By Dr. Victor Sebastian Arruarana
This year we celebrated a historic day! On August 1, 2021, an original “IMG Event” brought together more than 400 international medical graduates (IMGs) in Central Park, New York City, with hundreds more connecting virtually.
Five years ago, when I started my USMLE journey in Argentina, I had no idea how the process of becoming a doctor in the United States worked, or even what “ECFMG” meant. I had no contacts or economic support, but I was certain that I wanted to pursue U.S. training. After a lot of research, working shift after shift to save money, and countless days and nights in the library, I was able to study and pay for my exams, housing, and interviews. I received a lot of pushback from some people, saying that surgical specialties were impossible for IMGs, and especially older graduates, to match into. After I successfully matched into residency I created a blog to help fellow IMGs navigate their way through the process smoothly. My blog included all of the information that I wish I had known when I started the process.
Just one month ago, I came up with an idea to gather IMGs in one place; to network, have fun, meet new study partners, be inspired, and discuss how it’s possible to excel in the fields of their choice as international graduates. I had dreamt of a day like that ever since I started my USMLE preparation. During my journey into residency, I connected with study partners from all over the world via social media and always wished to meet them in person to share our stories, cultures, and ideas.
Another motivation to create this experience was the series of events that took place for me personally in the past year. Within my training program, we lost three of our heroes, three IMGs that worked incredibly hard to be in this country and practice medicine, but who are unfortunately no longer among us.
As IMGs, we have additional challenges. We relearn medicine in another language, set aside money, and time, gather resources to prepare for exams, and grapple with visa issues. Moreover, we are separated from our family, friends, and cultural roots to pursue our “American dreams.” We must be willing to start from scratch. Depression can hit very hard and it’s important to recognize when someone you know is going through a tough time. We must reach out to help and support each other in this fraternity. For this reason, it was important and urgent to come together. During the IMG Event that I put together, we talked about depression, coping with loneliness, anxiety, and how, as an IMG community, we should offer our support and boost each other to greater heights.
You, too, can plan a local meet-up aimed at building social connections and find community with IMGs in your area. I started planning the IMG Event by identifying a place, creating a flyer, spreading the word on social media, and connecting with other IMGs that wanted to help me organize the event. I reached out to companies who could offer us sponsorship to make the event a grand success. I created an Instagram page for the event to provide information and as a place for interested parties to receive updates. Now, I’m using it to post photos and videos of the event. It also provides a platform for IMGs to tag, connect, and share their fun!
I had so much fun turning this idea into a reality. So many new connections were made at the event and it was a great opportunity to network. Name tags were provided to everyone that participated, with their name, nationality, and their IMG status: future applicant, current applicant, resident, or attending. This helped people feel more comfortable introducing themselves and made networking more efficient. Students, residents, and attendings told their stories and provided tips to everyone on how to successfully navigate the IMG journey. We also hosted some games during the event to help break the ice and even had some giveaways for the winners. If you decide to host your own event, do not be intimidated. You can do it on a smaller scale, using my experience as a reference.
I am very thankful to everyone that came, including the sponsors, participants who brought tasty food to the huge multicultural potluck, and to the volunteers that helped me organize the event. Special thank you to those that traveled from all over just to attend the event—we had attendees travel to New York from Dallas, San Francisco, Miami, Maryland, and even Argentina and Colombia.
I plan to continue hosting this event in different parts of the country. I think it will be an important and exciting new way for IMGs to network. I’m already planning our next IMG Event for February 2022, and maybe even one sooner, in October 2021, during interview season. I will post all the updates on my Instagram.
For those who are just starting their USMLE journey, I want to tell you that it’s very important to set up a timeline and follow it. Always believe in yourself. Tell yourself that you can do it. Stay focused with dedication. There is always opportunity for improvement. Work slowly, one step at a time. Set small goals for each day and then work towards the big one. Even on those stressed days (we all have them), that’s when you must remember your goals, why you are doing this. Follow your dreams, and study, study, study. You will do great!
The road might be long, full of potholes and curves, ups and downs, but the journey is completely worth it! Wishing all the success to everyone. See you at the next IMG Event!