Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you professionally? Who are you outside of the hospital?
Well hello there everyone! My name is Ami, pronounced Ah-mee.
I’m an easy going but sometimes intense guy from Los Angeles, California (cough cough the best city in the world). I grew up in the suburbs or “the valley.” I went to UC-Irvine for my undergrad and double majored in International Studies and Biology, but mostly spent my time surfing… hence my atrocious bio GPA, average MCAT that eventually led me to Ross like many other people. As I answer these questions I’ll give a line of advice from my experience thus far.
There is a small caveat before Ross University where I decided to get serious towards the end of senior year of college (too late to take the “correct” path to med school). I graduated, then took some bio classes at UCLA, did some research in the ER at Children’s Hospital in LA (CHLA) and got EMT certified to boost the résumé. This still wasn’t enough.
Now bear with me because the story below has a lot to do with the next 5 years of my life.
The story: I had been surfing the same spot in North LA for around 5 years at the time and there was always this guy in the water, who was there so often, I just figured he was some surf bum with no job. So I start talking to this guy and I ask him “well what do you do?” and he causally answers, “Well, I’m a doctor…” I actually laughed out loud and said, “No, really what do you do?” He’s like “no, seriously.”
So at this point I’m intrigued and ask “well, what type of doctor are you and where do you work?” And to my surprise, he says “I’m an Emergency Medicine doctor and I work at UCLA for the past 15 years” So we talk more in depth about how I’m trying to go to med school and he tells me how he just started this Med-tech company and because I’m used to taking tests, “why don’t you come over to the office and do some quality assurance/beta testing on the ultrasound simulator…”
Thus begins my mini, 1 year career working for SonoSim, Inc. Being in that start-up environment where 9-5 is unheard of and 1 position equals 5, was the best experience of my life. It taught me how to actually work hard and made me responsible for the progression of a company where others depend on you and if you fail, the entire team/business fails. All this combined with a lot of ultrasound scanning made for the best med school prep I could’ve hoped for. It also gave me a close look into the world of emergency medicine, which is likely why I went for EM over Surgery in the end.
***Advice #1: Always say yes to new opportunities, the smallest door can change your life.
What specialties did you apply to? What attracted you to emergency medicine and surgery?
I double applied to Emergency Medicine and General Surgery, no back ups in Internal Medicine/Family Med etc. I’m an ADD, instant gratification, need challenges type of guy and I know that I would never find happiness in other specialties. I also love using my hands so I needed a specialty that was heavy on procedures. As many of my friends and wonderful girlfriend can attest to, I struggled immensely deciding between Surgery and EM. I applied to both realizing that I would love both for different reasons: EM would provide enough procedures and diagnostic challenge with great lifestyle. Surgery would be all procedures and the fulfillment of definitive care. Also, I still personally believe Surgery is slightly more intellectually stimulating/challenging than EM (says the EM resident lol).
***Advice #2: Introspection, knowing yourself, is the key to every life decision.
How many programs did you end up applying to? How many EM? Categorical? Prelim? What was your reasoning for that number of programs?
I applied to every single Emergency Medicine program in the country, some 180+ programs. I applied to about 100 general surgery programs and every prelim position at those programs as well. It cost upwards of $6,000 JUST. TO. APPLY.
Was it worth it? YES. For most, you are already in debt; the only thing that matters is that you give yourself the best chance possible to get a residency. Obviously, be realistic about your résumé, scores, personality, etc.
***Advice #3: You end up in the place your supposed to be. Trust the process.
How many interviews did you go on for each specialty?
EM: 8, Gen Surg: 3, Pre-lim: 2. I went to every interview I got, it was logistically difficult and expensive. I flew across the country about 5 times. Again, you’re a “foreign” graduate; you have to take every opportunity possible. The statistics and amount of people applying for certain specialties are in flux every year, so advice doesn’t hold true year-to-year. My interview excel sheet is below.
***Advice #4: You are never too good for a certain place or program. Be humble.
How did you end up ranking the programs? (Surgery higher than EM? Better the program the higher it went regardless of surgery or EM?)
It’s a combination of things. I really wanted to be close to home in California so I ranked those programs first, it was just a bonus that those programs had everything I wanted as well. UConn had everything the California programs had and I absolutely loved the leadership and residents, more than any other place I went.
Jackson Memorial was a gamble because the program is brand new, but you can’t beat the patient pathology/experience. The Detroit programs are amazing, well established programs, also with great patient pathology. I was really impressed with Detroit and would have been grateful to go there as well. I only ranked one Surgery program higher than some EM because I would’ve been happier with those people doing surgery than the others doing EM. Like everyone says, it’s a feeling during the interview that really sets your decision.
