I hope everyone is doing well. I’d like to start off by congratulating all my colleagues who Matched. I’m especially proud of my fellow classmates who got accepted into great residency programs in the USA, Saudi, UK, and even Canada. For those who didn’t match this year, please remember that this may all be for the best inshallah and don’t give up. This is just another hurdle to overcome.
I wrote this post to share some of my most important advice and experiences that I have after going through the US residency application, interview season, and Match. I am currently working on the second edition of the AMAA’s Guide to US Residency booklet, but by writing this “informal” post I can be a little more personal and go into details that won’t be included in the booklet. This was definitely a tough application season by all accounts, especially for Internal Medicine, but alhamdulillah I ended up matching in Internal Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. I’d like to go over what worked for me, what didn’t work for me, and what I would have done differently if I had to apply again. I’ve also uploaded some documents that I developed, collected and used to help me during the season and included the link here.
I hope you’ll find them useful inshallah. Just to be clear, these are my personal experiences and tips. Not everyone had the same experiences, and not everyone will agree with what I’ve done. Take whatever you think will help you the most and do whatever you think suits you the best.
This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me. If there’s something I didn’t cover that you’d like to know more about, feel free to ask me whatever you want.
Before the application:
Find a great mentor
Many thanks to Dr. Mohammad Mathbout for being an awesome mentor despite being busy with his residency and his fellowship application. Find someone who’s successfully matched because they know what you’ll be going through and their experience is extremely valuable. The more supportive and responsive they are, the better. I believe the AMAA will run its mentorship program again this year, and I hope that everyone who matched will participate as mentors.
Resources to use
Some great resources include the books “The Successful Match 2017: Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match” (very evidence-based and utilizes a lot of statistics and research) and “First Aid for the Match”. I would also recommend watching this Kaplan video with advice and input from multiple program directors (PDs). There are various Facebook pages and groups that offer tips and advice. If you’re Syrian, you can join the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Match group on FB. They offer a lot of resources, like a program list for IM, services to help review your CV and PS, and even an interview practice workshop in multiple US cities (everyone can join these, even non-Syrians). You can also check out the SAMS YouTube page for some great videos about the Match.
Getting the ECFMG Certificate & ERAS token, Transcripts, opening an NRMP account. To avoid taking up too much space here, I will leave instructions for these in the booklet.
YOUR ERAS APPLICATION
Your ERAS application is your electronic CV. You’ll include all your personal information, education, work and volunteer experience, research, etc. Ask someone who’s experienced to help you with your CV and PS. You should also make your own personal CV, separate from the ERAS one. I had the opportunity to help a number of graduates and interns who were applying for residency and electives this year with their CVs and PS’s, and I’ve found that most of us had a lot of similar mistakes that can be detrimental to anyone’s application. Start working on these documents early and get them double-checked.
Many people consider the USMLEs to be the most important factor in your application. Programs will often rank applications they get from the highest to the lowest USMLE scores and may use them to filter out applicants below a certain score. Different people will say different things, but the general rule is this: the higher you score, the better. For top-tier programs and the competitive university-hospital programs, USMLE scores above a certain point are not as important as other factors like the prestige of your medical school, research, LoRs and US clinical experience (USCE). However, for the less competitive programs, especially community hospital programs, the USMLE scores may be the only thing they use to select candidates for IVs (interviews).
I had a chat with an associate program director (APD) responsible for resident recruitment at one of the top IM residency programs in the country. He told me that while scoring below average is a negative factor, he doesn’t have any minimum Step 1 score requirement, and when he looks at applications: “a 240 is better than a 210, but a 270 is the same to me as a 240”. He said that the only thing an above average USMLE score can predict is how likely a candidate will pass the board exams. It doesn’t predict how well that person will be as a resident. And most of the top academic programs in the country know this.
So then why do many PDs arrange applicants based on USMLE scores? Why do some programs put a minimum USMLE score requirement (usually around 230 for IM)? The answer is simple: They have waaay too many people applying to their programs. Most IM programs have at least 5000+ applicants every year. Many of them do not have the manpower and the time to go over all of them. Step 1 scores provide an objective way to order applicants by. Programs know they might lose some good candidates who get filtered out this way, but ultimately, there will still be way more than enough qualified candidates to look at. So, score as high as you can to avoid being filtered out, but don’t rely entirely on scores, especially if you’re aiming for a top-notch university hospital.
