I am a foreign graduate physician and naturalized U.S. citizen who has had difficulties for the past few years securing a residency spot in my desired specialty, which is internal medicine.
Soon after I came to this beautiful country, I started looking for a job, like many other migrants. I was naïve enough to believe that my skillset as a physician would secure me a job in a hospital or outpatient facility.
I was forced to apply for other jobs. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, I decided to work in hospitality (washing dishes, Papa John’s, Jimmy John’s, WaitersToGo and many others).
Years passed, and I completed all my U.S. Medical Licensing Exams to get closer to the ultimate goal that is more aligned with my skills, working as a physician.
But ECFMG certification wasn’t the whole requirement to be able to apply for residency programs. I needed recommendation letters. Unfortunately, most hospitals charge applicants who want to observe an attending physician for a month or two. There is a fee of at least $500/week, and few hospitals offer free observance, unless you have a relationship with the attending you want to observe.
This highlights that whoever has the financial support wins the game, which is matching into a residency program.
I worked nearly a year in one of Harvard’s affiliated hospitals and around the same time in one of Florida’s well-known university hospitals. During this time, I got to know many foreign graduates, like myself, who were working hard for little money, and among them were many on J-1 visas.
They were fine working without compensation since their visa extensions are in the hands of faculty physicians who want them as free laborers in the research sector. The ridiculous fact about these volunteer research positions is that they are in high demand among J-1 visa applicants. Many of these individuals each year match into residency programs where they have friends and connections.
I’ve known many who had failed attempts on their step 1 or clinical skill exam make it to residency. Dr. William Pinsky, President and CEO of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), stated that we need these talented individuals who happened to be IMGs (international medical graduates) on J-1/H-1B visas and are well-deserved for residency positions.
My question to Dr. Pinsky is why not ask the program directors of community and university affiliated hospitals to be a little transparent about their selection criteria. Let’s see how many of these future physicians met program requirements fair and square!
I hope that U.S. citizens and Green Card holders come together to break this chain of corruption in the residency match.