Between medical school, USMLE fees, travel expenses and living expenses, my budget was getting tighter and tighter. That, and along with the much needed United States Clinical Experience in order to be a competitive candidate for residency meant that I had to watch my every dollar and cent.
I was fortunate that my FA-MO bank (Father/Mother) had enough saved that my medical school fees were completely paid for. Since my father (who is the family’s sole breadwinner) retired due to health-related issues when I was a second year medical student, all the ‘extras’ was up to me. Coming from Asia, the mighty US dollar is multiples of our local currency.
While I was fortunate to find a part-time job that paid in US dollars: writing for a trade publication based in Maryland, I was still penny pinching if I wanted to achieve my dreams. I am sure this is the same for many aspiring International Medical Graduates who intend to get into a United States medical residency program and eventually practice here.
Failure is NOT an option! Not with how much it costs to take the USMLE exams.
Fee for USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK alone ($895 each) was already almost $2000 US dollars. Since that could be done in many major cities around the world, the travel expense was minimal. In order to sit for USMLE Step 2 CS however, the costs alone was $1280 in 2017 (rising to $1285 in 2018). That, along with a return air ticket to the United States from Asia ($1000+), along with accommodation and living expense, meant that it’ll be more than $5000 US dollars for the bare minimum, before you even take into the account application fee to ERAS for residency programs.
Here, I will outline some steps you can take to try and minimize expenses.
- Compare prices, both on your local travel website and the US website, and with your local travel agent for international air travel. Sometimes, the same fare is cheaper buying it from the US website, for the same route direction: for example, when I searched for a flight from SIN to NYC from expedia.co.sg it was $1173.70 SGD ($870 USD), and when I did the same search from the US website, it was $840 USD. When I went to a local Singapore travel agent, the price was the equivalent of $820 USD when I showed the agent the proposed route. Another option is to put your departure and arrival information along with travel dates on: Matrix ITA Software, it will spit out a series of codes that you can provide to a travel agent to make the booking. At times, this can include some savings as well. While it is not necessarily a huge savings, even little bit counts.
- Check out free/cheaper accommodation if possible: There is a website that was set-up by United States medical students, but available to international students as well. Rotating Room is that allows you to access using your local .edu account or its equivalent. It allows medical students to find cheap sublets from other medical students who are on electives away from their home base. It also allows medical students to sublet their room out if they are gone from their home location for period of time for their electives. This website is created by Dr Gaurav Singal, previously a medical student at Harvard Medical School and now an attending at the same institute. There is also another site called Swap & Snooze that offers a similar service, but for free and only for the interview season (Overnight accommodation). Swap & Snooze was first set-up by 2 ER residents, Dr Megan Tresenriter and Dr Jessica Paz – when they were interviewing for residency programs. Other reasonable options is to see if you have any distant relatives/family friends/friends you might be able to bunk with for a few days or weeks. I was fortunate enough that one of my father’s former workmate works in Philadelphia, so I got a few nights free accommodation while sitting for my USMLE Step 2 CS exams. Other popular options include Craigslist, Air BnB, VRBO or last minute hotel websites such as Hotel Tonight or Hotwire.
- Ask the Program Co-ordinator for contacts/cheaper options for accommodations.
One of the programs that I had chose to do a family medicine rotation at, had low-cost student accommodations that I could rent, at $90/month. This was not immediately offered to me, but when I inquired, the program co-ordinator gave the details and a few emails later, I secured my accommodation for my elective for a super affordable rate.
- Travel within the United States.
Since this is such a big country, travel expenses can add up substantially when traveling within the United States. I would strongly recommend trying to co-ordinate a medical elective/externship along with doing your USMLE Step 2 CS if possible. This will greatly save costs. Since there are five locations you can pick from for this exam: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, do try and plan in advance to secure both the exam date as well as planning for your medical rotation in a close-by location if possible. Obviously, the sooner you apply, the more flexibility you have in the available dates. It would be a lot cheaper to travel by subway/bus/train than travel by air. Most of the time, getting to the airport alone costs quite in a bit in bus or cab fares. Trains and buses, on the other hand, normally have stations right in the downtown area, which makes traveling to and from the station a lot cheaper. Also, remember to check cheaper airlines such as Jet Blue, Allegiant or Southwest Airlines for travel within the United States. Fares for these budget airlines normally do not show up on conventional travel sites like Expedia or Orbitz. Most airlines charge quite a bit if you want to check in your bag when travel[amazon_link asins=’B00DVIF9JA,B073Q5XPCM,B01E923UCY,B0081VWEKO,B00NW62PCA,B01MQEWQE9′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’foreignbornmd-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0ec14510-c2ac-11e7-83ea-bf32d1e44d56′]
I hope the above tips have been helpful! UPDATE: Part 2: saving money on food, activities, health insurance costs and total budget for your Residency Aspirations is now up. Like my Foreign BornMD page for updates or find me on Twitter.
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