Tips for International Medical Students When Matching for Specialties

IMG or international medical student is assumed to be a downplaying factor during applications. Although partially true, as certain programs would prefer an American graduate, this title is often used to discourage applicants from applying into certain fields.

Surgical fields are among the top of which foreign graduates are told to steer clear from, as the likelihood of matching is minimal. I myself was told from many that I would not match into ENT! The thought process that is instilled into IMG’s is that matching is difficult enough overall, so specialties should not even be a consideration.

Currently IMGs represent 26% of all physicians in the work force and 24% of residents, and this number is assumed to continue increasing each year due to the predicted shortage of physicians according to the NRMP. The match rate for IMG’s is near half of the rate of U.S. allopathic graduates. While these numbers may be off-putting, foreign graduates can certainly apply and match into competitive programs. It all depends on your approach. Most programs are now looking beyond titles and scores, and more towards a well-rounded individual. Here are some tips for my fellow IMG’s whether you’re looking to do primary care or a surgical subspecialty.

  • Scores, while not everything, should not be overlooked. Being from a Caribbean school, I do understand the pressure of doing well on the USMLEs, as our education on the island is next to subpar. Its almost as if you have to self teach the entire content of medical school. But it is doable.
  • 1. Start early. By this I mean; don’t wait until 3 months before your exam to start studying. I also mean start your day early with studying.
  • 2. Set yourself a schedule. Many foreign medical students end up taking excessive time to take the USMLEs. This not only results in burnout from studying day in and day out with likely lower scores but also is a red flag during applications.
  • Be your best self especially during rotations.
  • 3. This includes; being on time and being prepared. Read on your patients and cases the night before as you would if you were a resident.
  • 4. During rounds know the vital information. Another bonus is carrying supplies that may be needed during rounds. When you save the residents or attending that extra minute of having to run to grab, it is extremely appreciated.
  • 5. Smile, greet, and respect everyone in the hospital. You may not realize it but almost every employee, whether a scrub tech or department chair, in the hospital discusses your attitude. So make real relationships at each place you rotate at. Bonus: those relationships will score you strong recommendation letters.
  • Don’t just be all about medicine. I know medical school is time consuming but the strength of a good doctor is someone who can handle the workload while having a life. So display your hobbies and interest on your application and be proud of them during interviews. The last thing program directors want to hear when asked, “what will you do with your time off before residency starts” is “studying”.
  • Lastly, don’t be nervous or discouraged. Apply to the specialty you want to go into. As long as you have tried your best, you should not have the attitude that you are any less then any other applicant. Yes, matching as an IMG is difficult, but its not impossible!

    Dr. Sukaina Hasnie, MD, is an ENT Surgery Resident from Oklahoma specializing in Otorhinolaryngology. Be sure to follow her @kainaah_ for more information.

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