The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), through its program of certification, assesses whether physicians graduating from medical schools outside the US are ready to enter programs of graduate medical education in the United States (http://www.ecfmg.org/forms/certfact.pdf). The examination requirements for ECFMG Certification include passing a three-step United States Medical Licensing Examination. The process is grueling and expensive. However, passing the exams is just the beginning. Securing residency is the ultimate challenge. Some have waited for years without acceptance into a residency program. Furthermore, those who get accepted have to come to terms with the 80-hour work week (for salaries less than some 40-hour work weeks) for non-degreed positions. This has led many international medical graduates (IMGs) to look into other career options. Even if your goal is to ultimately practice medicine in the US (a process that may take up to 8 years), the suggestions offered in this post can still benefit you. So where do you start?
Start by browsing the jobs posted on this website (HospitalRecruiting.com). Make a note of positions that interest you and learn more about these positions. There are several websites that offer a full description of careers in healthcare. (Go to http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm .) There are opportunities in allied health and non-clinical healthcare professions that are often a good fit for IMGs. Careers as a physician assistant, occupational therapist, or speech language pathologist are just a few of several well-paying career options that require minimal training (when compared to years of uncertainty you may spend in getting ECFMG certified). Trained as a clinician (an IMG), I opted for a career in biomedical research here in the US. If you are research-oriented, one of my recommendations is that you familiarize yourself with Responsible Conduct of Research. Learn the research lingo. Most research positions require that you present your data to an audience that sometimes consists of your peers, medical students, staff, and even Nobel Laureates. There are weekly meetings where you discuss your data and current articles of interest, so good communication skills are vital. If you are not a native English-speaker and communication is a barrier, work in a cell culture lab preparing specimens for research may be ideal. If you don’t mind working with mice, there is always a great demand for persons with a medical background who can work with mice. Remember that preclinical studies that lead to the early phases of the drug development process start with animals (especially rodents). If this is an area in which you might be interested, start by viewing the information on this website: http://microsurg.hs.columbia.edu/index.html. They offer training in rodent microsurgery.
Apply for a career training grant. There are many grants available for educational expenses and career training. There is so much to choose from. Become familiar with funding agencies. Find out whom they fund. Look beyond government and federal grants. There are foundations and private sources that give grants for research and educational purposes. Most career training today can be done online, so you can essentially pace yourself. Trained as a clinician, I opted for a career in the biomedical sciences at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and The University of Pennsylvania. I became a recipient of several awards (grants), including NIH’s National Research Service Award for training in Molecular and Cellular Biology. (This is one of the most prestigious awards in the sciences.) In this position, I acquired skills in writing scientific manuscripts and grant proposals. After my academic career, I transitioned to the pharmaceutical industry, where I contributed to new drug applications and other FDA correspondence. Now an entrepreneur, I currently offer a full range of services, including career coaching services, through my service-based business Consult To Aspire (www.consulttoaspire.com ). A career training grant opened the door to many opportunities.
Another option I have shared with a client (who was also an IMG), is taking a course in Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (IPPCR). The IPPCR course is offered yearly at NIH’s Clinical Center in Maryland. A certificate is awarded upon successful completion. It is of interest to physicians training for a career in clinical research (http://www.cc.nih.gov/training/training/ippcr.html ) Whether you decide to get into residency and train as a Physician Scientist or to explore a career in industry, the IPPCR training will still be of benefit.
In summary, the path from an international medical graduate to a successful career in the US is not an easy one. However, with planning, self-motivation, and persistence, it can be done.