Category Archives: Match

All your friends matched, except you. 6 steps to dealing with failure and matching next year.

IMG Residency for International Medical Graduates

I have been getting many emails after the match results. A lot of students who visit my website are going through an extremely difficult time. Be it frustration because you have tried everything and still did not match or anger at an unfair system who prefers people with super high scores or contacts and leaving out genuinely hard working people or pure helplessness because the mistakes you made in the past with your application cannot be undone.

In this emotionally overwhelming time of your life, you open facebook or any social media and see your friends and people who you know celebrating their match success and sharing stories. And here, you are planning to go underground or disappear for an indefinite period of time.

I have been there many times. I felt something similar when I saw my low scores on my usmle results. I was able to turn it around in my favor when I eventually applied, but I have lived this painful experience through some close friends and family members who did not match. Now I stand together with students who have reached out to me before and were not able to match.

People deal with severe degrees of stress differently. Some take a downward spiral route with alcohol, drugs, persistent self-pity and inaction.

For those who know me and my principles, that is not the AlphaIMG way.

I prefer another way to deal with extreme personal or professional stress and failure.  I came across this years ago in a book “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink.

It is called Prioritize and Execute.

You can sit here in a puddle of misery for next 6 months and go through the same emotions at next match or you can prioritize the areas of your application that are going to create the most impact and start to execute each of those areas. Then you can celebrate and post pictures on facebook next match when you get that residency you deserve.

If you are clueless on how to prioritize and execute your application for the upcoming match, read on.


Step 1: Identify your target market

Every IMG who I coach for the match, the first thing I am looking for when I speak with them is what kind of programs I will target for them. Is she a university program (UP) candidate or a community program (CP) candidate. Applicants who have research and teaching experiences, who have rotations in specialty fields and who are aspiring to do fellowships are some markers of university program candidate. Community experiences, interest in primary care fields, strong volunteer focus display qualities for a community program resident. Identify if you are a UP candidate or a CP candidate.

Step 2: Look at your application from PD point of view.

Now that you know what category you are in, look at your application form the program director (university or community program) point of view.

Most PDs and interviewers are looking for a candidate who is going to provide the most value to their program. Not the candidate who has the highest scores or the one with most published papers. Candidate with a stellar resume may not be a good fit for a small community program focusing on serving a minority population.  In this regard, every program is somewhat different.

If you are a UP candidate, is your application entirely consistent with what a university program is looking for?

If you did not match with 4 or more interviews and decent interview skills, I guess not. What is missing? Do you not have enough university clinical experience? Or are you lagging in research papers/posters? Same with if you are a CP candidate but your application is not true of a community physician. Be honest with yourself and list things that make you a wholesome UP or CP candidate.

Step 3: Prioritize. Make a list of your modifiable deficiencies.

Don’t worry about how you are going to get those research publications or clinical experiences yet, just make a list of things that make you a wholesome UP or CP candidate.

Don’t list low USMLE scores or old Year of Graduation on there. Those cannot be changed. But a lot can be. Prioritize based on what is deficient the most.

Step 4. Plan and Execute on those deficiencies.

Now that you have a list of things you need to make yourself be a perfect university or community program candidate, think about the ‘how’. How are you going to get that research papers or that rotation in a university program? If you are a CP candidate, how are you going to get strong LORs from community practitioners? Here are some articles to get you started on this process.

Step 5: Make 3-month plan.

Write down a plan for next 3 months. Not longer than that as things most likely change in 3 month period. Pick one thing on your list and target that for next 3 months. Explore every possibility you can to get that goal achieved in 3 months. Email every program that you know of. Reach out to every contact you have, even if you have not spoken to them in years. Plan on attending every conference in that field and meet as many attendings as you can.

I picked up side jobs and a loan to get the money I needed for the application. The interest rates on that loan were ridiculous. I paid it off very quickly once I got the residency. Never regretted it.

We all have a savage in us to get us what we want, it just needs to be unleashed. I know this because I saw it in myself and now I see it every year in some students.

Step 6. If you have less than 4 interviews.

