Level Playing Field

  • Caribbean IMG
  • Low Board scores
  • One failure on Step 1
  • Two failures on Step 2

"Once u have the interview everyone is truly on the same playing field."

Hey Dr. Barone.


Hope all is well. I have a huge success story. I had a 3.75 GPA in college but unfortunately I couldn't get my MCAT score high enough and I didn't get into any US medical schools the first time I applied. I retook the MCAT 4 times but couldn't break 26. I didn't want to do to a DO school because all my life I dreamed about being an MD and also because my parents are emigrants, they don't really know that DO is basically the same degree in the states.  So to make them happy, I opted to go to St. George's SOM in Grenada.


I started medical school in 2009 and my first term went great and I got 1 A and 3 B's. In 2nd term, I failed neurology and had to retake the course. The 2nd time around I got an A and kicked my ass into gear for terms 3 and 4 and 5.  After spending 2.5 years on the island, instead of 2 years, I was ready to get back to the states. Unfortunately, I scored a 181 on step 1 when passing was a 188. I had to retake the exam, so studied harder for 3 months and took the exam and scored a 198.


I was now ready to start clinical rotations. I began rotations in Manhattan. I knew that I had a failed attempt but I was so ready to begin 3rd year medical school on the wards. I did amazing in my first rotation and received one of the best LOR that everyone at every interview comments on.


Having typical southeast Asian parents, they were on my case about how I keep delaying my schooling and instead of getting undergrad done at 22, and med school at 26, that I will now be 29 when I finish medical school.


So then I take off seven months of school to study for my CK and CS.  I passed CS with only studying for 3 weeks but unfortunately, I failed CK and got a 192 when passing was a 203.  I was devastated.


I was determined to still apply this cycle and just retake the exam. I managed to get 5 interviews (I applied to 239 programs) and 2 of my interviews went extremely well. They knew I had trouble with exams, but my interview skills were very good and my PS and LOR were very strong. Two of the program directors told me they liked me a lot and I should very well "be seeing them soon."  I even did 2nd visits to these programs. I completed my last rotation December and I was ready to retake my CK exam in January so it would be ready for me to enter the match. These 5 programs already interviewed me and the 2 PDs really liked me so as long as I passed, I knew I would be ok.


But as it happened, I scored a 191 and thus I wasn't able to even enter the match. It hurt a lot. Now I knew that the 3rd time I take the exam, I have to definitely pass.  I retook the exam in four months and the passing score was still 203 and scored a 210!


I was officially ECFMG certified, a fresh grad, and now I had to figure out what to do with the rest of the year till the next Match. Luckily, I built a lot of close contacts in the area and through family friends and networking, I landed a paid research job with a very well known physician. I worked there about 40/hr per week for about 6 months.


I had one failed step 1 attempt, and two failed CK attempts so I knew I had to apply to A LOT of programs. And when I say a lot…. I applied to 90 Psych, 190 Family Medicine, 90 IM, and 55 Peds.... yes it was VERY expensive. I also had strong letters from all those fields though. That was huge.


I was studying for step 3 because I knew that would be a concern for many programs, but I just couldn't take the exam. I was very drained and scared by that point that I wanted to apply on a good note.


So there I was…., a fresh grad with very strong LORs and PS,  a new research position, and I was applying to many programs. I spoke to the 2 PDs that loved me last year and they both said that if I get interviews they are sure that I will match because of my excellent communication and interpersonal skills.


The hard part obviously was getting the IVs with a total of 3 failed attempts. I ended up getting 3 Peds, 10 Psych, 7 FM, and 1 IM interview, much more than I could have ever expected. Five programs were prematch only so I was only able to rank 16. I did 2nd visits at the top 2 places.


What helped a lot is my wonderful family. Obviously the cost of travel and hotel accommodations is expensive, but my brother has frequent miles and frequent hotel points. And after spending 10k on applications alone, I needed to save some money. I had very positive feedback on 4 of the 21 interviews and I knew I would match.  At every interview however, step scores were brought up, and step 3 was also brought, but so was my current research position and my strong LORs.


Needless to say, Dr. Barone, after starting medical school in 2009, with 3 failed attempts, and scores well below average…   I can now say that I will be a resident this July!!!!



What specialties did you apply to?


I ranked psych as top 10 because I have a real passion for it. 11 to 15 were FM and 16 was PEDS. Two FM were prematch which I didn’t get. Two were prematch PEDS and 1 was prematch IM.  I matched into Family Medicine.



What advice would you give to students in a similar situation?


I would tell students that honestly once u have the interview everyone is truly on the same playing field. Someone with 250s board scores but cant carry on a conversation during an interview is not going to be someone you want to train and work with. Obviously higher scores will get a better chance at securing interviews, but I really believe prepping for interview is essential and crucial. And also be genuine and don't lie.



What motivated you to continue after failing the step?


What motivated me to continue even after my fails was that I knew people who failed step 1 and matched. I know my fails on step 2 CK put me at a huge disadvantage but that is why I applied to roughly 450 programs. It was expensive but I still felt once I secured an interview I would be able to shine.



What do you think was the most important factor in you matching?


Dr. Barone, as for most important factor I would say it was that I was doing something in my year off. I know 3 friends who went to Caribbean with me who only had 1 failed attempt and a pass on step 3 and are US citizens but didn’t match. And it was because for the interview question “what are you currently doing?” they really had no answer.



Any other pearls of wisdom for students?


Lastly, something that I wanted to stress which I feel some students don’t know is to dress conservatively during these interviews. A lot of times the program directors are in their 60’s so you wearing flashy Versace shoes, Burberry tie, Gucci belt aren’t impressing anyone during these interviews. On about 7 of my 21 interviews this year, I saw someone doing this and I know that the other residents definitely weren’t impressed by this. Also be nice to everyone. This definitely includes the wait staff at restaurants too.

N. M.  03/18/2015



#3 Faryal F 2015-12-23 16:25
So inspiring!! There are no closed doors when you want to attain your dream. Love this!
#2 Dacia R 2015-12-23 03:56
I love your positive attitude Dr. John Barone. It is inspiring.
#1 Vamsi N 2015-12-23 03:55
A resident at our program had only one interview for cardiology fellowship. Everyone told him it's impossible from our program and he matched. I see success stories all the time. You have to want it bad and go out and find the opportunity.
Category: Success

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