Here’s the break down of being a future IMG (international medical graduate).
The appeal: living abroad and exploring the world.
The desperation: not being accepted to any American school.
The anxiety: the education will be different.
The graduation gift: higher debt and stiffer competition.
The most important thing: that M.D.
Hi guys! Today I wanted to write about being an international medical student and what that is like, in order to share my perspective with all of you. Maybe some of you are currently in college and considering applying to medical school before you graduate, or you’re already on your way to your M.D. Whatever stage you are at, I wanted to bring in a future IMG’s (International Medical Graduate)perspective so that you can have a little more insight into this process. It’s difficult to find information on the internet or across blogs, and that’s what makes this journey difficult for me personally: not having anyone to relate to or to have as a “mentor” so that I can have all of my questions answered. The standard IG med blogger just isn’t likely to be getting their M.D. from the Carribeans, Australia, or any other place with a new program for internationals, so it makes it difficult to find people who are on a similar journey with you. I am currently attending medical school in Australia, and will become an IMG with the Class of 2021. My medical school year starts in January and ends in November, unlike the fall start time and spring graduations that happen in America. So, with that said, I hope this post can give you a little insight if you’re considering going down this road OR can give you a little support if you’re already going down this road with me. I have to be honest, this post will be a little negative, and I typically don’t like focusing on that too much. But I wish this was something a mentor or a friend had shared with me before I embarked on my journey, so that I was at least prepared.
You will be separated from your family and friends. I know that this is an expected reality when you move across the world to pursue your education and it is quite honestly the first thought and conversation you have with yourself even as you are applying, but it is still something that took me by surprise. “Can I be away from this life I have built and my support system for years?” I definitely had those conversations with my family and with myself and I came to the conclusion that it would be worth it. However, that didn’t mean it would be easy. You have to face the reality that because of conflicting schedules and difficult time zones, scheduling a phone call with your family becomes a TASK. And all of your friendships now become long distance friendships, and it absolutely sucks when you realize that, in this day and age, nobody bothers to keep up. I also miss my family so much and traveling back and forth is just not an option for us as it isn’t financially feasible. In the 1.5 years I have been here so far, I have only seen my mom when she came to visit me for 13 days. That’s it. And I think the hardest part about moving to another country is the loneliness that comes with it. Making friends becomes this critical task and cancelled plans are definitely tougher when you are all alone in another country. When you are home, none of these things would typically phase you. In fact, if you were home, you’d likely go home for the weekend to spend some quality time with your parents, siblings, and close childhood friends. I can’t tell you how much I miss board games with my family. Or cooking with my mom.
You will have doubts. I personally was rejected and waitlisted from all American medical schools, so going to study medicine in another country was my only shot at getting my MD. I could have waited another year and applied with a new cycle, have another go at the MCAT, fill that gap year with research, etc etc. But I ultimately decided that starting the process at a school that accepted me was something I wanted more than waiting for the potential to start in America. With that, however, came doubt. Real doubt that was sparked from real and legitimate concerns. International medical schools have a pretty lenient acceptance rate when it comes to international American applicants. Heck, my school only needed a 2.5 GPA and 500 on the MCAT and they were good to go. I was accepted right away. And it felt amazing, don’t get me wrong. But I was soon filled with doubt about my abilities. There’s something about feeling like you were given something too easily that makes you question whether you deserved it in the first place. Yes, I was accepted into medical school. But did that mean that I could pass and actually graduate medical school? That I could get into a specialty of my choice at a residency I was actually excited about? If I was accepted to an American school, with the way they weed out non-competitive applicants like flies, I would have answered that with a “heck yes!” But because I was accepted into a school that had such low standards and expectations of me, and quite frankly, no competition, those doubts started to creep in.
You will face an uphill battle from the beginning. Let’s be honest: getting into medical school and graduating is one of the biggest things you will ever accomplish in your academic life. But if you fail to match into a residency (and I don’t mean on the first try. I mean ever), you cannot be a practicing physician. With that said, it is commonly known that American residencies do not favor IMG applicants. For reasons I can’t explain, residencies often apply exclusion filters if you are an IMG, and most often than not, your application isn’t even seen, let alone considered. This is something to be aware of when you attend an international school. It just means you have to work twice as hard (and don’t worry, you will be just as qualified), get an exemplary score on the USMLE Step 1 exam, and develop a good relationship with your dean so that they can make phone calls to the residencies of your choice to keep them from filtering out your application. IMGs have to score an average of 10 points higher on the step than a U.S. med grad for an equal position in the U.S. residency match. The average U.S. step score is 224. We have to get a 230 usually just to get looked at.
It is the most expensive option. I pay more for my tuition than Harvard Medical School, but I am certainly not getting a Harvard education. Texas medical schools can charge something like $30,000 for yearly tuition. That fact that I have to pay almost triple that is a reality that I didn’t think I would have to face.
You will face more stressors. Besides the normal stressors that come along with being a medical student, such as tests that determine your future, not getting enough sleep, forfeiting your social and personal life, etc etc. guess what else you have to worry about during your vulnerable transition as an IMG? VISAS. Yayyyyy. I feel so lucky to be an American citizen – and trust, that process was not easy as I was originally born in Eastern Europe and only received my citizenship in high school – but if you don’t hold a citizenship status, you have to worry about Green Cards and legalities that make this entire thing way more stressful.
You won’t be able to work during school. It’s not common for students to work while they are attending med school fulltime, but I personally find it helpful to spend some of my extra time during breaks to make some extra cash from a side hustle, such as driving for Uber or scribing for a medical office. As an international student, you’ll be holding a student visa, which only permits you to work 20 hours weekly during the school year (let’s be honest you won’t be working when school is in session). Which means that when school stops during vacation time, you are not legally allowed to work or receive money.
You’ll have to say goodbye to your favorite things from home. Oh how I miss you, Whole Foods, hot cheetos, Chipotle, In n Out, actual Mexican food, and most importantly, TRADER JOE’S and AMAZON. And like… I understand if I was studying in Spain, Italy, or France, or any other culinary rich country. I wouldn’t miss Trader Joe’s when I have authentic freaking pasta, gelato, possibly paella and brie and wine and all of these delicious things that people TRAVEL across the world to experience. But, I’m studying in Australia. Nothing happening here, in the culinary world, that is.
You will face the STEP 1 exam all by yourself. My Australian medical school also has Australian students, and teaches to an Australian curriculum. While most American medical schools teach to prepare their students for STEP 1 and even give their students dedicated study time, my school does not do that. We have a couple of weeks between finishing year 2 at the end of November here and starting third year at the beginning of January. In the month of December, we somehow have to prepare for the STEP 1 exam, take it, celebrate the couple of HOURS we have with our family for Christmas (lol), then move to New Orleans and set up there to start year 3 during the first week of January. LOLOLOL. OK.
So why do it? If you want to become a doctor, then at the end of the day, an international education is still an education. Atrial fibrillation is atrial fibrillation whether you are studying it in America, Australia, Russia, or Cambodia. International programs bear their own challenges, but if I can survive (and thrive while) living on the other side of the world, completely out of my comfort zone, then I can survive pretty much anything in the future. There’s nothing that an underdog loves more than a good old uphill. OMG I just realized: maybe that’s why I raced mountain bikes all throughout high school. I just love me a good old hill to climb.