It is very difficult to match for an IMG with less than 4 interviews. Your #1 goal this year is to get more than 4 interviews. Start reading this guide to make sure you get more than 4 interviews this year. All of the above still applies to you but you have to redo your entire application to get those interviews.


To summarize, start following these six steps to get over the misery of not matching as soon as possible and move on a positive spiral towards matching.  

Step 1. Identify your target market- university or community programs

Step 2. Look at your application from a PD point of view- are you a UP or a CP candidate?

Step 3. Prioritize- make a list of your modifiable deficiencies in your target category.

Step 4. Execute- Start at the top of that list and make a plan to clear the first deficiency.  

Step 5. Make a 3 month plan to execute on the first deficiency.

Step 6- Revamp your application if you have less than 4 interviews. Follow this guide.


There it is. 6 powerful steps to deal with the pain of not matching and ensuring that next year is a big success for you.


getting perfect personal statement

Ultimate Guide to A Successful Match for IMGs Who Didn’t Match Before.

You have done everything you could.

USMLE steps, observerships, externships, some research and even volunteer work. You applied to a very long list of programs. And yet, you did not match.

I see this every year. Be it close friends, students that I know or people who I never knew but had exchanged emails and phone calls with through this website.

I know how it feels.

You feel all that time and money is wasted. You know you are not a fresh graduate anymore.  You feel left out because some of your friends matched.

And the worse feeling is… what next?

Should I do more observerships? Maybe try to make contacts in residency program? Or should I try to get research first?  Should I forget about applying and move on with other careers?

How to make your personal statement

I am not going to show you a golden road to getting residency in the next match. Because there is none. Anyone who is promising you one is selling a lie.  But I am going to give you the exact steps you can start taking NOW to improve you chances of matching this time.

These steps will give you a roadmap for the future if you are serious about matching. It does not guarantee success. But it statistically improves you chances of matching


1. Prepare mentally and financially to apply to a lot more programs.

Best graduate course personal statement

I can’t stress this enough.

I have seen too many IMGs trying to save money when deciding about the number of programs to apply to. After unable to match for three of four times, they realize they should have applied to a lot more programs than they did in past three years. It’s painful to pay thousands of dollars to programs who you may never hear from again. I took student loans from a bank in India (top that with an interest rate of 13%) for my application. But, it costs much more to apply to fewer programs year after year if you add it all up. And you lose the time to start earning money. Let me tell you this, the money you spend now is going to be much less compared to your earnings as a resident and later as an attending.

There is no magic number to how many programs you should apply to. Just to get your mindset right, I had USMLE scores in low 200s, no attempts, MPH, some research and good USCE. I applied to 230 programs (IMG, FM, pediatrics). And I matched in Internal Medicine. This was back in 2010.


2. Start getting your program list ready

Guide to Successful Match for IMGs

This is the time to start getting the list of programs ready.

You may be working hard to get more USCE and do some research, you have no time for looking at website for programs. But if you wait till August, and you will have to find the generic list off the internet to apply to. If you are going to invest thousands of dollars, make sure you research your programs well.

Get the list of all participating programs for your preferred specialty. Cross out the ones that did not invite you for interview in the past. Cross out the programs that you know are not very IMG friendly (Ivy League Medical schools). Look at 5 programs a day. Look up their website to see their requirements and current residents for IMGs. Make note of anything mentioned on their website that matches your resume pretty closely (eg. they are proud of their immigrant clinic exposure for residents and you have done an observership in an immigrant clinic).

Move on to next program.  If you see a lot of IMGs on their list, but you are not sure if you meet their requirements, send an email to the program coordinator. They are more likely to respond at this time than when the match season starts.

Once you have reached the end of your preferred specialty, get the list for the next specialty you are interested in. And do the same as above.

Keep picking different specialties until you find at least 200 programs that you feel confident that are not going to screen out your application.


3. If you are going to be more attractive to community programs, stay active clinically till the very end.

How to write a personal statement img

There are certain candidates that university  programs find very attractive. These candidates have a strong research background, high scores and academic interests. Then there are others who would be better suited for a community programs. You know what kind of candidate you are. You may have gotten more interviews from community programs over university when you applied before. It is better to recognize this early. Nothing wrong with going to community programs for residency. Some of them have fellowships or able to get you fellowships in the state, they offer great clinical education and they are easier to get into.

