Government Medical College Chandigarh Old Students Association
Every day I keep hearing that getting some research experience is an absolute "must" now to get into a decent residency program. What I don't understand is how to go about finding these positions. From what I have gathered so far, most positions are not advertised and you need contacts to get into them. Also, I am not in the US, so would the employers be willing to give me a position AND sponsor some form of visa? Are there any seniors in residency programs who would be willing to disseminate info about such positions and how to go about it?
For a foreign medical graduate, the only and most important thing for getting into a residency spot in the USA is your USMLE score. Things like research, additional degrees (eg MPH), Indian/UK post-graduation etc - add on to your resume, but cannot substitute for USMLE scores. If your scores do not meet the cut off for a program, they will not even bother to look at your other accomplishments. If you have good scores, then other things like research, MPH etc do make you more competitive.
Research positions are not easily available. Most paid research positions are for post-doctoral research - they are primarily for PhD's or others who can work in a lab. As we don't get any specialized basic research experience during our MBBS, these positions are not easy for us to get into (what we do in physio, biochem etc labs does not count). Also, typically, the sponsor will expect you to work in that lab for 2-3 years before you can move on to doing a residency - which sometimes does not help us a lot because quite a few programs now want you to have graduated from medical school within 3-5 years when applying for residencies. But overall, some form of research or publications does make your application look more stellar. However, this is more true for university programs - a lot of research can sometimes go against you if you apply to community programs (most of which give H1 visas). Also, keep in mind that everyone cannot sit in a lab and do research - you need to have an aptitude for it.
So most people who get research positions with just MBBS background (ie, no prior basic research experience) have come here (eg, on a tourist or a spouse visa) - managed to hook up with somebody, and then worked 'free' in a lab for a period of time (usually months) - once the lab in charge gets convinced that you can work hard, get results, and know your way around, he/she might sponsor you for a work visa (J1/H1) and give you a paid spot.
So to give a straight answer to your question, I don't think any employer will be willing to give you a position and sponsor a visa right away (with just an MBBS background).
I am not very optimistic that GMC alumni can be of much help - most of us are doing 'clinical' residencies/fellowships - so usually are not in touch with 'lab' people. However, some who are working in a lab might be able to guide you - but again, the biggest minus for you is a lack of prior basic research experience - so I doubt they can get you a paid spot someplace right away (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can give you the emails of a few).
So my suggestion is - study hard and get excellent scores. Contact us when you apply. Some alumni have been able to get interviews to some juniors in their respective programs - but again, we cant do much for you if you don't have good scores!
(The above statements reflect my own views, others may/may not agree with this - and is mainly for internal medicine residencies, though is also generally true for other specialties).
I completely agree with Navneet sir on research experience helping further your application, if you have an otherwise strong application. However, I do feel that if you get solid letters from research/clinical mentors in the US, then at the very least you have a person from their own system vouching for your personal abilities other than medical knowledge and clinical acumen (unlike a letter from faculty in India, which programs here are skeptical about-most people know that those letters are generally more a form letter than anything else).
From my own personal experience, it is very true that academic (University) programs definitely put more emphasis on the entire package versus just looking at your scores alone. That is not to say that scores are not important to them.
I felt one of the biggest drawbacks/problems I faced was the fact that programs here didn't know much about our medical college, since it is fairly new and the numbers are relatively smaller still. If you compared that to a school like Aga Khan in Pakistan, 80-90% of their class (2-3X of GMC) comes to the US and they seem to have alumni all over and people seem to attach a significant importance to being aware of the quality of their medical education (which doesn't necessarily mean it is any better than ours, just someone they know is there to vouch for it!). Hopefully, in time we'll spread far and wide!
The "MUST' part here is getting a US reco letter, which is relatively important now. So it does not matter whether you get it through research, observership or externship. I agree that research is very tough to find, financially draining and you end up wasting lot of time, but going in for an observership is easy. Just mail programs that you will be applying for residency in this match and say that you are interested in getting clinical exp and blah blah...and would like to do an observership in so and so month (whenever you are going to be in US). Most H1 friendly hospitals are open to observerships and you will certainly get it if you apply 4-5 months in advance.
Research helps, period. A good to do it is to make yourself available to the person - means You are already in the country and you have resources to stay and sustain. If you have those two things, its not difficult to do.
Research is good and may seem as a rosy scenario...but believe me after I have been looking to get into research all I have got is NOTHING! Seriously, at least for MBBS students from INDIA getting into a research based branch is really difficult. Eventually one may get the admission but managing the finances is not an easy task. And when after struggling for some period and getting no returns, and on top wasting the precious time which one could have devoted to prepare for PG one thinks "Is it really worth wasting time !"
All the above views are correct but I think that good scores doesn't mean double 99. What I have realized is that if you are above 85 or around 90's you are fine with score. Your file will be looked for other things like US LOR and experience. I came to know from couple of my friends in Punjab medical schools about the opportunity of doing internship out of India. Don't know the details but will definitely post whenever I get some. One guy did it in Canada. These type of experiences will help. Want to put stress on coming to USA as soon as possible after your internship.
Don't get disheartened - the key is hard work and persistence (of course, with a little bit of luck thrown in). And as Sonica has mentioned, use the internet - everything is easily accessible and available on institution websites. Go through them to find out what research area interests you. Email people - the worst they can do is not read your email and just delete it, or even worse, they might say no. But if you get a favorable response from 1 in 100 queries, it is still worth the effort. So keep on trying...
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