Keep Going

  • Non-US IMG, graduated 2012.
  • Step 1:      191 (2013)
  • Step 2CK: 205 (2014)
  • Step 2CS: passed on 1st attempt (2014)
  • Step 3:      199 (2015)

Learn from this IMG's experience.  There are many clues to success in this story! 

Keep going and reach your dreams!:


1. Preparation.

I came to the US in 2013 to do a Kaplan course for Step 1. My goal had always been to do an ObGyn residency, but at the time, I was very naive and had no idea of what any of this was going to be like (I remember thinking that I could get Steps 1 and 2 out of the way in time to apply that same September!). As it turned out, I took Step 1 after a 9-month course and barely passed with a 191, although my NBME scores just a week prior predicted a much better score. Of course, I was not happy with my result, but I decided to do my best and improve for Step 2.


Five months later, I passed Step 2 with a 205, which was not great, but I thought I would sell it as a “14 point increase” during my interviews. I also passed Step 2 CS on the first attempt, and did 4 months worth of observerships in ObGyn in two different university hospitals.


2. First attempt at matching.

With my bag packed with all of the above, I decided I was ready to apply when the season opened in September 2014. I applied to every program imaginable (literally, 150 programs), but only for ObGyn (I really never contemplated doing another specialty, and any imaginable plan B, like surgery, was actually more competitive than my plan A). At the same time, I managed to get an unpaid research position in an ObGyn lab at one of the top universities in the country. I received 8 interviews, although most of them were through contacts and I have later labelled as "favor interviews" (interviews a program gives you as a favor to whoever asked them to, but not real in any way).


During that application/interview season, I made plenty of mistakes. I was downright cocky in my personal statement, I tried too hard to make the low points in my application look like positive events, and I did not follow up properly with the few places where I actually had a shot. On top of everything, I went the even harder way and decided to couples-match. Needless to say, I went unmatched.


At the opening of SOAP, there were exactly 3 spots left for ObGyn in the entire country, so it's fair to say it was a very competitive year. On the bright side, my girlfriend did match into a great program.


3. Aftermath.

I was obviously very disappointed in myself, and I decided that I would only reapply if I could do something to improve my chances the second time around. To understand what that "something" could be, I emailed the program directors of the programs where I had been interviewed and asked them to please answer three questions:

  1. Why had they selected me for an interview?
  2. What should I improve towards next year?
  3. Would they interview me again if I did everything on question 2?

Only 3 out of 8 program directors replied, and they all agreed on the same things: I had great LORs, but my scores were clearly an issue and passing Step 3 could help, as well as publishing my work in the lab. So I stayed on at the lab, continued doing research and managed to get my abstract accepted as an oral presentation for an international meeting. Also, I knew programs were not going to want me because my low scores posed a risk of not passing Step 3 and being stuck half-way through residency, so I decided to take Step 3 and got a 199.


4. Round 2.

Like the previous year, I applied the shotgun method to select programs to apply to (only 140 OB/GYN this time around). On this second application, I wrote an infinitely more humble personal statement. Again, I asked people I knew to put in a good word here and there, but I was very specific that I only wanted them to do so at places where they really thought I had a chance, since I didn't need any more mock interviews. I received 5 invitations to interview (only one of which was one of those "favor interviews"). Surprisingly, two of the interviews were from programs that had interviewed me a year earlier, which gave me confidence that maybe I had been on their rank list, but just not high enough.


This time around, I was very honest and straight forward during the interviews. When asked about my scores (happened at every interview), I replied directly: "My scores are horrible. I applied last year and did not match because of them, so I took Step 3 to prove that, even if for some reason I can't do better, I can definitely pass anything on my first try and I will do so when I eventually take the boards."


Finally, I went for a second look to show more interest where I though I needed to, and made sure to stay in touch with the programs every now and then with any reasonable excuse.


5. March 14th, 2016 - 10:57a.m.

"Congratulations, you have matched!"  I matched at one of the OB/GYN programs that had given me an interview in the prior match and it actually was my first choice! 


I don't believe I am qualified to offer advice to anyone who, like me, has terrible scores or did not match the first time around. If there is one thing I can suggest, it is to keep going. No matter what. The NRMP email, with its ominous "Did I Match?" subject line, somehow managed to take 9 years of medical school, exams, USMLE steps, visa issues, observerships, research, applications, and interviews, and pack them into a tiny moment in life called "getting to be a doctor." Now, I realize that is all that was: the step between really wanting to be a doctor, and actually being one. All I had to do was keep going. After all, why are we here if it isn't to follow our dreams? NEVER GIVE UP.


-A.R. March 21, 2016


#6 Thinh L 2017-12-17 15:25
They should make movie about him ^^
#5 OgA 2016-03-24 09:54
Thanks for your testimony it was a much needed inspiration.
#4 Corneliu B 2016-03-23 22:46
When you walk through hell do not stop
#3 Nushani S 2016-03-23 00:30
All these stories are very inspiring Dr. Barone. Thank you :-)
#2 James C 2016-03-22 21:40
Keep em coming its like coffee for me
#1 Robby C 2016-03-22 21:31
Thank you for the encouragement, it is much needed and much appreciated.
Category: Success

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