An article published by American Medical Association Journal, AMA Wire in January 2016 reports that American medical students spend between 1000 to 5000 on average for their residency program interviews. For International Medical Graduates (IMGs), the costs are likely to be double or triple of that. In the first part of this article, I have shared ideas about travel and accommodation costs, which is the bulk of the expense. Here, we will focus on ideas to save money on health insurance, food and other costs especially for an international medical graduate, visa issues and total budget for IMGs applying for residency in the United States. I have a bonus for my subscribers – an exclusive list of top universities accepting IMGs for medical electives in 2018 – more on that below.
Between the time my prior article was published and this one, two other physician bloggers have weighed in on the same issue. Check out their sites for more tips on savings.
Dr Jim Dahle of White Coat Investor, guru of personal finance blog for doctors, posted a list of 10 Ways to Minimize Residency Interview Expense
Dr Bo Liu, a radiology resident and founder of Future Proof MD discussed ideas on travel and accommodation on his post here: Top 10 Sites to Save You Money on Interview Travel
As an IMG, it will be close to impossible to obtain any loans to help pay for these expenses. Costs associated with obtaining a residency position is often the largest cost associated with advancing in your medical career. This is because many IMGs have much less in student loan debts. This is yet another expense your parents (and you) need to budget for if you are considering the United States for residency training.
After scheduling your Step 2 CS and/or electives and/or residency interview, the next step is to get American Visa. If you carry a passport that allows visa-free entry, then you can skip this step. If not, please remember to do the following:
- Schedule your interview at the closest US embassy/consulate office.
- Gather all your supporting documents: Step 2 CS scheduling information, letter from ECFMG supporting your visa, prior medical school transcripts and dean’s letter. If you have previously visited United States for similar reasons, bring your supporting documentation (i.e. did an elective previously).
- Letter of support from financial guarantor – i.e. letter from parents/guardian stating that they are sponsoring your trip. You may need to bring along financial statements or property deeds to show the consular officer you have the finances to afford your trip and related expenses,
- Other photos/fees/documents as requested by US embassy.
When you are applying to medical schools for electives, many require that you carry health insurance. Some institutes may have reduced cost programs for students – do ask, but may require that you carry your own health travel insurance. This is often cheaper to obtain from your home country, ensure that it covers the entire duration of your trip and sufficient coverage in case of emergency/accident. You can find travel insurance by getting online quotes as well.
Food prices in America is fairly affordable, but eating out at restaurants are not. This is due to the higher costs of labor here. Also, unlike many countries in Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it is customary to offer an 18-20% tip to your waiter/waitress as their salary is quite low, and the expected tip (that the customer pays separately) is calculated into their pay. You can often get a nutritious meal for $5 dollars or less by purchasing staples such as bread or food from the deli counter at grocery stores. If you are planning on being here longer, it is advantageous to find accommodation with a small kitchen were you can prepare simple meals. In a pinch, fast food such as Wendy’s or Taco Bell would be your best bet for a cheap (not necessarily the healthiest) meal as they have items you can order from the dollar menu.
In your down time, between exams and interviews, here are some ideas of cheap or local cost activities. Despite being on a budget, it is important to explore the local area and culture, plus to get some relaxation. Check out the local Groupon site for deals on activities – sometimes, there are deals for 50% or more discounts on activities such as kayaking, Escape Room adventures or entry passes to the local zoo or museum. There is also a site offering Free Walking Tours for major cities in America.
In terms of costs, I would estimate a budget of at least US$8000 in all – USMLE fees for all the steps is approximately $3200, round-trip flights for Step 2 CS & interviews will amount to $2000 depending on where you are flying from. Fees for residency match (National Residency Match Program – NRMP) will be another $1000-$2000. Lodging and other incidentals – another $1000 or more.
I hope the above ideas have been helpful to you. If you are interested in a list of top universities offering medical electives to IMGs, please click here for an updated list for 2018.