From Ecuador to Wisconsin, now a categorical surgical resident

11 Sep 2022

By Gopika SenthilKumar

I met Dr. Figueroa during his post-doctoral research work at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He is part of a small group of international medical graduate (IMG) surgical residents who matched into a categorical position. In comparison, most IMG residents match into a one/two-year preliminary program. His story and advice will hopefully serve as an inspiration for future generations. 

Dr. Figueroa’s family played a huge role in his decision to pursue medicine and surgery. “Having my dad and grandfather both being surgeons, I was always surrounded by medicine since very early,” he says.  “When I was 5 years old, I was driving around town with my grandpa, and suddenly he got a call to see a very sick patient in the ED. I remember entering the emergency department with him and waiting outside of the patient’s room. That day I felt deeply attracted by the hospital setting and the work that people do to help someone going through a difficult day.” 

Fast forward to his medical school years, he received an opportunity to do an observership in the Trauma Surgery department at Virginia Commonwealth University. There, he says he was “able to learn how mature trauma systems work to enhance favorable outcomes in their communities. The state-of-the-art technology and educational curriculum in academic centers became my inspiration to pursue my residency in the US.”

As an IMG, he says that he often felt like his future was uncertain. He often heard discouraging stories, found many closed doors, and had to change plans due to COVID-19. Nonetheless, Dr. Figueroa says that “all these situations in my journey have helped me shape a more resilient person.” When asked what he believes greatly influenced his ability to match into a categorical residency position, Dr. Figueroa shares that it was “building networks early in medical school through organizations, such as the Panamerican Trauma Society (PTS). These opportunities opened doors to do observerships and research in the US, which then helped me expand my network further for a successful match into surgery.” 

If he had to do it all over again, Dr. Figueroa shares that he would start his Step 1 and Step 2 CK preparations earlier, along with his medical school coursework. “It helps save time and money in the long run. Additionally, if you clear the steps while you are still a medical student, you can apply for hands-on surgical clerkships, which are better than observerships. Thus, it may increase your chances of getting more interviews.” He further advises future applicants to “Plan your goals early. Build connections with people through organizations like the Association of Women Surgeons, Panamerican Trauma Society, and the American College of Surgeons. You will always find someone willing to mentor you, and even get you involved in research experiences that will help you build into a better professional. Try to get hands-on experiences to become familiar with the US healthcare system. Finally, do not let anyone discourage you. The process is long, and it comes with many obstacles, bad days, and uncertainties. Do not work to check off tasks or to build a strong CV only. Work with the goal of becoming a better professional for your patients, as the latter makes the journey more meaningful.”


Dr. Juan Figueroa was born and raised in Cuenca, Ecuador. He attended medical school in his hometown, at the Universidad del Azuay medical school. He then completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in the Trauma Surgery Department at the Medical College of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. He is currently pursuing his general surgery residency training at the University of Texas Medical Branch, as a categorical resident.

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.