Drastic Changes Lead to Success

  • Two failed attempts at Matching
  • IMG at a European medical school
  • 4 year gap
  • One failure on step 1
  • Low board scores

Read how making the right changes lead him to success on his third match attempt:


Hi Dr. Barone,

Hope all is well with you! I have a great success story in regards to my path of achieving a residency spot through quite a lot of struggle. Prior to getting into med school, I had a 3.5 science GPA in undergrad, however my MCAT scores did not turn out as great after 2 attempts and found myself between two decisions: #1... Spend more time prepping for it again and risk a similar result occurring again or #2… look for options abroad. At that time, I saw that the curriculums in schools abroad were the same and ultimately it would come down to board scores to be on the same playing field. So I chose to go to a European school at the time.

I started med school in Fall of 2006 after completing a B.Sc. in Biology and I did my 2 basic science years there and then came back to face the monster that was step 1. Initially when I studied for the exam, I was facing another adversary: recovery from back surgery due to a chronic injury that had manifested itself in a worsening fashion while I was studying abroad. During my recovery period, I felt like I could take the exam and thus sat for the exam. Midway through the exam, the surgical wound that was still in the recovery process started to cause unbearable pain and thus I was unable to concentrate and did not perform well for the remainder of the exam. 3 weeks later I found out that I had failed the exam and was devastated. I took a month off to gather myself and then ultimately had to take the rest of the year off from my academic year because of the recovery + studying again for step 1. The 2nd time around however, my surgery recovery had been completed with rehab and I was fully prepped for the exam (after taking Kaplan’s live review course for 6 weeks and your sound advice on test prep). However with the failure of the first time, I developed severe test taking anxiety and thus, while I did pass the exam, I passed with a borderline score of 77%.  I was relieved that a pass is a pass and while the score was low, I will find a way to make up for it in the upcoming steps and other extracurricular activities.

Because of my step 1 failure and mishap, there was a gap in my academic year: I finished my basic sciences in June 2008 and I started my rotations in December 2009. I had no issue with any of my rotations and I maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA during my clinical years.  Due to the earlier test anxiety that exhibited itself during my step 1 – I decided to wait to take step 2 CS and CK until after my rotations had completed (in hindsight, this was another bad decision). I graduated from medical school in September of 2011 and spent the months until September 2012 to prep for and take both Step 2 CS (taken in Feb. 2012) and CK (taken in July 2012) Luckily though, this time around I passed both CS and CK on the first attempt…however, with the anxiety stemming from step 1 performance, I scored low on CK as well – a mere 77% yet again.

By this time the match season for 2012 – 2013 was just beginning and I applied for the 2013 match in both Internal Medicine and Family Medicine as a backup choice. I applied broadly nationwide with 180 IM programs and 150 FM programs. Out of all those I received a total of 8 interviews: 5 in FM and 3 in IM (the IM IVs were all due to networking connections that I had).  After the IVs, I had a couple of PDs calling me saying that they favored me as a candidate for the 2013 match, so I figured I did well during my IV season. Come match day 2013 and BAM! “We’re sorry, but you did not match to any position”…My world crashed. I went through soap with no luck and was devastated on what to do next.  While I was in a state of depression, I knew that I would not give up towards achieving my goal. I was determined to get a residency spot one way or another and thus started to look into research opportunities. I found a research project with a neurologist that I knew as a family friend and started working with him along with doing an externship in Internal medicine with another physician for the next full year as well as a few extracurriculars such as running health camps in the community and assisting in other charitable events. At this time I also decided to take step 3 and have my score in hand before reapplying – I prepped from March 2013 to July 2013 and took my test and I passed on 1st attempt.  I reapplied in 2013-2014 season and waited… October went by and so did November…still no interviews… I waited some more, still hopeful... December and January went by... no interviews... At this point I was aware that I would go unmatched yet again for a 2nd time unless by some miracle SOAP worked in my favor. Unfortunately, SOAP did not work out. So I knew that my chances of matching into a residency spot as a 3rd time applicant looked as bleak as finding actual life on a comet, unless I made some drastic changes.

At this point, I figured that I cannot do anything about my step scores so had to improve my gaps elsewhere. Therefore, I decided to rework my entire application from ground up including getting more clinical and research experience which did result in two publications, reworking my personal statement entirely, and sharpening my interviewing skills with aid from a chief resident that was a personal friend. At the same time, I found a volunteer (non-paid) observership at a hospital that had a residency program in Internal Medicine (through a mentor who was monumental and the main key in getting me that position) and I started working there in August 2014.

