The IMG Roadmap Series #14: Dr. Waindim (IM)

Fellow IMG’s, the series continues in full throttle. Today we are figuratively rounding on the IM service!

If you are learning anything from these interviews; please tell me. Your feedback helps me to solicit other successful IMGs so they can agree to share their experiences on the internet!

Before we get into today’s interview, I will like to inform you about my online course curated specifically for IMG’s like you. While you read this I am LIVE on with the first private group of IMG “roadmappers”  as I coach on  “How to Write a Coercive Personal Statement”!  You wouldn’t want to miss this if you are preparing for residency any time soon. Remember, I am a coach, so I tell you how to BEST achieve your goals and you do the work! I cannot guarantee that I can get you into a GME (graduate medical education) program but I have the experience to coach you through this tedious process. Check it out here.

Anyways, let us get back into how this doctor went around the world to land a residency position in Detroit this Summer!

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

Dr. Lum: Please tell us about yourself.

Dr. Waindim: Hi Dr. Lum, thank you for allowing me to share my experiences. As you know I am Josephine Waindim, M.D. a newly minted intern (PGY-1 ) at an Internal Medicine program in Detroit, Michigan. I am a product of this 2019 match and  I did it on the first attempt as a non-US IMG! This is a very exciting season for me!

I grew up in Cameroon, and I did my medical education in The Gambia. I was not one of those kids who just knew they wanted to get into medicine from kindergarten. My plan was to go to college, have fun, then find a job. I had a few opportunities to go to medical school right after high school, but I missed all of them; maybe I was just blithe, or probably not ready. I eventually got into biochemistry, then pharmacy and did not stay in any of these departments beyond a couple of months. It took me a year of traveling to different countries for school, hopping between courses and trying to find myself to realize that I really was interested in medicine. I do not regret this path because I finally attended medical school when I was certain it was what I absolutely wanted for myself and was willing to make the commitment. I attended my medical school simply because it was “available” when I was ready; a decision I will totally reconsider before making again. To say the least, you absolutely do not want to attend any school that values the business more than your education! I graduated from medical school in August 2018.

Dr. Lum: Thank you for sharing that level of detail. Let us talk about the USMLE. When did you take USMLE step 1? Can you share your experience with us?

Dr. Waindim: I took step 1 in September of 2015. In spite of scheduling it right after my basic sciences, it was still quite a challenge because I think we focus on really different things in Africa versus here, for the right reasons; and our testing systems are totally different. I was right on the mean when I got my results back and I was elated.

Dr. Lum: What studying technique worked best for you? Or what do you recommend as the ideal study schedule for a great score?

Dr. Waindim: Practicing questions totally helped me prepare for the test as it helped me learn new material while evaluating myself and making me recognize areas of weakness.

I think making and following a realistic schedule is even more important than the choice of study material. If you are able to consistently follow a schedule and know the nuts and bolts of one mediocre book, you definitely have a better shot than anyone who’s just randomly using uworld, kaplan qbank, watching videos, struggling to grab all the books they can possibly lay their hands on.

I made a comprehensive 16-hour daily schedule for the 3months leading to my exam. It was as detailed and comprehensive as it could get, including page numbers, specific topics, number of blocks I had to study, timing, breaks. I left some Sundays off for catching up on topics I thought I needed help with, doing extra blocks on my qbank and sleeping in.

I was completely off social media, did not entertain any guest, except during scheduled breaks, and brought my social life to nominal; which I’m probably still recovering from.

While everyone’s goals, baseline knowledge, and cognition differ, I definitely do not recommend using more than 2 comprehensive books, more than 2 question banks, or videos to prepare for the exam, because:

As I mentioned above, you will try to rush through and end up with a lot less information than if you faithfully used just one, or two.

My practice scores peaked at the same time my confidence did. Your confidence will definitely build if you are meeting your goals. You are more likely to meet a goal of completing uworld and first aid in a month, than if you are juggling 8 study materials.

Also you won’t be ready in time for the exam.

Preparing for step 1 is already exhausting and you don’t want to be too extra.

However, feel free to use an infinite number of resources for reference.

Dr. Lum: Can you walk us through how you prepared for the test? Include books used, videos, courses, etc.

Dr. Waindim: The uworld qbank was the most invaluable resource for me. I supplemented with the first aid and was sure to note any important information I obtained from uworld or any other source in my First Aid. I used Doctors in Training because it helped me go through the first aid an extra time. I also recommend pathoma videos.

Dr Lum: Tell us about your Step 2 experience.

Dr. Waindim: I took step 2 in September 2017. I used uworld and First Aid for step 2. I had read Step Up to CK during my Internal Medicine rotation and it totally made studying for Step 2 easier. Studying for step 2 was more leisurely and interesting and my score chuted 2 standard deviations above my step 1 score; this definitely got me interviews during the interview season.

Dr. Lum: How about step 3?

Dr. Waindim: I did not require step 3 to match into residency. I took it in May 2019, a few months after matching. I used the uworld qbank to study for step3.