If you have identified yourself as a community program candidate, you need to play the part of a community physician. These programs are looking for work horses. Someone who is ready to work hard and is competent to do the same. To be that someone, you have to demonstrate a very strong clinical experience. And to do this, you need to make sure you are active in an observership or externship for a long (more than a month) period of time in a clinic or hospital when you apply. And you need to have good letters of recommendation from these rotations.

That means when you find your next rotation, make sure you schedule it in a way that your are still working there when you apply.


4. If you are going to be more attractive to university programs, stay active in research (and clinicals) till the very end.

Residency Match Tips for IMGs

Yes, there are many candidate who are very attractive to university programs but they did not match. If you are someone with a PhD or a long time research job, a few first author publications/abstracts and presentations, green card/ US citizen, good scores and other academic achievements, university programs are going to be more interested in you. Community programs feel that you will not rank them high because you will pick the big name universities first. So it’s time to own your talents and play the part of a smart academic physician.

Continue your research until you apply and preferably when you interview. Talk to your principal investigator, head of the research project, lab owner to let you in on another publication, have you present a poster or a research paper, critique the work of others etc.

This is in addition to focusing on USCE as well. You will have a much more advantage during match if you have more clinical rotation in universities than private clinics. This is true for all IMGs but specifically for you because universities want people trained in similar setting as their own.


5. Re-write your personal statement

IMGs Guide to Medical Residency in US

I can’t tell you how many times I was impressed by someone’s ERAS CV but totally lost it when I read their personal statements. This was either because the PS lacked a career focus, personal story that is genuine or it was a generic PS copied from the internet.

Your PS might need just a little tweaking or might need a complete overhaul. But if you have used it last year and you did not match, you can’t use the same thing again.

Read your CV first. Then go over your personal statement word by word. Do you feel you are able to express if you are presenting an image of an honest, hard-working and compassionate community physician or are you presenting an image of a competitive and brilliant academic doctor who is a great teacher as well?

Your personal statement should portray an image that is true to your CV and the types of programs you are going to target. If your personal statement is unfocused or focused towards your research and you are a community program kind of applicant, then you need to fix that.

If you need more help with this part of your application, click here.


6. Re-write your CV

IMGs Residency Match Strategies for Success

ERAS gives you a format to follow for CV. So you cannot be very creative with this. But within each subsection of the fomat, you can show a unique personality.

Literally every IMG writes ‘history taking’ and presenting the ‘case to the attending’ when describing duties at the observerships/externships. That makes your observership the same as every other IMG’s observership. The program director is probably not even going take this USCE into account.

Instead, write about what made this USCE different and how it made you a good doctor. There is no right answer here because we all learnt different things in different rotations.

I wrote ‘history taking’ in my CV for an externship in geriatric clinic. My attending in that clinic corrected me and told me to write this instead ‘practiced discussing end of life care and do not resuscitate orders with the families’.

The program directors at the interviews loved it !

Again, follow this link if you need more help with your CV.


7. Prepare for the interview.

IMGs Residency Success Guide

You have come this far. If you follow above 6 steps, you are statistically positioned to get at least 6 interviews. Based on previous year’s match, that all it takes to match successfully.

That is true only if you don’t mess up your interviews.

Interviews are designed to get you stressed out. Pre-interview dinner, conference/rounds next day morning, multiple one on one interviews during the day, social hours with faculty or clinic staff etc. And how you perform during each of these events is taken into consideration.

Unfortunately, IMGs only prepare for the usual interview questions when getting ready for interviews.  It is like preparing for just one section, say pathology only, for USMLE step 1.

To ace your interviews, you need to  work on social skills, language fluency, typical interview questions, atypical interview questions and dressing/body language. And you need time to get all these aspects handled. So start preparing for interviews as soon as you get your first interview invitation. There is a lot of information on preparing for interviews, including on this website. You can read all about it here, here , here and here.

But if you need personal one on one coaching and mock interview sessions with language fluency and social skills training, go here.