After going through the application process, I’m now pretty sure that the first thing most programs (especially competitive programs) look at is whether you’re an AMG or IMG, and if you’re an IMG the next thing they’ll look at is where you studied. Having met and worked with many IMGs, I can say that Alfaisal is definitely one of the most supportive international medical schools for students seeking residency in the US. However, KSA has not had many students apply for US residency through the match, and the few who have done residency in the US usually enter sponsored spots.
Contrast this to places like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, India, and South America that can have hundreds/thousands of people applying every year. Graduates from these places are well known, and many programs have had residents from these countries before. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of Indian applicants this year alone exceeds the total number of applicants from Saudi who have ever applied for the Match.
Some schools like AUB, RCSI in Bahrain, and Aga Khan are famous, and students coming from there usually get more IVs than other IMGs. I was told at many of the programs I went to that I was the first person they’ve ever interviewed from Saudi Arabia. Many were surprised that we studied in English as they didn’t expect that. And of course, most programs will prefer an IMG from UK or Canada over one from Asia/Middle East.
What does all this mean? Unfortunately, it means that many programs will filter us out simply because we’re IMGs, and even some of the IMG friendly places will filter us out because we’re coming from Saudi. Therefore, you must apply to many programs, more so than other candidates. The only other thing we can do is spread the name of Alfaisal throughout the US until more people know about us.
(Bonus tip: When you include Alfaisal University in your CV, mention that it is the medical school of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. Some people at the top hospitals know KFSH)
Medical School Awards
Probably the most common mistake I’ve seen in CVs is that people don’t describe and elaborate what is mentioned in their CV. Doctors outside Alfaisal might not understand what the significance of being on the Dean’s List is unless you mention it is for students with a cGPA of > 3.75/4.00. They won’t understand how big of a deal it is if you graduate with First Honors or that you scored among the top 10 in the progress test unless you describe the significance of those achievements. PDs know that there are a lot of meaningless awards and achievements out there. That’s why you need to explain what is in your CV. If there’s an award that didn’t really require much of an achievement to get, better not include it.
If you are among the top 3 ranked students in the class, then definitely mention your class rank. If you are among the top 5th percentile or 10th percentile, that is also definitely worth including. If your GPA is very high include it.
US clinical experience and observerships
Include these under “Work Experience” in your ERAS CV. Provide a brief, 2 to 3-line summary description of what you did in that elective/observership. Of course, electives are definitely more valuable than observerships. Some programs do have a number of required months of USCE, and most of them don’t consider observerships as clinical experience. Electives will definitely help you get interviews and match inshallah. I did electives at multiple programs that I interviewed at, including one at Cleveland Clinic that was really amazing alhamdulillah.
(Bonus tip: If the hospital I did an elective at provided an official evaluation, I included my final score in the elective description. For example – “Achieved Honors with Distinction”. This will show other programs how well you performed during the elective)
Letters of Recommendation
My LoRs were definitely the strongest part of my application, alhamdulillah. In my opinion, letters are what will make or break you. If you can make it through the filters, then your LoRs will play the biggest role in whether or not the programs decide to invite you. None of my interviewers ever brought up my USMLE scores, GPA, US citizenship, or number of publications, and only 2 or 3 of them told me they liked that I was the top of my class. However, most of the doctors who interviewed me told me how impressed they were with my letters. While I’m sure all the other factors had a positive impact, I could tell it was the LoRs that had impressed them the most.
The thing is, LoRs are the only way programs can really tell how capable you are in the workplace and what it is like to work with you. Nothing else can really describe how good of a resident you will be like a letter from another physician. Programs often mention on their websites that a letter from the Clerkship Director or Chairman of Medicine at your institution is required. This is usually more for AMGs than IMGs. For IMGs, 4 very strong US LoRs are more than enough. All my 4 LoRs were from US physicians.