Dr. Lum: How do you recommend IMG’s go about securing interviews?

Dr. Waindim: While I don’t think scoring high on USMLE makes a great doctor, it’s undeniably the strongest factor in getting you interviews. Do everything you can to excel on all of them.

Nobody gets a bad recommendation letter; everyone has the “CV fillers”; we all have “touching stories” for our personal statements. Do everything you can to make yours idyllic. In my opinion, it’s easier to make these work against you, by being overly generic, having spelling or grammatical errors, coming off as conceited, having incomplete applications or submitting documents late. I sincerely think it’s hard to stand out. You don’t want to mess any of these up! Go through your application several times and get professional help if you need to.

You also don’t want to leave anything out (I forgot to include a presentation done during my elective at Yale, and other minor details to my application; because I was too queasy, and I remembered only after it was certified and submitted).

With the little research I did on Internal Medicine programs prior to applying, what I was able to gather was, program directors can’t agree on the ideal candidate!!! I think it’s a good thing as it makes each program unique and gives opportunities to the different types of candidates; however, it makes the process more confusing than it already is.

Many PDs prefer LORs from US-based physicians, but just as much want a letter from any physician outside the US that is well acquainted with your work ethic. I made sure my letter writers from the Gambia were doctors that knew me personally and would be happy to vouch for me. I was also fortunate to do some electives at a reputable hospital here, and I had good letters from the PD and other doctors I had worked with.

I think a well-written letter from a doctor you have worked closely with, for months/years is better than a generic letter from a US physician who hardly knew you. I’ll definitely suggest a good mix if you can!

You do not want to waive your right to view the letter if you doubt your letter writer’s English proficiency, or his/her ability to speak well of you.

Research every single program you plan to apply to. If you clearly don’t fit their requirements, do not apply there because you will be filtered out.

It is expensive, but apply as broadly as you can, especially if you think you are not a competitive candidate.

Having US clinical experience is a deal breaker for some programs, several of them don’t care about it. Doing research could be helpful, or not. My point is, no situation is hopeless. Do the best you possibly can and apply strategically.

Network!!! Reach out to everyone you think are in a position to help. The worst that can happen is to be ignored or turned down.

Finally, prepare for rejections, be ready to go days, weeks without hearing back from programs and I suggest avoiding all these forums where people come to vaunt about how many interviews they’re getting. By October 3rd, I had gotten 3 interviews and I was freaking out. I remember talking to Dr. Lum and she reassured me that it was only the start of the season and the interviews started coming in later just like she said.

Dr. Lum: I remember that! Thank you for all that information! You are spilling pearls today.  Any more tips? 

Dr Waindim: In addition to the tips already shared, you want to outdo on your interview day. I thought my interview skills were optimal until I practiced with Dr. Lum. Let’s just say I was hopelessly disappointed in myself. Thank God she helped improve my interview skills and I was poised and confident on my interview day.

I totally recommend reading her blogs or signing up for the webinars she’s been doing recently.

I got great feedback from all the programs I contacted after my interview; although my program did reach out before I could which really got me very thrilled.

Yes, I sent a thank you email to all the programs I got interviews from, except 4 because they specifically told us not to. I followed the rules.

Dr. Lum: In your observation why are some IMG’s struggling to get into residency? And what can they do about that?

Dr. Waindim: I think misinformation, inadequate information, improper guidance on how to prepare for the steps, or go about the residency application are a huge part.

Not applying strategically, not applying to adequate programs

I’ve seen non-native English speakers over-compensate by trying to totally alter their accents, which makes them harder to understand; or try to use “big” words and use them wrongly.

One girl I met at an interview was literally “forcing” the program director to take selfies with her, and kept bringing up embarrassing stories. Be well informed about the work culture. Don’t sabotage yourself.

Dr. Lum: You crack me up, though everything you’ve shared is true! 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. Waindim: I did 2 electives while I was a medical student in 2017. I think the experience helped me get more interviews as it counted for US clinical experience. I got good letters of recommendation from the PDs of these programs, which probably increased my chances of getting interviews. Nonetheless, I believe I would have matched into my program even without this experience.

Dr. Lum: What advice will you give yourself looking back at the journey to becoming a PGY-1?
Dr. Waindim: Make the most of what you have, and don’t sweat the little things. It always works out, eventually.

Dr. Lum: Can an IMG connect with you? If so, how?
Dr. Waindim: Absolutely! I am on instagram: @dr_jozephynnn

Dr. Lum: What mantra do you live by?
Dr. Waindim: Do what makes you happy

Dr. Lum: Thank you so much Dr. Waindim, I wish you the best of training. Guys, if you want me to coach you through the application phase you can catch us at at any time! There will be a LIVE course (available now) and a course you can take at your own pace (available July 30th).

Check it out here!

Next week’s interview is with a non-US IMG from a Caribbean Medical School who matched into the very competitive specialty of Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility after OBGYN residency. Subscribe to the blog, stay tuned not to miss any of these posts!

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