When a common friend introduced me to today’s guest, she was green in this process of being an IMG starting out on her quest towards a residency position. The good thing was she had already put in the “work” on her tests and did really well. Fast forward to now, and she is an intern at a prestigious academic program living her dreams! So excited to share her story of triumph to encourage you on your path to US MD!
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. Djoufack: My Name is Raissa Djoufack, I was born and raised in Cameroon where I also attended medical school. During my early teenage years, I shadowed my mom (who cared for people as a nurse ) and it nurtured the desired to become a Doctor. Right after my graduation from high school, I went to “Universite Des Montagnes” in Cameroon for medical studies and I graduated in December 2014. I came to the USA for family reasons in 2015 and I completed all the USMLE exams during my time here. I am starting my residency in Internal Medicine this month and I can’t wait to start this journey!
Dr. Lum: Tell me more about your time in medical school.
Dr. Djoufack: Universite des Montagnes is in the West Region of Cameroon precisely in Bangangte. If you can think of a small tiny rural area nestled in the hills where students have nothing else to do other than go to school. It happened that I was among the first few students from my school to ever sit for the USMLE. It actually delayed my preparation because many administrative documents had not been processed by my university at the time I started the process but they cooperated just fine. See, it all worked out after all.
Dr. Lum: I understand that. When did you take USMLE step 1? How did you perform on the exams?
Dr. Djoufack: I sat for step 1 sometime in 2016 and I scored 245. I used Kaplan books & videos, Uworld 3 times, First aid multiple readings, Usmle RX once, NBMEs, Goljan pathology, Pathoma Videos.
Dr. Lum: What studying technique worked best for you? Did you have any extenuating circumstances that caused delays, and how did you handle that?
Dr. Djoufack: My biggest challenge, in the beginning, was mastery of the English language because my first language is French. It took me a few months to adjust myself to English. Although Cameroon is a bilingual country I was mostly raised in the French part and didn’t get to speak English during my time there.
I am more a visual learner so I loved using Kaplan videos, pathoma…etc. Audio works also just fine with me. I find it so boring to sit down and “swallow a book” by myself unless my exam is very close. That being said, I used a lot of study partners that I found through a USMLE forum. I made good friends from there. We read mostly First Aid together several times.
FA and UW are the most important resources for sure. You definitely want to memorize as much as you possibly could from FA. I took all the NBMEs and after each session, I tried to improve my knowledge before the next assessment. My NBME scored ranged from 220-249.
Dr. Lum: You did well, can you walk us through how you prepared for the test?
Dr. Djoufack: I started with Kaplan books and videos which I read simultaneously. Then I added FA and UW. In between, I did Goljan and Pathoma. I took the NBMEs withing 3 months of my exam. I studied for a total of 11 months with several breaks in between for family reasons.
Dr. Lum: When did you take USMLE step 2? Tell us more about your experience.
Dr. Djoufack: I took step 2 CK in May 2017. I scored a 263.
Dr. Lum: That is a great score! What studying techniques do you attribute to your success on step 2?
Dr. Djoufack: I have to say that my foundation was pretty solid because I spent a lot of time studying for step 1. I used some Kaplan CK (surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry). I did UW twice, Master the Boards 2&3 with my study partners and all the NBMEs and CMS. I also reviewed FA and my step one notes prior to my step 2 CK exam.
I felt extremely comfortable during my step 2 CK exam. In general I found the questions to be very easy.
For CS, I practiced the Uworld cases with family, friends, skype partners on and off for about 3 months. I took my exam in Houston and passed on the first attempt. Practice as much as you can. I remember telling my family member to create a scenario so I can practice. If you can practice with people in the medical field, it is always better.
The cases were very easy during the exam itself and my standardized patients were very cooperative. If you are slow with typing, time can be an issue but it wasn’t for me.
Dr. Lum: Seeing as you did not repeat any of the tests. Can you tell us what to do if someone fails any of the steps?