That is it my friends. To make sure you don’t waste any more time or money chasing this American dream, make sure you put in the effort to get these seven steps handled well in time for the match season to start. To recap what has been said above:


  1. Prepare financially to apply to a lot more programs in different specialties
  2. Start getting your program list ready now. This is where you will outshine most other IMGs.
  3. Stay active clinically till the very end if you are a community program candidate
  4. Stay active in clinic or basic science research till the very end if you are a university program candidate.
  5. Re-write your personal statement with an emphasis on a common theme, be it a strong dedicated community physician or a brilliant physician who is also a passionate researcher or educator.
  6. Re-write your CV- make sure you don’t put ‘history taking’ in things you learnt during your rotation.
  7. Prepare for the interview keeping in mind that you need to prepare for many different aspects of the interview and not just the usual interview questions listed on different websites on the internet.


Three Rank Order List mistakes to avoid (and tips to get it right)

unconventional interview preparation for IMGs

The deadline to submit your rank order list is 9 pm EST Feb 22, 2017. 

I was on call for 10 straight days which is brutal.

But, I have been getting 1-2 emails a day from IMGs asking for ROL help. Great, I love that. Asking for help from people who have done it before you is the smartest and easiest thing in the world. I have been pretty consistent getting back at most of you with my recommendations on ROL.  I know there is a ton of information on the internet including NRMP(R) website ( But I still see some common mistakes that IMGs make.

I will first talk about the three most common mistakes IMG make in creating their ROL. Then, I will give you a tips to create a ROL in such a way that helps you achieve your career goals after residency and finally there is a download link to get the algorithm I personally used to make my rank order list (It is very helpful if you want to do fellowship, if you definitely don’t want to do fellowship and also if you are ‘maybe; maybe-not’ about fellowship).

Common ROL mistakes IMG make: 

1 .Ranking the programs based on the likelihood of them ranking you.

I have heard this a million times before.

Yet, when I was constantly thinking about it when I was ranking programs during my match.

The truth is, the ranking software has your best interest in mind. It is designed to ensure you get matched to the program you listed higher than the one you listed lower.

Irrespective of where the program ranked you.

Eg. If program A is the best program for you and you ranked them first. But they have ranked you tenth. You still have a chance of matching there if the nine other people before you have found a ‘final’ match position at this or some other program and program A still has a spot.

On the flip side, you ranked program B at the last spot. But you know that program has ranked you high because you got good vibes from them at the interview or in your post-interview thank you notes.

Eg. If program B is your least favorite program. But they loved you. They have ranked you 1st and you ranked them 5th (the last spot on your ROL). All the people that have ranked the program high will get a ‘tentative’ match position in the program until their spots are filled. If by this time, you did not get a ‘final’ position in one of the preferred programs (1 to 4) on your list, the ‘tentative’ position given to the other candidate will be discarded and you will get a ‘final’ match position at program B because they ranked you high.


 2. University or university affiliated programs are always better than community programs.

Yes, it looks good on your CV. Yes, you can boast about it to your friends back home that you trained at the University of ABC. But, this may not help you in the long run if the university program does not offer what you want to do after residency or none of their previous residents went on to do this thing you want to do. I have seen a lot of real life examples where candidates got much better jobs, fellowships, research training because they trained at a program which was focused towards their career goals. I have explained this further in the algorithm.

3. Changing the rank order list at the very last moment.

You may have your ROL ready already. Or, you are still working on it. Give yourself 2-3 hours. Preferably in the morning after you had your tea/coffee and breakfast. Think about what is the one thing you are seriously considering for your career. Is it being a cardiologist or an academic hospitalist or a primary care doctor back in your home country?  Remember, this can and most likely will change as you go through your residency. But that’s okay. For now, you have something in your mind. Plan for that. Go through the algorithm from below or something of your own. Make a rank order list. Avoid the mistakes above. Ask your mentor, close friend, previous residents or me if you like. After that, stop. Don’t browse forums or facebook to find faults with your ROL. People post their ROL on forum based on their goals and thought process. Not yours. Frequently changing the list after hearing others opinion will ultimately make you unhappy about your choices.


