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    Three Ways International Medical Graduates Can Differentiate Themselves for Residency

    This advice is for IMGs, but can really work for anyone applying to a medical residency program. You see, now that the USMLE® Step 1 Exam is pass/fail, we know that med students are hunting for more ways to differentiate themselves for residency programs. 

    Along with the usuals (high Step 2 scores, good grades, solid letters of rec, a positive Medical Student Performance Evaluation), we’re seeing IMGs use the below high-yield extracurricular activities as ways to impress programs and show residency directors who they really are in order to stand out from the crowd. 

    But remember, choose something that you’re actually passionate about. Don’t just pick an extracurricular because you think it’s what programs want to see. 

    Research experience

    Completing a research project during med school not only shows dedication to the field of medicine, but it also positions you as a contributor to the ever-growing body of scientific knowledge. 

    Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a project:

    1. Align the research project with your own interests
    2. Pick one that’s got something to do with the field you’d like to go into
    3. Work with a professor that is regularly published
    4. Complete a research project in the summer between your first and second years of med school

    If you are clinically minded, research can be a really rewarding way to spend time completing the extracurricular activities you need to stand out to residency programs. Plus, as an IMG, you’re uniquely positioned to research topics that may not be available to med students in the States.



    Opportunities to volunteer plummeted during the pandemic, but now they’re back! And just like when applying for med school, volunteering can have a positive impact on your residency application now that Step 1 is pass/fail. 

    Volunteering can show potential programs that you’ve worked to acquire necessary bedside skills and it can be a great way to showcase things like: 

    • You’re committed to your community
    • You have concerns beyond yourself 
    • You’ve worked to build empathy

    The good news is that you can complete community service in both medical and nonmedical settings. But, you might get a leg up if it is in the medical field. So if you're strong in a particular topic, volunteer some of your time to tutor a fellow student. Or, volunteer at a free clinic, to get some patient experience.

    Again, as an IMG, you may have access to volunteer projects that outshine med students in the US. Here’s a list of international volunteering organizations. Are you close? Sign up!

    But be sure you’re volunteering for the right reasons. We’re looking at you, Student Doctor Network.


    Student organizations

    Are there any student organizations you can join to differentiate yourself for residency? Perhaps in student government? Or maybe you could join (or even found!) a club? 

    Pro Tip: Become a leader of one of these organizations to demonstrate your leadership qualities and prove you can interact positively with your peers.  

    Getting involved with student organizations highlights traits residency directors are looking for like:

    • You have an outgoing personality
    • You’ve shown initiative 
    • You’re committed to your school
    • You’re capable of building and maintaining relationships

    If you love people and/or have a strong sense of loyalty to your school, this might be the route for you!


    The bottom line? When applying for a residency, you’re going to have to show that you’re human—not a robot who studies medicine all the time. And the above extracurriculars help emphasize your human side.

    But don’t forget! Your Step 2 score is more important than ever for securing a residency now that Step 1 is pass/fail. So study-up with the Medical Student Study Strong System.

    What are you seeing out there? Anything you’re doing to stand out? Connect with us on social and tell us about it!

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