Since I started at my observership, I never took a day off (no matter how ill I was or how bad the weather was, and this winter in the northeast was brutal!!) and continued working the same amount of hours as the residents did in that program (even though I wasn’t required to). I immersed myself into that program the best I could along with picking up and finishing projects that were left uncompleted at the program because people did not have time to do so. I continued to work in my observership as well as on the projects all throughout the year without any days off up until match day 2015 (and frankly, I am still there in my observership, not because I have to be but because I want to be).

On Monday March 16th, the dreaded D-day email came at exactly 11:55 am like it had the previous 2 years and it said something different, finally, at last, after battling 3 years of anxiety, depression and struggles: “Congratulations, you have matched!” All of the anxiety, depression and worries that I had vanished within a few minutes due to that one statement. I knew I would finally be able to get on with myself and my life. On Friday March 20th, I found out that I had matched at the same hospital where I am currently doing my observership. In the end, I knew I had low scores throughout all step exams with a failure on step 1 plus the fact that I was an IMG and the fact that I graduated in 2011 were all working against me in terms of getting a residency spot… The only thing I had on the positive end of all of this was my will to never give up no matter how bad it became, to continue striving for success regardless of the adversaries working against me. Dr. Barone, I would say that with my perseverance and determination to never quit at achieving what I initially set out to do when I chose to go to an abroad medical school, those two states of mind plus my hard work has definitely paid off and I am thankful that it has all lead to my success, at last.

Are you an IMG and what is your visa status?

Yes I am an IMG and I’m a US citizen


Any gap between medical school and the match?

Yes there was a gap in the academic year between basic sciences and clinicals during medical school (from June 2008 to December 2009)

Yes there was a gap since graduation until a successful match (from September 2011 to March 2015)

Any failures?

Yes, once on step 1

What did you do to correct them?

I studied again via Kaplan’s live step 1 prep course for 6 weeks + used uworld’s question bank + lange question book + first aid question book + Kaplan qbank (by the time I finished my prep a 2nd time around, I had covered roughly 15,000 questions from various sources)

What motivated you to continue after failing the step?

I have always been the type of person who achieves a goal once it is set, no matter how many hurdles come along the way. It’s just my personality, to never give up.

If you didn’t match in a previous attempt, what do you think was the reason that you didn’t match?

Main reasons: step 1 failure with a low step 1 score on 2nd attempt + a low step 2 CK score on 1st attempt + being from a foreign school that is not as recognized as some others in the Caribbean.

What did you do differently for the next match attempt?

For my 3rd attempt: I looked over my entire application and reworked it from start to end…filling in all gaps that I could: whether it be research experience, publications, clinical experience at a residency program, personal statement, and interviewing skills. I changed everything and made the best package I could for the 2015 match.

How many interviews did you get / go to on each match attempt?

On the 1st attempt: I had 5 FM and 3 IM interviews and I went to all 8 of them.

On the 2nd attempt: I had 0 interviews

On the 3rd attempt: I had 3 IM interviews and went to all 3

How many specialties did you apply to and how many programs?

Applied to both Internal and Family Medicine each time I applied

1st time I applied : 180 IM programs & 150 FM programs (backup) nationwide

2nd time I applied: 90 IM programs & 60 FM programs (backup) focused mainly in the east coast and Midwest

3rd time I applied: 90 IM programs & 25 FM programs (backup) focused only in the northeast

Did connections and LORs help you match?

Yes definitely. The person that got me the volunteer observership at the hospital that I matched at was monumental and the primary reason I would say is what led me to a successful match. Without their help, I would not have been able to show my intelligence or hard work ethics to anyone and would not have been able to get my foot in the door. I also had some great LORs from physicians and researchers I previously worked with.

Tell me about your interview experience in terms of what worked and what didn’t?

Initially when I first went to my IVs during the 1st application cycle: I did not prep well enough and I found myself stumbling during the IV questions with blanks and pauses (never a good sign). I also was a nervous interviewee which didn’t help either.

2nd cycle there were no IVs…

3rd cycle – with the help of friends who had already matched previously and proper interview prep from attendings I knew – I became more confident with the answers I was giving and more importantly, I was calmer during my interviews. I did not get anxious or nervous leading to mishaps.

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

The observership that I have been doing since last August at the hospital that I matched at. Without that opportunity, I would not have been able to get in anywhere and show what I had within me to anyone.

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

No matter how tough it gets, however many bumps and hurdles come in your way, if you set out to achieve something, continue to strive for it. Sure the road to success is never easy (and believe me it isn’t), but if you work hard enough and are sincere about the things you do, success will always be the end result. Never take anything for granted and always try to ramp up your resume and application the best way you know how to give you the best fighting chance against all others. Good luck! 

~ Dr. G – PGY 1 in Internal Medicine  03/20/2015




#1 Shea 2016-05-07 19:28
May I ask where you did your observership?
Category: Success

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