Tips to building a solid rank order list


1. Fellowship interest: If you want to do fellowship, pick the program where your chances to match at your desired fellowship program after residency are the highest. Two most important things to consider when deciding which residency programs will be best for you to get fellowships in future are:

a. In-house fellowship- Programs with the highest number of in-house fellowship of your choice spots

b. Programs who have the highest number of previous residents go into your fellowship of your choice.

2. Visa Requirement: Once the fellowship part is taken care of or if you are not interested in fellowship at all, consider visa options. I prefer H1b programs before J1. There is a lot of debate about H1 vs J1.  But after seeing a lot of candidates and my own friends go through their training and in their medicine career now, I feel H1 is a safer bet.

3. Interview experience: Once fellowship and visa issue is analyzed, pay attention to how you felt during your interview there. You have a gut feeling about each program. Ask yourself if you could stay in the place for three or more years?

“Thank you notes” – they are important but can also hurt your chances!

Tips IMG cracked the USMLE code

Be in touch (in a good way) or be forgotten!

Program directors meet hundreds of applicants each year. Some of them make notes about each candidate after their interview. Some give a vague label like “possibly rank”, “do not rank”, “rank high” to the candidate. But by the end of interview season at the time of ranking, every PD will look through the applications and talk to other attendings and residents to see what they remember about the applicant. If they remember good things they will rank you high. If they remember bad things, they will not rank you.

Human brains are wired to remember bad things over good ones (reference).

You had a great interview or you had a weak interview. A simple thank you note a week or so after your interview referring back to the good parts of your interview will reinforce in their minds the positive things about you. When they are ready to start ranking, the thank you note will bring back the positive memories for you.

A ‘thank you’ note after the interviews can help or hurt your chances of matching this year. Make sure you follow these tips to not hurt your chances with a ‘thank you’ note.
Here are some simple tips to make your ‘thank you’ notes effective and help you get residency.

Get a sample 'thank you' note now
A perfect note that includes all the important information and has worked for me and other IMGs.

1. Write handwritten notes:

They stand out in a bunch of generic thank you emails that programs receive from candidates. Also, an email in a busy person’s inbox is very easily deleted, ignored or worst- spammed. A handwritten note stands out and is not as easy to be ignored.

They stand out in a bunch of generic thank you emails that programs receive from candidates. Also, an email in a busy person’s inbox is very easily deleted, ignored or worst- spammed. A handwritten note stands out and is not as easy to be ignored.

They stand out in a bunch of generic thank you emails that programs receive from candidates. Also, an email in a busy person’s inbox is very easily deleted, ignored or worst- spammed. A handwritten note stands out and is not as easy to be ignored.

2. Reinforce positive emotions: 

Write something that makes them remember a positive conversation you had during the interview. In one of my interviews, I talked with the program director about my recent trip to India. He told me that he was planning to travel to India with his family. In my ‘thank you note’, I told him the best time to visit that part of India and one specific thing his family would love there.

I see a lot of thank you notes where the candidate is trying to answer a question he/she was not able to answer during the interview. He may have given the perfect answer in the thank you note, but I now remember very strongly how he was not able to answer it during the interview.

3. Connect what’s good about the program with what’s good about you: 

Say few specific things about the program that you loved and how it connects to your interest. If the program is heavily focused on primary care and that is where your interests are- let them know this in your note. Or, they love doing research in the program and you are well published- make it known.

4. Think outside the box. If you did not have a great conversation with the program director, you can send a letter to the chief resident or an attending. When we rank candidates, we meet in a conference room with all the residents, attending, coordinator and PD and get an opinion from everyone about who should be ranked. So a program coordinator or the resident who spoke with you can impact the PDs decision.

If you did not have a great conversation with the program director, you can send a letter to the chief resident or an attending. When we rank candidates, we meet in a conference room with all the residents, attending, coordinator and PD and get an opinion from everyone about who should be ranked. So a program coordinator or the resident who spoke with you can impact the PDs decision.