The content and the strength of the letter is more important than the position of the author. But make sure the doctor is at least an attending, as letters from residents and fellows are not worth much. Plus, a more senior doctor at an academic hospital will likely have a lot of experience writing LoRs for students. A great letter is personalized and includes specific information about you and what you did, and is “comparative”- meaning it has statements like “Mr. X is one of the top 3/top 5% of students I have worked with”, or “In my past 20 years as a cardiologist I can’t recall working with a student this bright”. Sometimes they can include an example of a patient encounter you had that impressed the writer.
Most writers will NOT show you the letter, and it is common courtesy NOT to ask them to show you. When you send them the letter request through ERAS, MAKE SURE YOU WAIVE THE RIGHT TO SEE THE LETTER. Some writers will show you the letter without you asking. Two of mine did, but the rest didn’t. So what to make of the letters that you don’t see? If you did a really good job during your elective and the doctor seems eager to write you a letter, then they will most likely write you an excellent one. I didn’t see my other LoRs, and most candidates don’t even see a single one, which is fine.
I cannot emphasize this enough. If you impress your doctors and get exceptional LoRs, your application will move up to another level. And you don’t need to know everything in First Aid to do that. They care more about your professionalism, enthusiasm, likeability, and being a team player than your knowledge (but knowledge is still very important). Ask them face to face and be confident when you ask. I would ask at the end of my time working with them and say something like “Thank you Dr. X for letting me be a part of your team. I really learned a lot the past few weeks. I’ll be applying for IM residency this year and I am hoping to get letters from US physicians, so I wanted to know if you would be comfortable with writing me a strong letter of recommendation.” Of course, you should tailor what you say based on the attitude of the doctor you’ll be asking. They will usually request your CV and PS, so have those ready.
Bonus tip: You can ask your doctors to fill out the Alfaisal Intern Evaluation to get an idea of what they think about you and how strong their letter might be.
Another bonus tip: If you really got along well with a resident or fellow you worked with, you can ask them to send some feedback to the attending to include in the letter. A fellow actually offered to do this for me in one of my electives, so it was like I had 2 doctors recommending me in 1 letter)
If you’re aiming for a really competitive program, you’ll need at least a few publications. The APD I talked with told me that all he wanted to see was just a few publications to demonstrate interest and commitment to research. If you have some as the first author, that’s even better. I had 4 publications on my CV.
Research experience in the US is definitely great. I’ve been doing research at Mayo Clinic since late summer, and I know it looks better on the CV than having an empty year after graduating. There is a section in the ERAS CV for “Research Experience”. I would only include something under that if you were in a dedicated research position (e.g. Research fellow or Research trainee). If you worked on a paper while you were doing a clinical elective, mention that in the elective description.
If you’re looking for an extremely competitive specialty, especially the very competitive surgical specialties (e.g. ENT, plastic surgery), things will be a little different. Applicants here can have dozens of papers, and you’ll need to keep up to be competitive. You might need somewhere around 15-20+ publications to get a shot at interviewing. Some IMGs will take 2-3 years after graduating to do research and get more publications and others also get a Ph.D. or an MPH as this definitely boosts their CVs.
I see a lot of mistakes here as well. There’s a very simple rule to know about the CV – “More is NOT necessarily better”. The APD I talked with said he only spends a few minutes on each person’s CV. If it’s crammed with a lot of useless information, he starts skipping stuff. This could potentially mean skipping something that’s actually important.
You want to make sure every single thing on your CV makes you look like a stronger applicant. A volunteer experience such as “Responsible for registering attendance at XYZ Symposium” or “Distributed brochures on Diabetes Awareness Day” is weak and will not strengthen your application. AMGs have volunteering experiences like “Spent 5 months building homes for poor families in Kenya” or “Worked as an EMT in an ambulance over the summer”.
I personally did not include a single volunteer experience in my application. Examples of experiences that I think are worth including are working in the MSA, especially if you were able to make a change for the students, or volunteering as a tutor. As an example, “Secured XXXXXX riyals for funding of students’ electives abroad”. If you have many experiences like, I would recommend sticking to 2 or 3 maximum. Keep your CV as short and as high-impact as possible.
