My Residency Application experience (2013/2014) with advice for future IMG’s

Source: Dr. Samtani’s Blog

I was 2 years out of my medical school and I had every month accounted for. Doing research, working as a clinical medical assistant, observership’s / externships and studying for the USMLE Steps simultaneously. Now came game time, the time to apply for residency. My passion is Cardiology, so Internal Medicine was my only goal. So with about 380 programs offering IM how do you begin to narrow it down to the IMG friendly ones ? I have a detailed explanation on my previous blog post ( ). But in addition to that, FREIDA now has a section for “% of IMG’s” within each program. Most programs have them and it’s updated. If it isn’t present you could do what I suggested in the previous post (That’s what I did).

Now once you have finalized your application, uploaded your LOR’s, MSPE, etc. and applied to the programs (I personally applied to 150 after narrowing it down using the above methods) it’s a waiting game. But that doesn’t mean that’s all you should do. Wait. Keep in mind that a normal program with about 8-12 IM seats will get about 4 to 5 thousand applications ! I actually had the fortune of speaking heart to heart with a program coordinator at a program who’s name I obviously won’t mention, who told me that the computer filters out some applications for us by setting our programs minimum requirements. So from about 4k applications it would become 2k. Now this program in question had about 10 slots and had 200 interview slots. So their job was to fill 200 interview slots from the remaining 2000 applications because historically that’s all they needed to fill the 10 slots. So we would like to think that all of those 2k applications are read thoroughly and then placed on the interview list based on sheer merit right ? But that’s not how it really happens unfortunately. They go through as many applications it takes to fill the 200 slots, once that’s done the others are placed on a stand by list and only seen if / when there are cancellations.

So what influences an application to be placed on the interview list Vs the stand by list, given that all these applications have met the criteria to apply to this program ? Sheer Luck to be picked in the first draft of review ? YES. Contacts within the program putting in a good word ? YES. Now both these factors are out of the hands of most of us (it was for me at least). But I was determined to get myself noticed. To show that I would be a great candidate to interview. So I kept thinking how do I go about doing this ? I am sure if I call all the programs I am interested in saying that “I am a great candidate, really interested in your program, please interview me” it wouldn’t make much difference and contrarily they might even get mad considering you wasted their time with a pointless phone call given all the work that they have.

So what I did, was call each program, but not with something generic, with a specific question that required assistance. With a hope that they would ask me for my AAMC ID number and noting my interest. For e.g. I asked “After applying, i got this opportunity to work with Dr. Blah Blah and now I have a stellar LOR that I would like to be part of my application but I have already uploaded 4 via ERAS, is there any way I could send it over to you guys (fax / email / post) since I am really interested in the program and wanted my application to be as competitive as possible” I knew that most programs will not accept anything outside of ERAS, but I still chose to say that, cause its a genuine query that requires assistance and it also shows that I am interested. So did that work ? Hmm. It depends how you look at it and how much time you have. I applied to 150 programs, called about 100 of them. Couldn’t get about 50 to even pick up the phone. But of the 50 that did pick up, some told me that “Great, but it’s not possible since we do not accept any documentation except from ERAS – (I knew that. Bummer)” some said ” You could fax / email / post it to us at ________. (But refused to take down my AAMC ID number as it’s against their policy – Pointless. Bummer again)” BUT 10 of them actually took down my AAMC ID number and said that “I am glad you called. We have a list of ‘interested applicants’ and we have placed your name on that. If you meet the criteria, like you said you do, you should be hearing from us soon” And out of those 10 programs that took down my AAMC ID number, FIVE called me for an interview. FIVE. That’s the average amount of interviews for an IMG with decent scores.

Overall, I applied to 150 programs, did the above, kept being proactive, interviewed in a total of 12 programs in NY, MI, NJ and MD and matched in my second choice 🙂 So my advice to all future IMG’s that are applying. Be proactive, don’t just sit and wait for interview calls. Pick up the phone, speak to program coordinators. It’s hard and I almost gave up after my first 10-20 tries since I wasn’t getting in touch with anyone and I deemed it to be pointless. But I persisted and scored 5 interviews from them ! DO NOT ask them updates on your application or something generic. Be specific with your query but also show that your interested. Also, if you get the opportunity to do some research / externship / observership  during interview season take it up ! It’s always good to be around a program when they are interviewing candidates. Even if you didn’t meet their criteria, if there is a cancellation they can fill the void last minute with you (that happened to a colleague of mine).

As always, let me know if you guys have any questions, via Twitter (@DrNikhilSamtani) or via this blog. All the best to all who are applying !