Ranking and Marketing: Getting a Residency Match as a Foreign Medical Graduate

Registering for The Match through the NRMP begins September 15, 2018. International Medical Graduates (IMGs) should have ECFMG certification in progress, as it is due by the rank order list deadline of February 20, 2019. The ECFMG provides the NRMP with confirmation that USMLE exams have been passed and that applicants are eligible for The Match. It serves as a Dean’s office for all foreign students to ensure that they meet the standards to qualify for a residency program.

The Match

The NRMP facilitates the ranking and placement of medical students into residency programs, but they are not in charge of program requirements or supported visa types. Applicants to each program must pay careful attention to whether or not the program accepts IMGs and the deadlines for sponsoring visas if applicable. The majority of residencies participate in the NRMP, but it is not a requirement.

Do IMGs have less opportunity for a match?

Foreign medical graduates have a history of obtaining less first-year residency matches than U.S. medical graduates, but the numbers are improving. First-year residency matches went from a 53.3% match rate in 2017 to a 56.5% match rate in 2018. This rate has been steadily increasing over the past decade.

The reasons for the lower number of first-year residency matches may not be warranted, but they still exist. Some program directors may have unfounded judgements about the quality of training abroad, but this is a stigma based on archaic thinking rather than facts. A more reasonable explanation may be that international programs differ from U.S. programs, so they are difficult to compare. Transcripts and academic achievements from different countries with different curricula are challenging to fully understand because they differ from the standard U.S. curriculum. While this creates a challenge to obtaining a match, it also opens a window of opportunity to market oneself during the application and interview process.

Market your Abilities and Stand Out Above the Rest

Applications are a starting point to combat any biases that may emerge during the application process. Program directors need to know that an applicant has proper training, skill and experience. A high score on the USMLE may be the first thing evaluated on an application from an IMG, but there are additional ways to stand out. Another way to stand out is by submitting letters of recommendation by U.S. doctors with whom an applicant has worked closely. Letters that clearly explain clinical abilities and provide examples of it will have a big impact on program directors. Supporting documents such as letters of recommendation and transcripts will be transmitted to ERAS applications through ECFMG.

A second way to improve the odds of a match is aggressive marketing. Applying to many schools is one tactic to increase odds, but 5 to 10 top picks deserve extra attention. Contact program directors and coordinators of these programs for introductions and tips prior to the interview. Those who wrote letters of recommendations may also contact program directors and give verbal recommendations. Ultimately, when applicants make themselves present in the lives of the people in the program, their applications become more meaningful, which increases the odds of a match.

Ranking Strategies

There are many strategies for ranking residencies for The Match. The ECFMG instructs applicants to rank them in the order in which they most want to attend them, which exercises the full purpose of the Match but may not yield a match. A quick internet search will provide lists of IMG-friendly specialties. Applying based on this may not be the best option for long-term career choices. There is not one clear-cut method that will guarantee a match, but some recommend a mix of high-competition residencies and low-competition residencies to improve the odds. Others recommend applying to as many residencies as possible. While one ranking strategy may work for some and not others, the application process combined with smart ranking choices will yield more positive results for Foreign Medical Graduates.

Rank Order Lists

Twenty programs are allowed to be listed on the rank order list (ROL), and 20 more can be listed on the supplemental ROL. Extra fees can be applied to place more programs on the ROL, but there can be no more than 700 listed for one applicant. The deadline for certification is 9 p.m. February 20, 2019. No changes can be made after this time, and matches are binding.

The Foreign Medical Graduate Prospective

As mentioned previously, the matches among foreign medical graduates are growing in number. Physician shortages and increased knowledge sharing from organizations such as the ECFMG are facilitating matches by matching the need for more providers with the surety that applicants are trained and skilled in their profession. It is a difficult process for all medical students and graduates, but it is a process that can be a success if a person provides proper evidence of their education and skill through documents and interviews.

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