This was probably the most difficult part of the application for me. The PS is for telling programs more about who you are and what you want. I wrote about why I loved Internal Medicine, my passion for Oncology, a little bit about my experience and interest in research, what I was looking for in residency and what I could bring to my program. Most people recommend around 650 words for a PS (definitely shouldn’t be more than a page long). I reviewed a bunch of people’s residency and elective personal statements, and mine was definitely the shortest (around 400 words). Mine was also probably the least… “poetic”. I kept my PS simple, straightforward and to the point.
You should get multiple people to review your PS. At least one of them should have gone through the application process. The most common mistakes I’ve found are linguistic errors – spelling and grammatical. Keep in mind, the PS is used more often to filter OUT people rather than to select candidates for IVs. Spelling and grammar mistakes in your PS are an easy way to get filtered out as programs will think you’re careless or that your English isn’t good. After I edited my PS dozens of times I sent the final draft to Cambridge Proofreading to get the English checked. Regardless of how good your English is, I highly recommend having your PS reviewed by English professionals.
While uploading the PS to ERAS, the default font on the website seems really small. Even though ERAS recommends against copying from Microsoft Word, when I copied my PS from Word the font was larger and clearer (you can choose to preview it exactly how the programs will receive it). So I went with that. But what I noticed was if I wanted to make any edits after I pasted it to ERAS from Word, the format would get really distorted. I made sure it was completely finalized in Word before copying it to ERAS.
FINDING PROGRAMS TO APPLY TO
As I said earlier, the first major step to counteract being filtered out is to apply to many programs. I applied to 99 IM programs (almost all were university-hospital programs), and even that is considered “risky”. Most others applied to 150-180 IM programs, and there are some who applied to 200+. I recommend making a list of programs and identify which programs are your top choices, which ones are your intermediate choices, and which ones are your backups. But how can you figure out the names of the programs you might want to consider applying to? There are several sources of program names:
ERAS Program List
SAMS Ultimate List
SAMS has an Ultimate List for IM programs that it shares exclusively with its members
Doximity is kinda like Facebook for Medicine, although much less used. They have their own Residency Navigator (need an account to use).
Now I’d like to point something out: One of the options for organizing the programs you look at is by “Reputation”. Be very careful with interpreting this – Doximity ranks “Reputation” according to the votes of a few thousand physicians who are “survey-eligible”. Basically, it’s like a Facebook poll of a minority of doctors who have never even been to most of the hospitals in the vote.
That’s why the order of programs on Doximity doesn’t mean much. Larger hospitals will often be ranked higher because their own physicians vote in larger numbers or because their names are more famous. Additionally, a lot of the information mentioned about each program like Board Pass Rate, Publications, and Gender Balance is inaccurate. In my opinion, the only thing you should use Doximity for is to find the names of programs, and it should have no role in assessing how strong each program is.
So how do you assess each program?
The best and most accurate way to assess BEFORE interviews is looking at the PROGRAM WEBSITE. I am surprised at the number of people who applied to programs without looking at their websites.
FREIDA provides some information with regards to the type of training each program is (University-Hospital vs Community-based), how many IMGs there are (although not always accurate), benefits and salaries, etc.
You need to know beforehand what you are looking for in each program. For me, the most important aspect of each program I looked at was where the residents matched for Hem/Onc fellowship. The reason I applied to only 99 university-affiliated programs was because the rest didn’t have fellowship matches at places I wanted. I also looked at whether or not the hospital had a cancer center accredited by the NCI, research opportunities, board pass rates, and emphasis on resident autonomy. You might be interested in IMG rates, visas offered, location of the program, etc. Make a list and identify what are the programs you want and the strengths and weaknesses of each one.
Things may not go as you expect during the IV season. I got invited to some competitive programs even though I didn’t expect them to interview me at all as they almost never invite IMGs, and I got rejected by many less competitive, IMG-friendly programs that I was almost certain would invite me. Even more surprising… none of my backup programs invited me. So don’t listen to people who tell you not to apply to the top programs because “you don’t have a chance there”, and don’t rely on only a few IMG-friendly programs as they’re not “guaranteed” to invite you. Aim high but aim wide as well.
Note: Applying to programs is expensive, and the cost goes up based on the number of programs you apply to. Just to put things in perspective, I paid around $2,000 to apply to only 99 programs, and people who applied to 150+ had to pay more than $3,000.
