The Importance of IMG’s Acclimatizing Themselves Before / During Residency

Increasing Cultural Competency

The thing that makes the healthcare industry so sought after here in the U.S. is the diversity.  You have physicians from all over the globe, with different cultural backgrounds and experiences, prepared to go through the cut throat competition to successfully acquire a seat in a graduate medical education program, aka residency program.  Aside from the great board scores required, I want to talk about the other social aspects that are not usually what candidates train for prior to applying but carry great importance in patient care and interview success.

Let’s pause for a moment: An interesting study in the US was done back in 2005 comparing the attire of a physician and it’s relation to the trust and confidence that it reciprocates from patients.  A resounding 86.5% of people stated that they would prefer their health care practitioner to be wearing a formal attire with lab coat OR in scrubs.  More importantly, their trust and confidence was associated with their preference for professional dress and also reported that they were significantly more willing to share their social, sexual, and psychological problems with the physician who is professionally dressed.  While we all are aware that we need to dress professionally, who would have thought that it made such a huge difference in the eyes of a patient!  I myself, coming from a country where doctors are treated sometimes like GODS with no respect to attire, I was really surprised upon reading this.

Additionally, there are some residency programs that have even put systems in place to help IMGs adapt to his / her new surroundings and at the same time also using their vastly different cultural based experiences to their advantage.  The department of medicine at Albert Einstein Medical Center (AEMC), for example, has a 3-year curriculum devoted to ‘Communication and Cultural Competence’.  Topics covered include: Improving Communication, Literacy, Informed Consent, Techniques for Negotiating Issues influenced by Culture, and the Clinician’s Cultural Attitudes and their Impact on Patient Care.  Such type of special orientations not only help extract the true potential of every IMG but also show that the program is sensitive to the challenge faced by them, who are truly practicing medicine in a cultural milieu inherently different from their own.

While having people from different cultural backgrounds working in unison with a single goal of patient well-being is an exciting prospect, it is important for both parties, the IMG as well as the program to adapt to each other’s differences and use that as a strength instead of a weakness.

Having great board scores is one thing, but incorporating well into the U.S. healthcare system without losing one’s true identity, that which makes them unique, is something that should be done by every ambitious IMG hoping to have a long and successful career here.  Well, that’s my two cents at least.

— Nikhil Samtani




2 thoughts on “The Importance of IMG’s Acclimatizing Themselves Before / During Residency

  • I think social aspects are constantly being overlooked by IMGs that are looking into obtaining a residency. They’re main focus, and deservingly so, is the academic portion of medicine. But now with everyone pumping out double or triple 99’s on USMLE’s, attention had to be focused on what can give you the edge. I think personality and attire are 2 important aspects that should be the foundation, in addition to academia, of physicians today no matter where you’re from.

  • Very true ! Everyone I meet now days has a double 99. I guess the visa sponsorship issue and then interpersonal skills will be very important henceforth.

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