Do contacts help in getting residency?
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.
– 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.
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.