5. American Holidays are coming:

One candidate applying for the match at the program I work in sent me a thank you/new year’s wishes note with his family pic (wife and kids). I thought that was well-timed and thoughtful. I remembered him during match process!

6. Listen to the program:

If the program says on their website not to send emails or notes after the interview, then do not send them. Most programs do not have a specific policy. For those programs, it cannot hurt to send a thank you letter.

7. Be okay with one-sided love:

Don’t expect a reply back from the program. Don’t send them an email or call them to confirm if they received your note.


There you go.

Follow these simple steps to write a great thank you note to send to the PD, attending, resident or anyone else you met at the program during your interview. Also, avoid the most common mistakes that can hurt your chances of matching.

Get a sample 'thank you' note now
A perfect note that includes all the important information and has worked for me and other IMGs.
Assistant Professor of Medicine practicing in US

Get ready for the Match: 5 steps to stop procrastinating and get stuff done.


Assistant Professor of Medicine practicing in US

Back in 2009, this time of the year was one of the most stressful time of my life.

I was preparing for the upcoming NRMP match.

I had to get documents from my medical school, research and list the programs to apply to, work on my personal statement along with school and a part-time job.  I was losing motivation and thinking of applying a year later.  There was just too much to do and not enough time.  But I had come too far to let it go at this stage.

Maybe like me,  you too are feeling overwhelmed with work, family, studying for exams, and working on your application. Maybe you are thinking you might not have all documents ready by September and will have to submit a halfhearted application or be late on your application.

Keep reading on because I was in the same place as you are. I will show you a few simple techniques I used to get my application ready and achieve the kind of success in the match that I didn’t think was possible.

I started using these five steps to boost my productivity. It took some time to get into the habit. But within a few days, I was making tremendous progress. I got my application ready well in time for the match. I was also able to complete my USMLE Step 3 soon after the match. I never thought I would be able to do so much in so little time.  

1. Baby Steps

Focus on series of small wins rather that worrying about the final goal to keep your motivation going.

Make a list of all the things you need to do to complete your application.  Divide the workload into big and baby steps. You don’t have to do too much in a day, just a little. It will add up fast. For example:

Each baby step you take motivates you to take the next step. Before you know it, you will be a lot closer to the big step and eventually your final goal.

2. Productive hours

We are not at your best performance all the time.There are some periods in the day when our brain taps into limitless potential. For most people including me, this is 1-2 hours after waking up. Make a list of things that you find the hardest and do it during one of these productive hours.  I reserved working on my personal statement for 15 minutes after I wake up. Figure out when you are at your best and hit the toughest baby steps during those times.

3. Prioritize

This is the one advice we have heard a million times but are never able to stick to .

The advice comes in many different forms, but it is essentially the same.

“Don’t get distracted” or  “stop watching TV” etc. I have heard many versions of this. I could never follow it.  Until I found the missing piece of the puzzle. It becomes much easier to follow and stick to once you know the whole story.

You don’t stop watching tv or socializing forever. You just stop it for the most productive hours of your day. In my case, I stopped checking my email for the two hours after I wake up and worked on my application. I was getting a lot more work done and not feeling guilty for doing things I like.

4. Power of momentum

This is one of the most powerful tools to accomplish major goals. But you have to follow the steps above to be able to use this tool.

You have identified your baby steps. You know when you are the most productive. Now you start working towards those baby steps. You keep the hardest steps for the productive hours of your day. You are avoiding distractions during the productive hours of your day.

To get the power of momentum at this stage, you continue to work on your baby steps every day. If you are having a bad day or something else that prevents you from working on your application, don’t skip the day. Just spare 15 minutes to work on your application. So when your pick it up next day or the day after, you are mentally ready to get back to work.

5. Visualize your success

This is the hardest of all and the most beneficial.

When I first heard about this, I was skeptical. I never believed in airy-fairy things like this. But I was ready to try anything to succeed in the match. So I gave it a shot. The results were amazing. Now I am a firm believer. I have used this to match at my top program, succeed during residency, get my first job and even win a tennis tournament when the odds were against me. Seasoned athletes like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods use detailed visualization before their sporting events.

I know it will help you achieve success beyond what you thought possible.

