RFS Voices: The Radiology Match: Perspectives of A Current and Former Caribbean Medical Student
Current Resident: Courtney Dey, MD an Eastern Virginia Medical School first year radiology resident and former Caribbean medical student
So you want to be a radiologist? Great, you are choosing your field of interest in the first step. But wait, you’re an offshore medical student? Your path may not be as easy as those on the mainland. The first time I truly realized it would be an uphill battle to go into any field aside from primary care was when I began my U.S. clinical rotations as a third year medical student. I had always figured that as a U.S. citizen, it wouldn’t be tough to land a U.S. residency. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma against both U.S. and Canadian students who attend international medical schools, particularly those in the Caribbean. I remember being told by advisors that many programs wouldn’t even consider interviewing me, despite my high USMLE board scores, GPA, and what I considered a great devotion to medicine. After all, I had chosen to leave everything I knew — friends, family and the creature comforts of a first world country, to live on a 33 square mile island which intermittently had electricity and running water, all in the name of pursuing my lifelong passion in becoming a physician. It’s still looked upon negatively to have an international graduate in some residency programs, particularly among more competitive specialties.
As if this hurdle wasn’t large enough, there’s the struggle to even be exposed to radiology in the first few years of medical school. The lone hospital on the island didn’t have the means for expensive MRI or CT machines, in fact, I don’t remember ever seeing a radiograph. Fast forward two years, and as a third year medical student starting rotations in California, I was unintentionally directed to pursue a primary care career, being told repeatedly that it’s simply too difficult to nuzzle your way into a career in radiology.
Several years later, as a first year radiology resident, I can safely say that it is worth the challenges, but you absolutely need to advocate for yourself. As one face in a huge medical school class, it’s simply impossible to get the one-on-one counseling for the Match that smaller sized U.S. medical schools can afford their students. I don’t know if the stigma that surrounds international graduates will ever completely disappear, but I’m proud to say that I am an international grad and a US radiology resident.
Current Medical Student: Leah Leonhardt, 4th year medical student at Saba University School of Medicine in the Caribbean applying for radiology
It’s that time of year again, when fourth year medical students anxiously await interview offers, prepare to face the ubiquitous “tell me about yourself”, and press their black suits. I am no different in that regard, apart from an enormous riff that separates me from most — I went to a Caribbean medical school. Up until now, I did not notice the difference in medical education or opportunities compared with my U.S. trained colleagues working alongside me. I studied hard, scored extremely well, and always put my best foot forward in clinicals. I independently applied and rotated at some of the top programs in the country.
It is now November, in the heat of Match season, and I cannot count the number of rejections. The stigma of being a foreign trained graduate is finally being realized, and it stings. This is especially true when I meet people who don’t have competitive marks or who appeared less prepared and are granted interviews at their program of choice. The reality, however, is that I made the decision to attend an offshore medical school with my eyes wide open. I heard stories about the substantial difficulties in securing any residency position outside of primary care, as well as the near impossibility of returning to Canada to do post-graduate training. I began this journey knowing that it would be an uphill battle.
So what is a determined, passionate, devoted foreign graduate to do in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a radiologist? She does what every intelligent, motivated, dedicated student of medicine does - persevere. I stay late, I work hard, I see challenges as opportunities, I learn how to turn no’s into yeses. Above all, when most others quit, I dig deep and work harder. I find the energy to work above and beyond when most give up and maintain the motivation to consistently deliver my best. I value every single interview opportunity and strive to deliver patient care that differentiates me based on my performance and abilities, not simply by the school I attended. After all, it only takes one interview to be a radiologist.
Leah Leonhardt is a 4th year medical student at Saba University School of Medicine in the Caribbean applying for radiology and Courtney Dey, MD is a current Eastern Virginia Medical School first year radiology resident and former Caribbean medical student.