I first met Dr. Nneoma on Instagram. Then, I unexpectedly ran into her at SHM (Society Of Hospital Medicine) Annual Meeting last month! It was fate or shall we say “divinely orchestrated”.
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. Nnodum: My name is Nneoma Nnodum, I am currently a 2nd-year Internal medicine resident in Massachusetts. I was born and bred in Nigeria where I spent 25 years of my life. I went to medical school in Nigeria, specifically the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I graduated in 2011. I chose my medical school because it is one of the best in Nigeria and it has produced many outstanding physicians.
Dr. Lum: When did you take USMLE step 1? Do you feel comfortable sharing your step 1 score?
Dr. Nnodum: I took Step in February 2015. I did not do so well or as well I had expected, scored 217.
Dr. Lum: What studying technique worked best for you? Or what do you recommend as the ideal study schedule for a great score?
Dr. Nnodum: I listened to Kaplan videos, went through the Kaplan books once. Then started using First Aid and Uworld question bank (qbank). First Aid and Uworld bank are indispensable while preparing for Step 1. Go through these 2 resources at least twice. I prepared for 7 months. I think I took my first NBME towards the end of the first round of Uworld. I took about 3 NBMEs. I highly recommend doing NBMEs before the ‘D-day” because it gives you an idea of what the real exam is like. I know it costs extra money but it is worth it in the end.
I highly recommend surrounding yourself with positive minded people. One of the things that helped despite registering for Kaplan school which was how I came into the US was my friends from medical school who I studied with. Every other person around us had the mindset that step 1 preparation needs at least 1 year or spoke how hard or how people have failed the exam. We set a goal of writing our exam within a time frame, we encouraged ourselves during the ups and downs of the preparation and we ALL took it and we ARE ALL in residency!
Lastly, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. We cannot do without God’s favor.
Dr. Lum: That was packed! Please tell us – when did you take USMLE step 2? What score did you obtain?
Dr. Nnodum: I took Step 2 CK in August 2015. Scored 223.
Dr. Lum: What studying techniques do you attribute to your success in step 2? What books, resources do you attribute to your success on CK and/or CS?
Dr. Nnodum: I used Master the boards (not the most helpful but it is a good idea to go through it). I did not use First Aid because the reviews I heard about it from others weren’t encouraging. Uworld qbank is indispensable in my opinion. There are people who only used Uworld qbank. Regardless, I will recommend going through at least twice. I wrote few NBMEs too which I recommend to give you an idea of how prepared you are. For CS, practicing consistently for 4 weeks is enough for someone who speaks English fluently. Please don’t take CS preparation for granted. It is ‘easy to pass and easy to fail’. It may be a little challenging for those that don’t speak it fluently because I noticed it often takes them a long time to prepare.
Dr. Lum: How about step 3? When did you take it? 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. Nnodum: I took Step 3 November 2016. The study technique that worked best was going through the Uworld qbank. I did not find “Master the boards” to be so helpful. Please practice the CCS questions over and over, if possible with a study partner because this helped me. Often, you are exhausted physically and mentally after preparing for steps 1 and 2; Uworld and CCS are usually enough
Dr. Lum: Did you require step a 3 score to match into residency?
Dr. Nnodum: I did not require it but I took it before my interviews so that I could finally be done with USMLE (exhales deeply). Secondly, my friends in residency consistently reminded me to take it before starting residency if possible. However, Step 3 is required to obtain an H1b visa.
Dr. Lum: Did you take either one of these tests more than once? If so, can you expatiate on factors that you can attribute to the failed attempts (academic, personal or environmental)?
Dr. Nnodum: No, I took all 3 exams once and passed on one (first) attempt.
Dr. Lum: If you did not repeat any tests, can you tell us what to do if someone fails any of the steps?
Dr. Nnodum: Unfortunately, I can’t think of someone I know who matched after failing. I believe things that will help include observership in a residency hospital, networking, clinical research, Master’s degree program, and most importantly God’s favor.
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. Nnodum: I did not have a gap year.
Dr. Lum: How do you recommend IMG’s go about securing interviews?
Dr. Nnodum: What I mean by this is reaching out to IMGs you know in residency or come across on residency hospital websites, send an email or message. You never know what can happen. The worst thing that will happen is that they can’t help you or they don’t respond but at least you tried.
Secondly, emailing program directors and coordinators expressing interest in their program. It is better to start a few months before application, then send a follow-up email close to or during the application/interview season.
I am the one person who got an interview less than 24 hours after emailing my current program and that was where I matched.
Dr. Lum: What are your best tips for matching into residency?
Dr. Nnodum: Put your best foot forward while you prepare for USMLE so that you can get high scores particularly as matching is getting more competitive. Try getting observership in a residency program. Get involved in research, perhaps as a volunteer even if it is not paid. Getting a master’s degree if you can afford it. The reason is that it is always a good idea to have a plan B in case you don’t match the first time. It also presents the opportunity to network/do research. The reason I mention masters is that it helped me. I did not match the first time I applied, however, I did not feel ‘too horrible’ because I had secured a job with my post-graduate degree. I reapplied while I was working. That being said, people match without masters degrees.
Dr. Lum: In your observation why are some IMG’s struggling to get into residency? And what can they do about that?
Dr. Nnodum: IMGs are exposed to incorrect information. For example, rhetorics like “you cannot match if you don’t have a green card or citizenship” OR not knowing the right time to write Step 2 CS because the results may take several months to be released and one can miss the application deadline, thus missing an entire year because of it. OR the false statement “you can’t match if you don’t have x number of interviews” and so much more! Speak to an IMG who has been through the process; like me. That helps you clear up some of the confusion.
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. Nnodum: I did not participate in clinical rotations
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. Nnodum: I did a few observerships at US hospitals. It helped me obtain great letters of recommendation from US physicians. It also looks pretty on your resume even if you did not get a whole lot out of it.
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 your mantra for your success thus far?
Dr. Nnodum: Take the necessary steps as soon as possible. It is getting more competitive each year. The fewer years you have after graduation, the better for you. Aim to score very high as some programs filter interviewees for residency based on scores and/or year of graduation. My dear, NETWORKING is the ish and the truth. Ah! You have no idea.
Dr. Lum: Thank you for being so open and vulnerable. Can an IMG connect with you? If so, how?
Dr. Nnodum: Yes, please feel free to slide into my DM’s on Instagram. IG handle is oma_hottiemd. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Lum: Did you require visa sponsorship (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. Nnodum: I came into Kaplan on F1 visa. I am currently on a J1 visa. However, you can match on B1/B2 visa. I will recommend not worrying about the visa issue while you prepare for USMLE. No doubt that you can only apply to specific hospitals that sponsor visa which decreases the number of hospitals you can apply to or match into, however so many IMGs including me needed visa sponsorship. This happened without any challenges. Do not worry if it is J1 or H1B (no doubt that H1B is ‘better’), the most important thing is to match.
Dr. Lum: You are a pearl! What mantra do you live by?
Dr. Nnodum: Through God all things are possible. Do your own part while God does His part. USMLE preparation and matching into residency as an IMG can be daunting and look impossible, I want you to remember people like Nina and I did it, so you can do it and perform better. All the best my dear!