The Seemingly-Mythical IMG to US MD Med School Transfer

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • If you visit any med school forum and type “IMG transfer to US medical school,” you’ll find a multitude of threads stretching back over a decade. You’ll find hundreds of opinions regarding the difficulty of the transfer process, necessary credentials, number of spots available every year, and if it’s even possible in the first place. You’ll also find that some contributing their two cents “have a friend” who transferred or “know a guy who knows a guy” who went through the process, most of whom are just straight trolling. Reading these forums can quickly make the entire prospect of transferring feel like chasing a mythical creature  or at least it did to me.

    I started my medical education at a large, well-known Caribbean school, and did so with full awareness of the existing stigma toward such institutions.

    During orientation, the school was very forthright with students regarding that stigma and the uphill battle we would be fighting when it came to The Match and beyond. We were informed that the most competitive residencies (neurosurgery, dermatology, orthopedic surgery, etc.) were out of the question, and were shown a list of specialties alumni had successfully matched into  our viable options. We were also shown NRMP match data for the average Step 1 scores among successfully matched individuals in each of those fields, and were instructed to score at least 10 points higher than the average for our desired specialty. I left that meeting with mixed emotions. I questioned whether I had made the right choice by going to the Caribbean, but also felt extremely motivated to study hard and do my best  the rest, I hoped, would take care of itself. Then,  in the back of my mind, questions transferring to a US school emerged.

    During my first year, I spent a little free time every few weeks doing internet searches, trying to glean what information I could about the transfer process. Outside of politics, I’ve never found such polarizing opinions and contradictory information on a topic! My conclusion from reading the aforementioned forums was either that people transfer almost every year or that the last successful transfer occurred before penicillin was discovered. I did find a blog written by someone who successfully transferred almost ten years ago, which was a little reassuring. But I also realized transferring wasn’t really possible until after Step 1, so I put the idea on the backburner.

    A year later, on that fateful Wednesday morning when I received a highly anticipated email with my Step 1 score, I decided to move forward with the transfer process.

    I figured assessing viability was the best initial step, so I visited the admissions website for every LCME-accredited medical school in the US and began compiling a spreadsheet containing each school’s transfer policy as well as the contact information for each director of admissions. There were so many schools with transfer policies clearly stating they do NOT accept transfers from non-LCME accredited schools, so I did the reasonable thing with the information  I ignored it. I personally contacted the admissions director at every MD-granting US medical school, stating who I was, what my credentials were, and asked if I could apply to transfer to their school. The entire process took three days and landed me the most rejections I had ever received in my life. I didn’t care though, because four of the 141 schools I contacted had agreed to allow me to submit an application for them to review.

    Since I’m writing this blog post, there isn’t too much mystery of how things ended up, but the short story is two schools ended up returning my application (and application fee, fortunately) due to lack of available spots in their class, two schools interviewed me, and one accepted me. The entire process took countless hours over a three-month period, a lot of hard work, and a few thousand dollars. I now have the opportunity to pursue the field of medicine I find most interesting, and for that I am grateful.  

    The entire process was rewarding and exhausting, but ultimately bittersweet. I was extremely happy with the education I was receiving at my prior school. The friends I made there are among the smartest, most hard-working students I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and I was sad to not be sharing the remaining medical school experience with them. I have no doubt that they will all become fantastic doctors and, had I not had the opportunity to transfer, I know I would have been very happy as a graduate of my prior medical school. All that being said, it’s nice to have the peace of mind moving forward.