The IMG Roadmap Series #5: Dr. Soni (PLASTIC SURGERY)

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Dr. Soni is a force to be reckoned with. I stumbled on his Instagram page and was quickly drawn to his openness in sharing on the vulnerabilities most IMGs (like myself) have experience. He also uses his fast growing platform amidst a busy surgical and administrative schedule to create educational videos on diverse suturing techniques. His altruism, candor and motivational spirit makes his story valuable to any IMG reading this today. Another way I relate to him is that he is pursuing a plastic surgery residency on a J-1 visa (like I did) and he is currently the chief resident (like I was). It is fair to say I can relate to him and I am profoundly inspired by his journey.  I know you will be motivated as well.

Thank you Doctor for accepting to be interviewed by theencouragingdoc.com. We will jump right into the Q&A

Dr.Lum: Please tell us about yourself.
Dr. Soni: My name is Dr. Ash Soni, and I am currently a Chief Resident (PGY6) in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle, U.S. I am a U.K. citizen and was born and brought up in England. I went to medical school at Imperial College in London and graduated in 2011. My goal was always to come to the U.S. for residency, and so I was lucky enough to be accepted at a top 10 program in the country for Plastic Surgery.

Dr. Lum : What can you share with our readers about USMLE step 1?
Dr. Soni: I took my USMLE Step 1 in 2011 after graduating medical school. It was tough to do this exam so many years after I had learned all of the basic science material! One should aim for at least above 240 if you are going for a competitive specialty such as Plastic Surgery.

Dr. Lum: Thank you for that specificity. What studying technique worked best for you? Or what do you recommend as the ideal study schedule for a great score?
Dr. Soni: I combined both Kaplan online modules with questions, but mostly used the question banks for step 1 studying. I also took this exam 6 years after studying that material, so it was slightly more challenging

 Dr. Lum: Can you walk us through how you prepared for the test?
Dr. Soni: I used First Aid, UWorld question bank (I went through the bank at least 2-3 times over), Kaplan question banks and Kaplan online modules

Dr. Lum: When did you take USMLE step 2?
Dr. Soni:  I took Step 2 in 2012 after graduating medical school. One should aim for at least above 240 if you are going for a competitive specialty such as Plastic Surgery. Step 2 is easier than Step 1 for sure!

Dr. Lum: What studying techniques do you attribute to your success on step 2? What books, resources do you attribute to your success on CK and/or CS?
Dr. Soni: For Step 2 CS, I did the Kaplan Course in NYC, but I don’t think that is necessary unless you are not confident with your English or lack confidence with an oral board style exam. Step 2 CK is easier than step 1, so I used First Aid, UWorld question bank and Kaplan question bank

Dr. Lum: When did you take step 3? Can you give us any advice on how to prepare for step 3? What study technique do you attribute to your success on step 3
Dr. Soni: I took Step 3 in my second year of residency. I only used UWorld question bank. It is not a hard exam once you have done the other steps!

Dr. Lum: Did you require step a 3 score to match into residency?
Dr. Soni: No, doing step 3 was not a requirement.

Dr. Lum: Did you take either one of these tests more than once?
Dr. Soni: No, I only took my steps once.

Dr. Lum: If you did not repeat any tests, can you tell us what to do if someone fails any of the steps?
Dr. Soni: I would just work exceptionally hard to do well. Practice questions are key to this exam. Make sure you go through those question banks more than once!

Dr. Lum: Did you have a gap year? Or are you a non-traditional student? What did you do during that time? What do you recommend to do if a person has a gap year?
Dr. Soni: No gap year for me. If you have a gap year, do something productive such as research.

Dr. Lum: How do you recommend IMG’s go about securing interviews?
Dr. Soni: Great board scores, observerships, research, and amazing letters of recommendation (at least one from a top U.S. institution)

Dr. Lum: What are your best tips for matching into residency?
Dr. Soni: To get the interview is the hardest thing, so you need an exceptionally strong application. Your USMLE scores must be higher than U.S. graduates – I would say an absolute minimum of 240 to be competitive, especially for tougher specialties. For those applying to surgery, apply also for Preliminary years (aka preliminary positions) – that may be your only way in, unless you are applying to smaller and less well known institutions. Research is crucial, and I would recommend doing research prior to matching at a top institution in the U.S. Prepare well for interviews!

Dr. Lum: In your observation why are some IMG’s struggling to get into residency? And what can they do about that?
Dr. Soni: Their scores are often not strong enough, as well as their experiences and research. Follow my tips above or DM me at dr.ashsoni on Instagram!

Dr. Lum: Did you participate in clinical rotations at any US hospital prior to match day? Was this helpful to your match process? If so, please explain.
Dr. Soni: I was never able to do clinical rotations except for my electives in medical school. I was also not able to do sub-internships, but if you are, then definitely do them!

Dr. Lum: Did you participate in research or an observership at any US hospital? Can you share what you learned from this experience? Was it beneficial to how or where you matched?
Dr. Soni: Yes, I did a research fellowship year at Weill Cornell New York Presbyterian Hospital in NYC for one year. I also did clinical observerships in NYC (three electives during medical school in my vacation time). Having letters of recommendation, from both my research year at Cornell, and my observership was very helpful, which commented on my technical ability as well as other skills.

Dr. Lum: Looking back at the journey to get to where you are at, what advice would you give to yourself looking back at the process? What is you mantra for your success thus far?
Dr. Soni: I would advise anyone to work as hard as possible, but have a good reason to move to the U.S. It is an extremely tough system to match into as an IMG, especially for the tougher specialties. I would have a seriously good motivator to want to go through this process. It is not easy, but hopefully I have shown that it is also not impossible. The hours and lifestyle are brutal in America, compared to many other countries, but the training is great. It is not great for your life outside of work! Have the determination and drive, and if you want it badly enough, go get it! An important point, is to have patience – it is a long journey, and not something that happens overnight, so be prepared for this.

Dr. Lum: How can an IMG connect with you? If so, how?
Dr. Soni: Yes, absolutely, I have many IMGs contacting me each day. My instagram is “dr.ashsoni”. Please feel free to follow and DM me!

Dr. Lum: If you needed a visa (F1, H1B, J1 or B1/B2) for any parts of your training or time in the USA, can you please share important tips on the process? What should everyone attempting this process know?
Dr. Soni: I have been on a J1 visa throughout residency, because Johns Hopkins gave that to me during my intern year in General Surgery there. Ideally, try and get on an H1B, but many programs will not give one. There are ways around this visa eventually, so don’t worry. The main thing is that you land a top residency spot!

Dr. Lum: What mantra do you live by?
Dr. Soni: Nothing in life that is worth having comes easy. Hard work and determination are irreplaceable. Work super hard, be committed, have the motivation, and you will do great! Good luck to all going through this process! I have not forgotten it, and I know how hard it is. Hopefully, I can be there to inspire, but also to guide you all through this whole process, after having gone through it myself!

I hope you learned something beneficial in your pursuit of your IMG goals.

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