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Practicing Medicine in the US, Guide to the Residency Match for IMGs
Four key steps to begin practicing medicine in the U.S.
The USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) consists of four exams which you must ultimately pass in order to become fully licensed to practice medicine in the US. There are 3 parts to this series. USMLE Step 1 is a basic science examination including areas like anatomy, histology, pathology, biochemistry and pharmacology. USMLE Step 2 has 2 portions. The USMLE Step 2 CK is an exam that stresses clinical knowledge and testing in specialty areas including surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, ob-gyn, etc. The USMLE Step 2 CS is a hands on clinical exam that ensures that the applicant will be able to effectively communicate with patients and examine patients properly. The USMLE Step 3 exam is taken after medical school which examines whether or not the physician can adequately apply lab tests, physical exam data, and other patient information to the diagnosis and care of patients. All the exams with the exception of the USMLE 2 CS are multiple choice exams with or without additional computer based patient care simulations.
Visa or Mastercard?
There are two main types of Visas that physicians may use for training during residency the J-1 and the H-1B. The requirements and rules for these may change, so make sure to visit the Department of Homeland Security website for up to the minute information. The ECFMG can sponsor J-1 visas if the IMG has already passed the USMLE Step 1, and Step 2 CK, have a contract or letter with an offer for residency training at an ACGME accredited program, and provide a letter of need from the applicant’s last legal residence .
The H1-B allows professional level employment for up to 6 years and graduates of foreign medical schools who have passed FLEX or the equivalent, have passed an English language exam, and hold a license appropriate to the activity. The GME (residency) must submit the application on behalf of the applicant, and some residencies may be unwilling or unable to do this. Whenever possible try for the J-1 to ensure you don’t have any visa issues.
Residency in the US after medical school is generally comprised of three to seven years of post medical school clinical training, depending on the specialty. This does not include any subspecialties the physician may have an interest in (e.g. cardiology, pediatric sutgery, etc…) The first year of residency is termed the “internship.” Residencies are specialty specific (except for the transitional year for some applicants or preliminary year) so most training is focused on one medical specialty. Medical students enter specific residencies depending on the Match (see below) for most specialties.
The match (thru nrmp.org not match.com), is a computer based system by which applicants and residency programs choose one another. It’s an elaborate dance that includes a universal application (sent to each program) and a system by which the applicant and institution rank one another in order to facilitate each other’s best choices. For specific details on the actual process, see How Match Works. The Match is applied for in the summer of the year prior to beginning residency and the process continues until March of the following year when results are announced.
Where to Apply
After deciding on which specialty you wish to apply to the IMG in particular has many options on where to apply. Some applicants apply to as many positions as possible, but this is both time consuming and costly (application fees as well as interview expenses). Look for programs in your specialty that are in your desired geographic location whenever possible, that have also taken IMGs in the past. Many websites have a list of current residents where it also states the school from which they graduated. Or you may email the program coordinator of a program you are interested in to see if they have accepted IMGs in the recent past (3-5 years). A major academic program (“top tier”) who has not accepted any IMGs recently is unlikely to accept you. Save your money. If they have accepted IMGs in the past, you may have a chance! For competitive specialties, this may not always be the case, since those programs may be quite small and they may consider the occasional “star” IMG applicant. There are numerous websites and lists of “IMG friendly” residency programs. You can use these lists as a guideline, but remember that you could do the work yourself if you wanted to, and contact the individual programs or their websites for similar information. This may be a time consuming process but you will learn a great deal about various programs and how they operate.
IMGs applying to the more competitive specialties will likely have to apply to a larger number of programs than those in less competitive specialties in order to secure interviews and a chance of matching successfully.