WAITING FOR INTERVIEWS
Submission of applications is September 15th, and usually, the invites/rejections start coming towards the end of September and early October. Just to prepare you, you will receive a lot of rejections, especially early on. This is absolutely fine. Most of these programs are filtering you out for the reasons I mentioned earlier. The number of candidates is huge (especially for IM), and most programs cannot go over all of them, so many IMGs will be filtered out very early on.
Even though IM is historically more “IMG friendly”, that’s simply because of the number of programs and spots. If you’re a competitive applicant, you’re probably more likely to stand out and get invited to more competitive programs in other specialties like Neurology, Pediatrics, and even the competitive surgical specialties just because they have fewer applicants and usually all the applications will be looked at.
In fact, there’s this “paradox” of highly competitive IMGs in Internal Medicine. These IMGs will probably be rejected by many of the top programs simply because they’re IMGs and these programs have far too many applications (or they’ll be invited as “backup” interviews), and they’ll also be rejected by many of the less competitive programs because they know that this candidate is aiming higher. Keep in mind, interviewing candidates takes up a lot of money, time, and effort, and programs don’t want to waste all that on a candidate who will likely rank them on the bottom of their list. So interestingly enough, highly competitive applicants may often get fewer IM invites than less competitive applicants who apply to more programs.
There’s also a lot of human error, and bias involved. For example, programs may initially divide the applications among program coordinators (PCs) and secretaries for an initial filtering process. You may be lucky to have your application reviewed by someone who goes through all the candidates, or you may get your application discarded by someone who’s lazy or doesn’t have the time to go through everyone.
Geography was a factor that surprised me. Programs are more likely to invite you if you are living close to them, even if you are less competitive than an applicant living farther away. And the reason is because many AMGs will start canceling IVs that are farther away to reduce costs, and then the programs can’t find people to take their place. So PDs will give priority to those who are closer and less likely to cancel. Also, different regions in the US have different “cultures”, and you’re more likely to fit in a program if you know the culture. I am currently in Minnesota, so I only got 1 IV in the south, and that was after I called the program to express interest. I didn’t get any IVs in Texas, Florida, Iowa, Alabama, or Utah, and no IVs in the West Coast.
I really am not trying to be all doom and gloom here, but I do want to be realistic and tell you all the challenges I hadn’t known about so you can be better prepared and so rejections don’t bring you down. The good news is that if you do get through all those barriers and get invited by a program, then that program wants you. In my opinion, an invite for one of us is worth 2 invites for an AMG. And we have quite a few applicants who received many invites alhamdulillah, and at great programs too. So despite the challenges, we have proven that it can be done, and inshallah our future graduates will outdo us.
Now, invites can come through ERAS or email, and scheduling will take place on ERAS or other websites like Thalamus and Interview Broker. Advice for scheduling:
Accept the invite as early as you can! Ideally within 1 hour. Wait any longer and the slots may be taken up
Schedule the invite earlier to maximize the number of IVs. The reason for this is that usually there’ll be a second “wave” of invites sometime around the end of November to early December as AMGs start canceling IVs. You want to have your later months free for those invites on short notice
You might not hear anything back the first few weeks after submitting your application. This is fine. Most programs won’t look at applications immediately. This period can be nerve-wracking (I applied to an additional 1 or 2 programs at the end of September just to reduce my anxiety)
Have a draft for your responses to the invites – I have included a template response in the link
CONTACT PROGRAMS TO EXPRESS INTEREST. The two BEST ways to combat being filtered out are to apply to many programs and to call programs to express interest. Emails are useless. I called about 20 program coordinators to express interest, around 8-9 took my ERAS ID, and 3 of them sent me invites. 2 of them sent me invites within less than 24 hours of taking my ID, and the third one put me on the waitlist immediately and the PD sent me an invite the moment a spot opened. This just confirms that the biggest obstacle is the fact that our applications are not looked at. I did this too late, and most of the PCs told me they were filled, even the ones that took my ID. I’d say the best time to do this is end of October to early November. Be aware, most PCs will not answer the phone, most who do won’t take your ID, and some of those who do are probably doing it to just stop you from calling again. But if you get one extra IV out of this, it’s worth it
Try scheduling things geographically closer when possible, to make it easier to move from one IV to the next. This is harder than it sounds, but when you can do it it’s great
Schedule flights and hotel/Airbnb stays early enough to get the best deals. For me, most trips cost between $200 - $300
If you’re scheduling hotels, sometimes the program may offer a discount code. Before buying with the code check the regular prices as they might be cheaper surprisingly, depending on the time of year
To reduce costs, I stayed in Airbnbs (they usually cost a third to half the price of the hotel stays). Sometimes programs will offer free hotel stays (2 programs did for me)
Check Expedia and Skiplagged for the best flight deals
If a program contacts you to ask if you’re sponsored by SACM (Saudi Arabian Culture Mission), they most likely won’t invite you if you’re not sponsored
I would recommend you set a number of invites in your mind that you want to achieve.
