By: Gopika SenthilKumar and Jamesa Fabien
This first post of the International Medical Graduate Blog Series highlights Dr. Carolina Torres Perez-Iglesias’ path to surgical residency training in the US. She was born and raised in Lima, Peru, where she also attended medical school. She had a broad interest in general surgery and chose to explore the field further by doing international surgical rotations in places like Germany and the US and by volunteering with groups such as Operation Smile. During her last mission trip after completing medical school, she met Dr. Michael Kelly, a plastic surgeon from Miami. “We started operating together, and we just clicked. He impressed me with his clinical and technical skills, and I knew then I had to seek training in the US.” she says. “At that time, I didn’t know other people doing a surgical residency in the US. I didn’t have a mentor or people I could ask for advice.”
Dr. Kelly helped her find rotations in the US and was an incredible sponsor in guiding her through the residency application process. After applying through the Match, Carolina started her journey in general surgery as a preliminary resident, a very common pathway for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) that come for residency training in the US. Although she felt that the training received that first year was excellent, she recognized something was missing: guidance and sponsorship on how to find a categorical position. Carolina chose to apply to positions in other programs and finally took a PGY-2 preliminary position at Boston Medical Center (BMC). Doing a second preliminary year at a new institution is not a common route for IMGs (most will stay for a second year at the program where they did a PGY-1), but in her case, she decided to follow her intuition and made a bold decision with the hopes of finding the support that missing. “Despite some of my mentors advising against this decision and many sleepless nights discussing options with family and friends, I decided to take the risk and hope it would be the right decision.” After a stressful year, Carolina found a categorical position at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She reports being extremely thankful for the immense support received at BMC and believes this journey took her where she was supposed to be. She says: “in medicine, we are often used to getting one win after the other. It is not uncommon to see an undesired outcome as a failure, but sometimes it is meant to open a new door of opportunity. It is necessary that we accept that, before we can commit 100% of our efforts and focus on this new possibility.”
Her current program went above and beyond in establishing a pathway for her to conduct research during her residency training. Inspired to help those that came after her, she spearheaded a mentorship program for preliminary IMG residents at BIDMC in 2021 and the initial response has been very favorable. She passionately shares the details of her program – “We pair each resident with a mentorship team composed of a faculty mentor and a resident. There is value in pairing a resident with a mentor who is also an IMG or has been a preliminary resident, however, mentees also benefit greatly from the diversity in our department and passion to support junior trainees, despite not necessarily having similar immigration, racial, ethnic or social backgrounds. The pairing process is individualized based on the resident’s characteristics, interests and needs. Residents fill out a checklist during their meetings to check progress on important milestones that will make them strong applicants for a categorical position, such as ABSITE studying, letters of recommendation, wellness and stress management.” Dr. Torres Perez-Iglesias’ incredible work exemplifies a structure that can be broadly implemented for preliminary residents throughout the country. “The preliminary journey is very stressful. A positive outcome (finding a categorical position) will be primarily a result of your hard work and determination, but there is also the factor of luck. The number of positions that open every year for preliminary residents varies and that’s why it is so important that all preliminary residents have resources to cope with the stress and uncertainty – which in many cases can affect their performance during residency.”
Throughout the conversation, Dr. Torres Perez-Iglesias highlights the importance of having a mentorship network of people that can support your different needs – “Finding a mentor as a minority student is not easy and you might not succeed in finding the perfect mentor on your first try, but you need to keep looking and being proactive about it”. She advises future medical students interested in surgery to prepare their applications and reach out to different people about their experiences. “Keep their advice and journeys in mind as you go through your journey, but don’t assume that what others are doing is going to be the best for you. Collect all the information you can, and then make your own informed decision. Another thing I learned the hard way is that no one is going to advocate more for you than yourself, so don’t be afraid of self-promotion”. Lastly, Dr. Torres Perez-Iglesias emphasizes the importance of looking back at one’s journey and giving back to those that come after them. “The mentorship program for IMGs has been an incredible learning opportunity and one of the most rewarding experiences during my residency journey”. She founded it based on the needs identified when she was a preliminary resident and hopes that others can now benefit from it.
Dr. Carolina Torres Perez-Iglesias was born and raised in Lima, Peru, where she completed her medical school training. She is currently a 4th-year general surgery resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. Her interests include surgical education, health systems evaluation, and advocacy for diversity and equity in medicine. She enjoys reading, podcasts, and hanging out with her dog Lucy.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and, as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.