Studying for the USMLE as an IMG During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Working as a Research Trainee: My Experience

05 Aug 2021

By Susana Fortich, MD 

Nothing had prepared me for what to expect when I made the decision to start studying for the USMLE step exams in December 2019. This is one of the most demanding experiences you will have as a medical student. But, for me, it was a little different. I had already worked as a physician for a year in my home country, Colombia, before I decided to prepare for this journey. So, restarting a study routine was one of the biggest challenges for me.  I moved to the United States in January 2020 and I enrolled in a well-known course to prepare me for Step 1. I diligently worked daily on a series of question banks that were commercially available.

This test is about consistency and discipline. Repetition was for me the key to success. Then the pandemic came, and all courses were cancelled. It was challenging to stay focused after being home all day studying for Step 1. My advice to my fellow-IMGs? Remind yourself of the goal, remind yourself where you come from and what you want to achieve. The pathway for me, as an IMG, is not easy, and I know it. But I hope that my hard work will pay off. Without noticing, nine months passed and I had not seen my family. The pandemic not only prevented me from spending time with my family, but it also took the opportunity from being able to obtain clinical experience in the United States. Virtual observerships became my only option.

My goal is to be able to match to a surgical training program and it was recommended that I pursue research training as well. I found a position in Florida within a surgical department of a well known health care facility. Since the start of this new challenge, my days have been filled with studying for Step 2 CK and learning how to manage databases and conduct clinical research. I am faced with challenges daily and I have learned how to organize myself and how to ask clinical questions of interest for follow-up projects. I have since passed Step 2 CK, and I see slowly that my name is appearing on published manuscripts. I feel confident in the process of my growth and development and I am most grateful for the opportunities that I have been given. I am extremely thankful for having met the people that I have as all of them have helped me along in this most exciting ride.

Susana Fortich is an international medical graduate from Colombia. She graduated as an outstanding student from Universidad del Norte, Colombia. In the future, Susana hopes to pursue residency training in General Surgery in the United States. She is an avid soccer fan and player, an advanced scuba diver and an amateur photographer. Twitter: @SusanaFortichS

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.

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