Personally, my goal was 15 invites, and I would start canceling after I exceeded that number. I got 12 invites alhamdulillah, so I didn’t cancel any
In my opinion, the best resource to prepare for IVs is a video series by the University of Wisconsin. The books I mentioned earlier are also great, and I’ve uploaded a document with a list of IV questions I was asked most often (the ones highlighted in yellow are the most important ones). I’ve also been asked a few unique questions that I haven’t heard anyone else get asked, but I didn’t include them in the list because they aren’t common. If you’d like to know them let me know and I’m happy to share them with you.
I’d recommend drafting responses to the questions and practicing with a friend or a mentor a few times before your first IV. That being said, don’t be surprised if the IVs are quite different from what you expect. Most of my IVs were quite relaxed, conversational, and many of them were even fun. For the most part, the programs want to get to know who you are as a person, and if there are any red flags while interacting with you (Are you arrogant? Rude? Very awkward?). They don’t want to test or drill you. Remember, the fact that they invited you means that they already have a good impression of you. Maintain that impression. The most important thing in an IV day is to not make any major mistakes (e.g. coming late to the IV day).
I’ve had many types of IVs: one-on-one with a doctor, interviewed by a panel of 4 doctors at the same time, as a group of applicants interviewing at the same time with the PD, a quick Q&A with the PD. And I was exposed to many styles: having a conversation about my future interests and goal, answering common IV questions, chatting about my family, talking about Amazon’s Alexa and the Washington Post and smartwatches. Of course, there were also a few interviewers who were asking routine questions off a checklist and taking notes down.
Something else I’ve noticed – the more senior the doctor is, the easier the IV is, usually. They’re experienced and know that having you relaxed is the best way to assess you. One of my favorite IVs was with the former chairman of medicine at a hospital who spent more than 40 minutes chatting with me about my opinion on resident education and how to balance resident autonomy with supervision and whether I thought teaching in a lecture or teaching in the wards was more effective. One APD spent 80% of the IV asking me about my cooking (which was a hobby on my CV), which dishes I liked to make, which ones I was planning to learn, etc. Hobbies are a favorite for interviewers so make sure you don’t put one down on your CV unless you’re willing to discuss it.
While it is important to prepare and practice your responses, ultimately the most important thing is the impression you leave. Interviewers won’t remember your answers, but they will remember how they felt about you. You should be positive, confident, charismatic, enthusiastic, and make them want to spend more time with you. Pay attention to your body language, tone of voice, and overall energy and passion.
Avoid criticizing or being negative about anything during the IV, even something as simple as the weather. Show them that you’re a positive person and that hardships won’t bring you down. No doctor wants to be on a team with a person who’s pessimistic and nags and complains and makes everyone feel more miserable. And students who are negative about their school give the impression that their training wasn’t good and that they are not loyal.
That being said, I would still recommend you practice your responses, as that will boost your confidence before your IVs. Also, make sure you bring a portfolio with you that has your CV, PS, and other important documents in it (I’ve included a travel checklist in the Google drive folder). My first interviewer couldn’t access my CV online, so I gave him a hard copy. Of course, you should know your CV inside out.
