My Story of Never Giving Up on My Dreams

Hello there! My name is Dr. Nikoleta — I’m a physician, dermatologist, lifestyle entrepreneur, mama in medicine, and confidence success strategist, and I’m thrilled to be launching the Millennial Doc podcast today!

Now you may be wondering — how did I choose the name for this podcast? First of all, I am a millennial, and I think that my generation craves that community of like-minded individuals who share the same values. As millennials, we want humanity to thrive. We are different because we need to be different. Our world can’t change unless we change. We are conscious, compassionate, creative, bold, courageous, diverse, collaborative, and adventurous individuals. 

I especially think that healthcare millennials bring something special. We’re passionate about our profession, but we also thrive on being multifaceted, which means we have many different talents in all kinds of fields. We are not one dimensional, and that is a gift!

As a healthcare professional myself, I am committed to being a well-rounded individual and living a happy, fulfilling life. Each week, I’ll be bringing you inspiring guests to share their stories as well as lifestyle, relationship, and business tips to help you consistently take action, act confident, and live an abundant life. However, this first episode is going to be something a little different. 

In this post, I’m sharing my story with you all — specifically how adversity and struggle have paved the way to my dream career and equipped me with the tools to design a happy life. My hope is that my story will empower you to make the best out of difficulty and use failure as a launching pad for growth. I firmly believe that your setbacks do not define you. What matters most is that you can push through those obstacles and not give up on your dreams. 

And with that, let’s get started!

The Power of Basketball and What It Taught Me

To really understand who I am, you have to understand how I became the woman I am today. So let’s go back to where it all started. 

I was born in 1990 and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, by parents who were Eastern European immigrants from former Yugoslavia. My mom’s family came over when she was 14 years old, and my dad came when he was in his early 20s. 

Coming from an immigrant family, I was always willing to work harder than others. I didn’t complain, I appreciated the value of hard work, and honestly, I was just so thankful for the opportunities in this country. 

Despite not knowing much English, my dad built a very successful dental technician business. My parents taught me about the “immigrant hustle” — there are no excuses for not working hard, and this attitude preconditioned me for all the adversity I would later face in life.

When I was ten years old (back in 2000), I fell in love with the sport of basketball. I used to watch Kobe Bryant and was obsessed with the Lakers. I became focused on becoming an excellent basketball player, and I would study and analyze all the top NBA player’s techniques. It was a dream of mine that I would one day play in the WNBA. I loved the thrill of a challenge.

Now, let’s fast forward two years to when I became a seventh-grader. I took a chance and tried out for the middle school basketball team. I still remember the day the coach posted the final roster list of accepted players for the seventh-grade team. I didn’t see my name on the list. I checked again and again, but it wasn’t there. 

I was devastated. I knew that I could be great if they just gave me a chance. But the coach doubted my abilities, and he didn’t think I had the drive to do well. So instead, I decided to try out for track that spring. I was stellar at running the one mile, and I always finished with excellent times. Meanwhile, I took private shooting lessons for basketball and worked for hours and hours on perfecting my game. My past failure only motivated me to keep working harder. 

For eighth grade, I moved to a top school in Northeast Ohio. I tried out for the basketball team, and this time I made it. We had a fantastic season, and I was even more motivated to keep improving my skills in preparation for high school. 

One year later, I made the varsity team as a freshman, which was a HUGE accomplishment. I love that quote from Michael Jordan: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed, and I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something, but I can’t accept not trying.” 

Basketball taught me about teamwork, discipline, work ethic, and how to always strive toward improvement. Greatness was a part of me. But then, my world came crashing down when my coach decided to cut me from the varsity team after playing for two years. 

I couldn’t believe it. I worked harder than anyone else. Everyone at school was shocked. At that moment, I started to rethink why I even played. Did I play because I loved the game? Or for some other reason? I was reminded that I played the sport because it was fun and I loved the competition. And that even though I got cut, I somehow knew that all of this happened for a reason.

From Starting an Accelerated Medical Program to Retaking the MCAT

After being cut from the varsity team, I used the setback to redirect my focus into my studies. I took advanced placement and honors classes. I graduated high school in the top 6% in my large class of 500 students, and I had a GPA above 4.0. 

As a senior, I was accepted into a six-year BS MD program, which basically means that you can become a physician in six years by finishing your undergraduate Bachelor of Science Degree in just two years. This meant that I could be a doctor when I was 24 years old. 

I now had a new mission. I started college only one month after graduating from high school. And let me tell you — this was like no other normal college experience. It was intense. I only came in with about four credit hours that I was able to use for Spanish. But other than that, it was a ton of work. 

In my first semester, I completed 12 hours. In the fall semester, I completed 23. For the next semester, I completed 25, and for the following summer, I completed 22. So basically, within one year, I had senior college-level status based on my credit hours. And I excelled in my studies and received all A’s. Only one more year to go until I would be in medical school.

On the flip side, I seriously had no time to learn about other things in life that would make me a good doctor, like nutrition and self-care. I was solely consumed with my studies.

The time came to take the MCAT, which is the pre-entrance exam for medical school. The MCAT is one of the hardest pre-entrance exams for graduate school, and I had to achieve a minimum requirement on this exam in order to start medical school at the ripe age of 20. 

