Sitting in class was always a terrifying experience, not knowing if I was going to be the next one called on to read. My mind would race ahead trying to figure out a strategy on how to get out of it. I would excuse myself from the room or blame a sore throat, anything to avoid reading in front of my peers. On the rare occasions that I was called on to read, my heart would start pounding, my hands became waterfalls, and the memory of the experience would quickly be wiped away. Right after these traumatic episodes came the mocking and embarrassing comments my classmates would say to me on their way to recess. After spending so many hours with tutors, for as long as I can remember, all I knew was that when it came to reading, I was different.
Language just did not click for me as it did for everyone else around me. It would take me hours to get through reading assignments. Forget about trying to spell, that was a whole matter of its own. With great effort and perseverance, however, I got through middle and high school with great grades and lots of hard work.
When I started college, my parents sat me down to have a pre-college conversation. And no, it was not what you might be thinking it was about. My mother explained to me that I had dyslexia. From the moment the words came out of her mouth, everything clicked for me. That was when I realized what I had been going through my whole life and why I had to go to so many testing centers growing up. Finally, I had a reason for the countless hours I spent with tutors learning to read. As I sat there in shock I asked my mother, “How come you never thought to tell me this earlier in my life?” To which she responded, “Your father and I decided that it would be best for you not to fault your difficulties on dyslexia. We wanted you to learn how to work hard despite it.”
At the time, I felt frustrated and upset with my parents for concealing my diagnosis from me all those years. How could they withhold this information from me, as they sat there watching me trek my way through school?
My college experience was indeed challenging. I was living on campus and miles away from home. There were days where I wished my mother could just sit on the couch next to me and read my assignments out loud for me. Taking premed courses was very demanding, and my time was limited due to class and lab time. Yet, I had known from a very young age that I wanted to become a doctor and nothing was going to stop me from getting there. I would sit in front of my textbooks for hours on end, well past the time my classmates were done. The time would go so slowly as it would take a while for me to turn the pages. Fortunately, I was able to do well in the sciences and graduated with honors.
After graduation, I started studying diligently for the MCAT putting most of my efforts on the CARS section, only to receive an underwhelming score. I was deeply hurt by my score, but with my wife’s support and encouragement, I got back on the horse and took the MCAT two more times. My MCAT journey taught me to never give up. Although my efforts to improve my CARS score fell short due to my dyslexia, I was adamant to work on my strengths and improve my science sections and did so successfully.
Learning about my dyslexia later in life actually was the greatest gift my parents gave to me. I can now confidently say that I would not be where I am today had they told me my diagnosis earlier in life. Growing up I had nothing to point to for my difficulties. Not having anything to blame for my “bad reading” required me to work extra hard to compensate for my slow and error-prone reading. Ultimately, I still shudder to think of those experiences in class, where I was terrified to read in front of my classmates. However, the diligence and determination that I developed over the years working hard to keep up and do well in school have given me the backbone to succeed in medical school. I was adamant that my difficulty in reading should not hold me back in any aspect of my life.
I am fortunate to live in a time where disabilities like these are no longer stigmatized. I feel empowered to fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor and help people overcome their own challenges. My unique perspective allows me to be able to empathize with and connect with individuals from many different backgrounds. I consider myself fortunate to become a physician with dyslexia and dedicate my life towards helping diverse individuals in the best way that I can.
Yaacov Bergman is a medical student.