPORTED AMIDST IT ALL. HOW DID YOU COPE?
A: I tell myself everything happens for a reason. And I have no regrets. This year, I had to hold so tight to that motto, because otherwise, I would have lost it.
Q: YOU VOLUNTEERED TO TREAT COVID-19 PATIENTS AT THE HEIGHT OF THE OUTBREAK IN NEW YORK. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
A: Initially my hospital had us working a telehealth COVID Clinic, but soon they put out a request for more medical providers to come volunteer to the frontlines because our ERs were getting inundated. Our ICUs were completely full. And many of my colleagues were getting sick because we didn't have enough PPE at the time. So I immediately volunteered for the frontlines. But none of this was out of character for me. I've done a lot of international medical trips in which I'm usually practicing outside of my typical scope of practice. I'm that person that runs toward the fire; I run toward the danger. I will always put myself in harm's way for someone else. That's just what I do, it's who I am. That's why I got into medicine in the first place. I’m pretty sure I terrified my family (in Canada) by making that choice, but it just felt like something I had to do.
Q: AND WHEN DID YOU RECEIVE THE NEWS ABOUT YOUR GREEN CARD?
A: The immigration ban went into effect in late April. Eight days later, I got a letter from the USCIS saying your Green Card application has been denied. I don't cry often, but when I got that letter I laid down on my floor and just bawled because I was so frustrated. I thought to myself, ‘What else could I possibly do to make me a better candidate? What else do they need? I have not known living anywhere else for the last 13 years, this place is my home. And I volunteered to the frontlines to protect my home. How can I not be good enough?’ To work so hard for something and be told you are expendable….that was really hard for me to sit with.
Q: HOW DID YOU MOVE THROUGH IT? ONCE YOU GOT OFF THE FLOOR, WHAT DID YOU DO?
A: At first I did think about giving up and going back to Canada. I easily could have. But, I realized that I had started building a life and a name for myself here. I started following my passion here. So, after calling my lawyer to figure out our next steps, I also took to social media to talk about it, to raise awareness about what it’s like to live with your life in this immigration limbo. Honestly, most people in this country are actually immigrants; at some point down the line, your family came from somewhere else. The disdain so many people have, claiming that immigrants are taking American jobs, is misplaced. We're not trying to hurt your livelihood. We're here to live a life just like everyone else.
Q: WHAT DID YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO QUESTIONED YOUR IMMIGRATION STATUS?
A: I didn't steal anyone's job. I had been living and training in the US for almost 13 years. I was already working here, during a pandemic no less. And I have worked very hard to be good at what I do. To be told that you're not important enough, or you're not necessary – it is wrong. That's exactly what I am. Whether you're an immigrant from Ethiopia, Iran, Canada, Brazil, it doesn't matter. We all have things that we can bring to the table. Medicine is my thing.
Q: TO ADD TO YOUR 2020, YOU GOT COVID-19 – CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT?
A: Zero stars. Would not recommend it. In late December, I was rounding in the hospital and I started getting excruciating body aches. Worse than any post-workout muscle soreness I’ve ever felt. Then I started feeling foggy and fuzzy – and thought, ‘Oh no, this is it’. Especially frustrating because I was scheduled to get vaccinated the following week. I tested positive that day and went straight into quarantine. Instead of spending Christmas with loved ones, I was stuck in my NYC apartment, completely isolated and alone. I haven’t seen my family in over a year! So now that I am vaccinated, I cannot wait to finally get to see them again.
Q: AFTER A HARD FIGHT AND APPEAL,YOU GOT YOUR GREEN CARD. HOW DID THAT FEEL?
A: There are no words. I was lucky. I was lucky to share my story and to speak out against the discrimination and confusion surrounding immigration. It was a really hard year, but it made me tougher as a person and it made me stronger as a doctor. It made me even more determined to keep being unstoppable and to keep pushing through to blaze the trail that I've set out for myself.
THE TEAL COLLECTION