I took the test and scored below the cutoff. I studied some more, took the test for a second time, and again missed the cutoff. It defeated my confidence. I no longer felt worthy of the profession, and my self-doubt crippled me. 

I wasn’t able to start medical school along with my friends. Two years went by, and I felt so left behind. 

I started to doubt if a medical career was really meant for me. But like the setbacks I had experienced in the past, this one would propel me toward greatness. I began to read about plant-based lifestyles, nutrition, and preventative medicine to help me become a better doctor in the future. I also drew closer to God and began to rely more on my faith and His plan for my life. 

During this time, I also met my now-husband, Eddy, who played a big part in my spiritual walk. I started to let go and give up control by letting God lead my life. I took an extra year off to process all this and prepared to take the MCAT again — hopefully, for the last time. I took the test and scored very high and was accepted into Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Southern California. 

I still started medical school after four years — it was just a very untraditional four years. When I did not score the best on the MCAT in the past, I remember thinking it was such a setback, but it was actually a huge blessing. The time allowed me to refocus my life on things that mattered, like my faith and relationship with my now-husband. Once I had finally been accepted, I cried tears of joy — God had answered my prayers and freed me from my self-doubt.

Pursuing Dermatology in Medical School and Redefining Success

I moved to California and started medical school at age 22. It wasn’t easy being apart from my family, but I was so excited for this new adventure. I had decided to pursue dermatology, and I wanted to ask mentors for advice on what I could do to have the best experience. I remember asking a medical student for some tips, and this is what he said to me: 

“How do you think you will get into dermatology without any physicians in your family?”

Dermatology is one of the most competitive fields in medicine, and so what he was saying was that I shouldn’t even try. He mocked the fact I was even pursuing it as an option.

I decided not to listen to him. I knew what I was capable of. I sought out mentors in dermatology early on, and I published several papers throughout medical school. I understood that networking was essential to get me where I wanted to be.

Fast forward to my fourth year of medical school: I married my sweet husband, and the time had come for me to match into my specialty! But another setback hit me hard: I did not match into dermatology. This hurt. I cried again. But deep down, I knew that all my other experiences had led me to this point, and I couldn’t give up. It didn’t matter that I’d experienced yet another setback. It didn’t matter if other people didn’t believe in me. Nothing else mattered but my belief in myself.

I worked day after day on research projects and publishing. I worked insanely hard. And then, during the following year as an intern, I matched into dermatology. If I had listened to all the doubters who told me to face the music and take a different path, I wouldn’t be here today doing what I absolutely love.

But even though I had achieved my goal, I still had some growth to do. In the struggle to match into dermatology, I had lost myself a little bit. I gained 20 pounds, and I was no longer active. I was pessimistic, and I complained 24/7. My money mindset was horrible, and I didn’t take the time to do the things that I enjoyed. 

What is the point of success if you lose your health, your faith, or don’t take care of yourself? As a doctor, my job is to help others, so how can I do that effectively if I don’t know how to help myself first? It was then that I decided to make a change.

During my first year of residency, I took my health and life seriously. I got into reading about personal development and started taking on healthy habits to succeed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. By surrounding myself with this information and people with similar values, I required new skills and a stronger mindset. If I came across someone negative, I didn’t let them enter my life. I created healthy boundaries while also stepping out of my comfort zone to become the best version of myself. Throughout this time, I kept my focus on God and His plans for me.

Step Out with Confidence® and Never Give Up on Your Dreams

In a nutshell, my mission for this podcast is to encourage you to build your work around your life. Don’t give into self-sabotage and imposter syndrome. I want you to create the life you really desire, which means so many different things for different people. 

Maybe you want to travel more, spend more time with your family, or find a breakthrough in academic research. Perhaps you feel called to start a non-profit organization or create a podcast! 

Whatever your dream is, go for it. Just remember that you have to be willing to give up old patterns and beliefs. I am here to inspire you to not give up on your dreams.

Remember: Each setback I faced in my journey led to another, which resulted in more and more growth. To become confident, you have to be willing to try, even in the midst of failure. You have to have faith in yourself and take action, despite what others may think.

Confidence is a skill — not a personality trait — and I hope that through this podcast, I can inspire you to build confidence in your own life. I want to give you the tools and resources you need to get really, really clear on what you desire so that you can take more action, act confidently, and live an abundant life. If you decide to follow this podcast, you will find free resources, have a chance to invest in yourself, and take your life to the next level!

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Instagram, @drnikoleta, and let me know what you desire in life! I will try my hardest to bring you the resources to help you achieve that!

And if you loved this episode, please take a screenshot and post it on your social media so we can get the word out about the Millennial Doc podcast! I’d also be so grateful if you could follow me on Apple Podcasts and give this podcast a five-star rating so we can spread this message to other women like you! 

Thank you all so much for reading this post. Always remember to Step Out with Confidence® and never give up on your dreams. I love you all! 


I am a board-certified dermatologist, CEO and Founder of Healthy Skin Blueprint, an acclaimed podcast host, best-selling author, and nationally recognized skin, hair, and nails expert. Welcome to the Skin Talk with Dr. Nikoleta blog.


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