I have a cousin, we’ll call him N, who immigrated to the United States after completing his medical schooling in India with flying colors. His dream was to practice medicine; his parents’ dream was for him to practice medicine in the United States. So he hopped aboard a plane, flew over the Indian and the Atlantic, settled in Chicago, and studied to take the licensing exams that every physician hopeful undertakes: The Step 1, 2, & 3.
After passing the exams with above average scores, he thought the hard part was over as I can only imagine so many other medical school graduates feel after paying their dues and making the transition from student to practicing physician. However, gaining residency proved to be more difficult than he thought. N went through at least two match cycles, both unsuccessfully, and his mood grew from optimistic to despondent. Here he is on the brink of reaping the fruits of his labor and instead of party hats and confetti, he’s met with a wall of resistance.
If anything, medical school in India is more trying than the US. You enter right after you finish high school, testing the maturity and growth of its matriculates. It lasts a little more than 5 years and clinical rotations begin in the second year. Within his clinical rotations, N has seen a phalanx of diseases all across the socioeconomic spectrum from infectious diseases like TB to chronic lifestyle-associated ailments such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Thus, N’s medical exposure is more well-rounded than most practicing physicians within the United States. After their education, students attain an MBBS, a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery. However, there are even less postgraduate positions for residency in India than there are new graduates, rivaling the competition for residency spots in that of the US as well. Consequently, many opt to go into specialties that aren’t their first choice.
So now N is faced with a difficult choice. Does he displace the American Dream with his dream of practicing medicine, or does he forswear medicine altogether and settle for an alternative route towards attaining that white picket fence?
This is probably the scenario that scares me the most. With the increase in class size of both American MD and DO schools and the rather stagnant amount of postgraduate residency positions offered each year, N’s story is progressively becoming interlaced into a bigger fabric blanketing a pool of similar applicants with dashed hopes and dreams. The drive for me however is realizing that the only thing worse than N’s story becoming my own story is to not try at all and let fear and projected consequences dictate my present day. And that is a downfall that I do have complete control over…
However, stories like these tend to make people think the path to medical is plagued with only two types of scenarios: go to an US MD or DO school, and obtain a residency or go to an IMS (international medical school) and don’t–or rather, die trying. But there is much more color to this black and white schematic that people so begrudgingly (and wrongly, might, I add) hold onto. You can go to an IMS, become competitive, and successfully elicit a spot just as an American medical graduate can perform rather mediocre and not become successful. While Match Day is much a result of luck as it is logic, one thing people cannot argue with are your board scores. Set the bar high and go in fighting because, if you learn anything from N’s story, no one else will for you, regardless of how much you want it.