Before you go to sleep when you are lying in your bed, visualize yourself getting your dream residency spot. Don’t just think about getting it. See yourself accomplishing the baby steps and submitting your application. Visualize yourself when you open your email and read the match result. You are feeling happy, excited or anxious. Feel everything. Live the moment.

It will be difficult at first. Our brains are wired to focus on the lack of things. Reframing your thoughts to having what you want is immensely powerful. If you feel the emotions when you are visualizing your success, you are doing it right. The stronger the emotion you feel, the better it works.


I know what you are going through right now. I have been there. Even now, I feel overwhelmed with work and worry about failure. At times, I want to achieve a lot in a day and don’t have enough time.

When I am in that situation, I use these 5 steps to boost my productivity and get some work done.

1.Figure out the baby steps to get to the big win.

2.Work on the hardest/most boring/most time-consuming steps during your most productive hours.

3.Avoid distractions during the productive hours.

4.Keep the momentum going. Even if that means working for 15 minutes a day on your baby steps.

5.Visualize your success and how you would get there. Feel the emotions you would feel when you get there.


Do contacts help in getting residency?

Do contacts help in getting residency?

applicant multiple red flags

Short answer- YES

But very few IMGs who come to the US have strong enough contacts to get them into residency program. I did not have any contacts in the US when I came here. I know many of my friends who matched in top university programs had no contacts in the US. But on our USMLE to residency journey, there are plenty of opportunities to find contacts that will help you in getting externships, residency and even jobs/fellowship after your residency.

With this article, I will show you:

  •      What does having contacts actually mean.

  •      What to do if like me, you have no contacts


What does having contacts actually mean?


Examples of contacts helping IMGs in getting residency:

Example 1. When I was applying for my residency, I had a roommate who was always out having fun while I was looking for observerships, working on step 3 and doing everything I could to make my application stronger. Like him, I wanted to drive to the beach every weekend or go to a cool city and take a bunch of photographs to post on facebook. And the worst part was, he had scored less than I did on my USMLE step 1 and 2. You have probably guessed it by now, he had connections in the US that he was counting on to get him into residency when we both apply in just a few months. My friend mentioned above obviously matched.  

Example 2. Let’s look at some other examples of people I know who matched with contacts- someone whose best friend from college was a 2nd year resident in a program or someone whose spouse was a resident.

These are examples of personal connections. As we now know, they obviously help in getting a residency. You either have a personal connection or you don’t. So if you do, you are lucky. Ask them to get you a residency spot in the program that they are affiliated with.


But if you are like me with no personal connections in the US, then keep reading on.


Example 3: This is another example of someone else I met along my journey of USMLE to residency who matched with help of connection. This applicant did an observership in a private clinic. She enjoyed going to that clinic and the clinic staff liked having her too. The observership attending was friends with the PD at a nearby residency program. He not only wrote a strong letter of recommendation for the applicant, hedid something else that not many attendings do and not many IMGs ask for. He sent an email to his PD friend about the applicant.

Now this is HUGE. I can’t tell what happened in the back end but my guess is, the PD read the email and pulled up the person’s application on his computer. The applicant stood out in the pile of thousand other IMG applications. Just one email (or sometimes a phone call) from the attending.  Of course the applicant was invited for an interview at the program. This is an example of professional connection.

This is also called networking. I am not a big fan of the word networking because it makes the process sound very formal and structured. You go to a big conference, say hi to as many people as you can, if someone looks like they are important and seems interested in you, you take their contact information and hound them after the conference to let you do an observership with them. Aaagh! I tried that once and hated myself for doing that. Meeting new people, getting to know them and building a professional relationship should feel natural and fulfilling. If it is not fun for you, it is not fun for the person you are meeting.

So how does an IMG who has not been in the US for too long, not have much experience in the clinical field and always busy with USMLEs and application go out and meet attendings and built a professional relationship with them?


I am glad you asked.


What to do if you have no contacts in the US? 

There are number of ways of doing that. The list below shows some but it is not all-inclusive. Making professional connections is a very natural process and there are a million ways of doing it. But these will help you get started. Look for these opportunities to connect with people while you are working on everything else for you residency.