Below is the excel sheet of my interviews/dates/ranks
I ranked them:
1) Stanford Univ: EM
2) UCSF-Fresno: EM
3) UConn: EM
4) Jackson Memorial: EM
5) St. John: EM
6) DMC-Sinai Grace: EM
7) Cleveland Clinic – Florida: Gen Surg
8) Crozer Chester: EM
9) Lehigh Valley: EM
– The rest of Gen Surg
***Advice #5: Trust your gut.
Any crazy stories from the interview trail?
Noone I interviewed with ever passed out or threw up, but I heard one good story.
Apparently the year before at one of the hospitals an applicant for Emergency Medicine got so drunk at the meet-n-greet the night before, he blacked out, got alcohol poisoning and ended up in the hospital. The kicker is that the next morning when the applicants were getting the tour of the Emergency Department, he was passed out in one of the ED beds with an IV, recovering…
Needless to say, don’t be that guy.
***Advice #6: Don’t let your insecurities steer you into bad decisions.
What did you find to be the most frustrating part of the interview process?
Simply the cost. It’s hard to justify applying to so many places. A lot of people hedge their bets and apply only to places with a history of taking foreign grads, but you just never know. I pulled every string I could, called acquaintances, went to conferences to network, and tried everything I could. Now I’m at a program that usually never took Ross grads and I had interviews in places I would’ve never expected.
It’s a numbers game in the end; you want your face and résumé in as many hands as possible.
***Advice#7: Never give up because the feeling of comfort can be dangerous.
Do you feel that coming from a Caribbean medical school hindered your chances to match in one of the more competitive specialties?
Absolutely, 100% yes. It’s just the reality of the situation and you have to make the best of it. Interviewing in California as an IMG, likely means I would have easily been accepted as a US-grad. Everyone will ask on interviews “Why Ross/Caribbean and how was your experience?” The answer is always “It made me more resilient, hardworking and appreciative.”
I was very bitter about this fact for a long time, if you’re like me, my advice is to just let it go. You have to make peace with this because people will feel your animosity and energy during the interview, which will never end well. If you’ve made it into the match, then by definition you have worked your butt off and don’t let anyone make you feel any different.
***Advice #8: Be a politician. Being able to spin your story might make or break you. Practice.
What do you think were your greatest strengths about your application? What set you apart from the other applicants?
I think my work experience and ultrasound research were really the 2 things that set me apart. I had really great letters of rec for Emergency med. I even had my old boss before med school write me a letter, remember he’s an ER doc at UCLA so his input was relevant. Besides the other 2 SLOEs (specific EM letters you need to apply in EM) I had the Ob/Gyn Program Director who I did ultrasound research with during my 3rd year write me a letter as well.
Letters of Rec are extremely important; on almost every interview people mentioned the letters. Its one of the only ways for programs to get an idea of who you really are, your work ethic, your personality, etc. For surgery, I had few interviews and I think this is a direct correlation to weaker more generic letters of rec in surgery. I was also only able to do 1 real surgery sub-I before applications, which hurt as well.
***Advice #9: Tell your story, figure out what part of your story is interesting, and let others give you feedback.
In contrast, what were your greatest weaknesses about your application?
I think my greatest weakness was the places I did Sub-I’s and away rotations. All my EM rotations were within the Ross network: 2 in Chicago at Mt. Sinai, and 1 in LA at California hospital. I would have had more interviews if I had set up better away rotations. It’s important to do Non-affiliate rotations. I have friends from other foreign med schools with similar scores and resumes that had 15+ interviews because they did a lot of away rotations and set them up early. Most places will give you a curtsy interview, but if you do well there, they will definitely consider you for a real spot. Again, you have to spin your story: I had great experiences from my rotations, inner city ED’s are very similar and an important exposure to have.
***Advice #10: Be informed about the process and plan ahead.
How did you do on the USMLE’s? What were your step scores? Do you think your step scores negatively/positively affected the number of interviews your received?
Step 1: 237, Step 2: 252, CS: Pass
Clearly these scores are critically important. For EM, 220 range might keep your application from going in the trash. But remember, the program coordinators are just clicking check boxes for criteria. If you call a program with any legitimate reason that you want to go there (i.e. spouse, family, I like snow, you guys look cool, my grandma’s brother’s daughter’s dog can’t live without me, whatever) they will pull your application out of the trash and look, hopefully. Have people make calls for you and never be afraid to call yourself and ask.
***Advice #11: Nothing beats a personal touch to create an empathetic connection. People will work harder for you if they feel connected.
What advice would you give to other international medical graduates who want to pursue residency in emergency medicine?
Work and study hard. Do many non-affiliate away rotations. Get your SLOEs in early. Go to ACEP and SAEM and get at least 3 program directors emails. Follow up! This is not the time to be shy but of course there is a balance and “business etiquette.” Be direct and if possible a little playful and funny. In the end, and maybe most importantly, these people have to like you and want to work with you.
***Advice #12: Regardless of what happens (match, no match, prelim or dream job) it’s a life long journey in medicine and you will end up in the right place.
Wow Ami (Ah-mee), thanks for a great interview and some amazing advice.