Surgery Residency for IMGs: Hard or just Competitive?

It is not hard an some extra steps are needed as any other competitive specialty. Let me first clarify the difference between competitive and hard. If you tell me 10% or less only of the positions in a certain specialty go to IMGs like Dermatology, Radiation oncology or plastic surgery YES this is hard. But if you tell me that in General surgery about 25% of spots go to IMGs, considering this is a competitive specialty even among AMGs themselves, then this is not hard or impossible but rather a competitive specialty that IMGs still get a good stake in it. With good credentials and preparation for the match, that many IMG surgery applicants unfortunately lack, you can hit your goal in the match. Let us go over the modifiable factors or steps you need to do for a successful match in surgery residency:
  1. Bulk CV: Load your profile with Observerships or research or both if possible. But don’t waste your life in research as program directors usually prefer new graduates unless you were in a surgical residency back home then they would like and benefit from your experience.
  2. If you are not done with your USMLEs, take it easy here and aim for a high score. You can monitor the progress of your studying using this awesome Table.
  3. Try to get the advantage of having contacts in certain programs like your peers or seniors who matched before you. They can definitely throw a good word for you and get you some interviews here and there.
  4. Match strategy is important and differ from other specialties in one thing: Prelim Surgery is a big player here. Most IMGs will apply to both Categorical and prelim positions. If you were not lucky in the first match and you get into prelim position which is relatively easy to get, this is considered one year hands-on surgery experience!  Many of those who start as prelim will end their year as Categorical residents because many AMGs will resign after they discover that surgery is not their favorite and hence you will be upgraded or you can move to another program that just had an open categorical spot. Anyway, if you continue as prelim, you will be able to apply the next year with one-year hands-on USCE. Make sure you apply widely to whatever programs you meet their Selection Criteria. You can find the average number of programs typically AMGs and IMGs apply to here in this Table.
  5. When you get interviews, two things to remember, the Interviews questions are common and simple, try to read them before you go to any surgery interview. The other thing is don’t forget to send the Thank you cards. It is very important to make the directors and other people in the program involved in ranking the residents remember you.
A word of advice at the end, always consider back up programs like IM or FM when applying to competitive specialties. This way you at least get something out of your hard work on the USMLE track!
Good luck!