1.     Clinical rotations/masters program/volunteer work:

Like the applicant above, when you are doing your observership, don’t keep your eyes just on the LOR at the end of your rotation. Enjoy the process. Chat with the clinic staff, get to know them, tell them about yourself. If the attending you are working with mentions about residency programs in town, ask them how do they feel about the programs. Do they offer good education? Are the attendings easy to work with? Does he know any of the attendings? If he does, and you feel he is going to write you a strong letter, it’s okay to ask him to let the program know that you will be applying. IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T GET

The same principal applies if you are working on research with someone or volunteering in a clinic. Think beyond LOR. Working on meeting more people, knowing them and building a relationship.

If you are in MPH or other master’s programs, you faculty advisor, internship supervisor, friends you make during masters research projects can become your connections.


2.     Medical conferences:

After being to many conferences and trying out many different things, I have finally figured out a way to be more productive at conferences. I learnt most of these techniques from the the book Never Eat Alone.  It has a lot of good information on networking for your career in general but for an IMG who is fresh off the boat and trying to get residency, these are a few things to keep in mind.

powerful ways to get USCE

      Try to be a presenter at the conference instead of the audience. Email the conference contact person and ask them if there is any scope of poster or podium presentation. Most of these conferences are looking for presenters. We all have some work we have done back in our home country or something we have know more about than others that we can present (for example: medical tourism in India, evolving health care in third world countries, case report on a rare diagnoses etc). Based on the type of conference, pick something you can present and email the conference contact person asking for an opportunity to present.  

      Don’t be a wallflower. This was a problem I was facing when I first came to this country. I thought why would anyone want to meet me? What do I have to offer them? If I talk to anyone, I would come off as needy or desperate. I was so wrong. People come to conference to meet people. Sometimes, they are just as anxious as you are and by you breaking the ice and introducing yourself, you are helping them open up. Don’t just stand at the corner, sit on the last chair during a lecture or eat alone during the breaks.  Put yourself in front of people.

      Don’t latch on too the first person you meet for the entire conference. Keep finding more people to talk to. On the flip side, don’t be that person who is constantly darting around the room hunting for a prey.

      When you meet someone, instead of figuring out what they can do for you, think more about what you can do for them. You can listen to them about their problems, see if you or someone you know have solutions for them.

      Be a little vulnerable about yourself. Tell people who you are, what your passions are or some stories about you. Now don’t just go on and on and bore people to death but sharing a little personal information gives others permission to open up about their life.

      When you feel like you have connected with someone on a deeper level than just talking about the weather or how great the last lecture was, take their contact information to stay in touch later.

      Stay in touch later. This is where you will be better than 99% of other conference attendees. People don’t take this extra step of reconnecting with those they met at a conference. That’s just a waste of time and money going to the conference. Send a quick ‘nice to meet you’ email. Remind them about something you guys talked about and how much you enjoyed that.

      If you feel like you almost became friends with someone during the conference, don’t wait for the conference to get over to reach out to them again. They got to eat later that night. Suggest a great place to eat or drink and invite them to come along.

      If you meet the same people is elsewhere or in other conferences, re-introduce yourself.  This will help solidify your network.

3.     Physician organizations:

Join physician organizations from doctors of your home country like AAPI, NAAMA. These organizations have frequent networking events. Showing up at these events is good but volunteering to be on staff (guest list manager, venue preparation etc) is better. Email the organizer before the event and ask them if they need volunteers.


4.  Others:

Every person you meet during your journey to get into residency is a part of your network. Only if you keep up with them.  Also, try to remember two things about everyone you meet; their name and one thing about either their family or hobby.



If you are an IMG with no contacts in the US to get you a residency interview, you are not alone. Very few people have contacts strong enough to get them into residency.

You will have ample opportunity to built your network and use it before match to boost your application.

If you follow the tips above, you will expose yourself to a lot more people who can help you get USCE, research, interviews and even spot at residency programs you never thought you could get.

I learnt a lot of these skills during my USMLE preparation and internal medicine residency. It definitely helped me get interviews and a job after my residency.