Don’t forget to assess the program as well! They want to impress you just as much as you want to impress them. I think the most important things to evaluate are the PD and the satisfaction of the residents. Is the PD supportive and responsive or are they arrogant and distant? Are the residents happy to be in the program? This may seem easy to assess at first, but often times residents are carefully selected to interact with candidates on IV days or the residents fear consequences should they be completely truthful about their program. Your gut feeling is a strong indicator. At one program I felt the residents weren’t very convincing, and after the IV day ended I came across one of the residents who I had connected really well with during lunch. He told me then that while the program was good, if it was one of my top 5 choices to “rank it number 5”. Fortunately, at all the other programs I could tell the residents were quite happy. The pre-interview dinner is another opportunity to assess how the residents feel about the program. I made my own program evaluation sheet (included in the link), but it’s based on my priorities and what I was looking for in a program.
Now some people worry about racism and discrimination. Would having a beard or wearing a hijab affect your chances, especially during the IV? Almost everyone seems to agree that as long as you’re well-groomed and dressed professionally these factors will NOT negatively affect you if you’ve already been invited. And between you and me guys, if a program views those things negatively then you’re better off matching somewhere else. Their loss, not yours. Aim for a program you can fit in comfortably.
It’s common courtesy to send a thank-you email after you’re done interviewing (unless the program says not to). I usually did so the same night, and I would send them to the PD, my interviewers, and often the PCs if they were involved with us during the day. I’ve included templates of my thank you emails in the Drive folder, but I always tried to make each email unique for each interviewer and mention something special we talked about so they could remember me better. I would not recommend mentioning ranking in a thank-you email. Most doctors will not respond to their emails, and even if they do it doesn’t necessarily mean much. Some people recommend sending physical letters through the mail, which I personally think is way too much. We’re in the 21st century, and I doubt most PDs want to find dozens of letters on their desk the day after an IV.
Bonus tip – Often times, the IVs started with the doctor saying something like “You’re the first person we’ve interviewed from Saudi”. To me, it felt like they were expressing that this was a factor they were uncertain about. My response would be “I expect you’ll be seeing more of us, especially from Alfaisal university, in the coming years”, and I would proceed to talk about Alfaisal: How the education is in English, the fact that it’s associated with KFSH and has many professors and physicians who trained in North America, how it’s geared towards helping students who want to pursue residency in the US by providing research opportunities and funding for electives in the US, and despite the fact that it’s quite young many graduates have already matched in US programs, etc. etc.
Even though they hadn’t technically asked me a question, I used the opportunity to proactively address any concerns they had by mentioning the strengths of Alfaisal and how we are aiming for residency in the US. I think most of them were pretty impressed with what I said. Contrary to what you might think, you actually have a lot of control over the IV, and your answers will usually guide the next questions the doctor will ask. For example, after I talked about Alfaisal, one doctor asked me if I had experience examining female patients. That confirmed to me he had been worried about what my training had been like, and by addressing the subject head-on I was able to alleviate his concerns)
AFTER THE INTERVIEWS
Now comes the time for you to rank your programs. If you want to know how the Matching algorithm works, you can learn more about it here. But the most important thing you should know: RANK ACCORDING TO YOUR PREFERENCES, not according to your chances. Even if you don’t think you’ll match at your favorite program, you should still rank it number 1. If you don’t match there, it does NOT affect your chances of matching at other programs.
Make sure you certify your Rank Order List well before the deadline as the website servers may crash due to traffic in the final hours. And then you wait for the Match! Inshallah you will all match, but if you don’t, do not get discouraged. You may still match in the SOAP, which is a week-long period during which the NRMP will send you a list of the unfilled spots. Applicants will send their applications to those programs, and if they PD wants them he/she will send the applicant an offer. If the applicant accepts it, they get the position. And if SOAP doesn’t work out for you, then maybe it is all for the best. Look at your CV, identify what weaknesses need working on, and apply again the next year. I know people who Matched in their 3rd and 4th application seasons. It’s always possible inshallah.
This is what I could think of for now. Keep an eye out for the 2nd edition of the booklet which should contain more detailed information. I wish every one of you all the best with your future careers inshallah, and if you need help or have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.
And if any of you get accepted for electives at the Cleveland Clinic in the coming years definitely let me know!
و الله يوفقنا جميعا