Dr. Djoufack: Well, first of all, don’t tell yourself that you can’t because you don’t need to be super smart to pass the USMLE exams. You need a good study strategy that works for you and you only! You need to know your areas of weakness and focus on them. Do not try to copy someone else. For me, it was impossible to read MTB by myself during my preparation but I read it in 3 days when my exam was 1 week ahead…haha. So, don’t copy anyone’s schedule. Just know your strengths and weaknesses and work your way around that.
Your performance during your exam day is also very critical. Get plenty of sleep before. When you sit in front of the computer, tell yourself to relax because at that point any negative stress will hurt your performance. Well, that’s what I do. I make sure I give my very best during my preparation and afterward I try to relax as much as I can.
If you believe in God, trusting and praying God in such moments can be very useful.
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. Djoufack: I had several gaps due to family reasons and as an FMG, finding a rotation wasn’t easy at all. Eventually, after networking, I was able to fill in those gaps with volunteering, observerships, and externship. I also volunteered with a research team and our article was published. Networking is really the key. I found my mentor through a babysitting job!
Dr. Lum: It is remarkable that you mentioned this because in my online course coaching group we focused on networking this week! It is a valuable tool that IMG’s don’t take advantage of. Did you have children during this process? Can you share on how you overcame the challenges of being a parent while pursuing this path?
Dr. Djoufack: Yes, 2! I took step 2 CK when I was 35 weeks pregnant and step 3 with 2 kids at home.
Having kids definitely adds a little more stress to your preparation for sure. I have a very supportive husband and I think that was the key. In such a scenario, you really want to be organized and know what your priorities are. If you are not very determined you will always have a good reason to postpone your studies. I had a strict schedule that allowed me to play with my kids and study at night when they sleep. I wasn’t an easy journey but well I made it and I am very happy about it.
Dr. Lum: How do you recommend IMG’s go about securing interviews?
Dr. Djoufack: I think the strength of each application is different right from the beginning. About 70-80 % of your invitations will come from your overall application and the remaining from networking assuming you apply early enough in the season. If you have a weak application (poor scores, old graduate..etc) you might want to focus on the networking because that’s where you will get the most interviews from. I personally had 3 out of 17 interview invitations from networking.
Dr. Lum: How did you match into your residency program? What are your best tips for anyone on matching into residency?
Dr. Djoufack: Practice your interview questions very well with partners, mentors and be confident during your interview. I used “The successful match’’ for my preparation. Do your own search about each program and faculty members and be very proactive on your interview day. Do not hesitate to get in touch with a resident in any program you are considering very highly. They can place a note for you when it is time for ranking.
Dr. Lum: In your observation why are some IMG’s struggling to get into residency? And what can they do about that?
Dr. Djoufack: Poor scores, no determination, lack of support system and no pro-activeness during the interview process.
Dr. Lum: Did you participate in clinical rotations at any US hospital prior to match day? Was this helpful to your match process?
Dr. Djoufack: No I did all my rotations in Cameroon.
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. Djoufack: Yes I did 4-5 months total of observership/externship. It was not easy to secure those rotations I have to say but definitely not impossible if you are willing to travel. I don’t know how much it weighed in my application but it personally helped me to connect with my interviewers and discuss some issues related to the practice of medicine in the USA.
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. Djoufack: Resiliency! Set a goal and get everything you need to achieve that goal. Get rid of people who discourage you because you don’t need to be super smart to get into residency but you need to use the good material, have a study schedule that fits you only and most importantly a good support system as much as you can.
Dr. Lum: How can an IMG connect with you? If so, how?
Dr. Djoufack: Ask Dr. Lum for my email address. I give her permission to share it privately ONLY with interested applicants.
Dr. Lum: What mantra do you live by?
Dr. Djoufack: As a Christian, I believe in God, and I believe in hard work as well. I always recall what my dad taught me from Martin Luther King statement:
‘’If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well’’.
Dr. Lum: Thank you so much for sharing such valuable information. I am certain that IMG’s will learn from it.
If you are an IMG seeking mentorship, check out my online coaching program imgroadmap.com. Where I teach IMG’s about what they can do to possibly increase their chances of success.