Friday 22 April 2011

How important is research for IMG to match?

Importance of research when applying to a specialty
Family medicine, internal medicine, psych, neurology.. The list of subjects that an IMG must consider is small. More often than not, we tend to question how does my resume stack up against my competing applicants? Am I deficient in my CV if I don't have much research or publication? what is the out look of programs regarding how heavily an applicant is involved in research. Read on to look at how much importance program directors and programs place of research by subject.
The data is complied from Results of the 2010 NRMP Program Director Survey, a publication release by NRMP.

Not so impressive CV? will adding research experience help?
The figure shows the importance a program specialty places on research in increasing order. I have added for comparison sake, the importance of 'connections' in program which unsurprisingly surpass a lot of the biosketch parameters like scores, visa status etc.

The 'don't care that much about research' group
Looking at the perception of programs regarding applicant research status, once can immediately see that right across the board, IMG friendly specialities (click here for this article if you want to know more) are not really research friendly. In fact family medicine programs placed the least importance on research qualifications on the applicant with 2.8 IU (importance units), followed by Internal medicine (IM) and pediatrics. That being said, if there are 2 equally matched candidates and one has research experience and other does not, this could become a very important factor.

The Plebeian Plateau
emergency medicine, psych, anesthesia and pathology steady climb on the IU scale with program directors placing more importance on publications and research experience. Neurology, another IMG favorite surprisingly maxed out on the research factor with 3.5. SO if there are folks who have done basic or clinical research in areas of neurology, strokes, neuropsychology, addiction, organic brain syndrome then applying to neurology will certainly boost their chances of matching. Also another corollary of this finding is that if there are any old grad with PhDs and plenty of basic research, they may be better off applying for neurology, anesthesia and psychiatry in clinical sciences and in pathology for non-clinical sciences.

This is a general trend that was observed across hundreds of programs and are averages. This may not be applicable to every individual case and certainly there will be outliers that do not conform to the averages.

Personal impression
I have been in research for a long time and I agree research experience is a better showcase of personal ability. As an IMG sadly, the programs tend to place less weight on research than on other factors. So unless you are aiming for a career in research (Clinical or otherwise), banking too much on this may backfire. If through your research you will get publications, make yourself known, and develop relationships with people who are in a position to help you secure residency than by all means go for it. The problem with doing research is that you must have something conclusive to show at the end of it. Unless you want to go on for PhD or devote yourself to committed research, there is 'law of diminishing returns' when it comes to IMGs and research. It reaches a ceiling effect after a few good publications. This on the other hand is not true for AMGs, and more they place emphasis on research, the better and better their chances become to match to stellar places. 

Thus you can see the IMG friendly specialities have a different requirement than other specialities when it comes to research.


  1. Dear doctor,

    Firstly, thank you very much for sharing a summary of your experience regarding the topic of IMGs and research.

    I am currently an IMG from Jordan.I finished medical school 3 days ago. My research experience include one research that is going to be published soon (3rd author) in a peer-reviewed journal. For other two, we finished data collection and hopefully we will be able to publish. I am also starting 3 other researches soon.

    I must be very happy? Well, the problem lies that all of the above researches are cross-sectional survey-based reseraches. Yes, these were the only ones I could participate in!

    All of these researches are either in OBGYN or psychiatry.

    My I ask for your advice regarding the following: If my two cross-sectional studies got published in peer-reviewed journals, would they be of benefit when I stand in front of program directors? Does really worth it to continue doing this type of research?

    Best regards.

    1. Hello Dr. Jameel, Congrats on having your work published. There is nothing wrong with survey based researches, in fact many MD are involved in data mining and survey/chart based research. It is vital part of scientific progress and should be thought of as less important than basic bench work. Both are different and to compare the two would be incorrect. There is always benefit in publishing. it shows that you are productive in research and it will help you for sure in your career. If not as much early on, you will find that your publications will/CV will be very useful when you apply for a position faculty or fellowship. Over all, if there are 2 identical candidates - similar scores, similar years of grad but one has more research and publications, the second one will stand out better than the first. Good luck!

  2. Hi Droidor,,

    I am IMG (YOG 2014) , & would be applying for IM in good university programs (Step 1 only with score of 263) . Should I apply for 2015 match without research experience or 2016 match with some good research publications and volunteering during that time.
    In other words , should I drop 1 year (and also prepare well for the remaining steps) for the sake of research coz I would like to do cardiology fellowships soon after residency. Since research strengthens applications for fellowships also ,,should I go for it now as it would help me with residency applications too instead doing it after residency ?!!
    & If done, will it be worth if I do some good clinical research with publications being in INDIA ??

    Thanks a lot in advance and I do really consider your blog to be the best one for IMGs,keep up with the great work !!!

    1. Dont just apply to university programs - also apply to some mid level programs. I recommend that you apply for 2015 since you have excellent scores. For cardiology fellowship - focus on research DURING residency and not before.

  3. Dear Doctor,

    I am an IMG from INDIA, graduated in march 2013.
    I gave the GRE and TOEFL exams as my initial plan was to enter into an MPH program as advised by a few seniors and professors. I scored 316/340 in GRE and 111/120 in TOEFL. But the overall cost of the program is exceeding my budget and also scholarship options for international applicants are very limited. Hence, I'm in great dilemma. I have started preparing for USMLE Step 1 and planning to give it in JUNE-JULY.

    I have read various articles online regarding the advantages and disadvantages of doing an MPH before residency but I just cant seem to find the right answer for my scenario. If I consider applying for MPH for next fall and take up a loan, is it worth it ? And if by chance I don't score well in step 1 then how good is an MPH degree for an IMG, job wise? Are there good opportunities in that field?

    1. These are some really good but tough questions. A lot of masters programs are not scholarship based unlike doctoral graduate programs where tuition is often waived and stipend is provided. Many of my colleagues who were doing masters (MPH or MHA) did have to pay out of pocket. Most of them sough on campus jobs (library, recreation center, dining etc) where you can work up to 20 hours a week. This may help offset some living costs. Remember if you go via the MPH route your expense will be USMLE expenses (which are substantial in itself) + cost of MPH. MPH degree in itself job wise may not be that dire but varies a whole lot - it depends on the reputation of the school of public health, your connections, your job interview skills and other accomplishments.

  4. hi ,droidor
    im an img from pakistan .... im in my currently in med school . i will hopefly give my usmle in 4th year n i have gone for some observerships till now . In future i plan on going in one of the top 10 hospitals i have given the tofel exam with a 110/ 120 score .... so all im asking is should i give the GRE exams to improve my CV? i have no money problems
    thankyou for ur help

    1. Hi Eli, Thanks for writing. I have answered your question with a few other questions at

  5. Would research as an IMG looking to do residency in the US from India have any weightage on my application? Would it improve my chances? Do paper and oral presentations are international conferences help as well?
    Thank you

  6. Hello Droidor,

    I am an IMG looking for psychiatry residency. I have 3 months of observership experience at 2 program offering institutions. I have one more observership which is due in Sept 2014 at another program offering university. But recently I got selected as an research assistant in psychiatry at ETSU under the guidance of research director as my mentor. My question is should I drop my plans of observership and go for research or should I go for observership and drop my research assistant position. If I opt. for observership, ETSU may not offer me a position as research assistant in Oct once I am done with observership. I dunt have any research experience to write on my CV.this is my only opportunity to get into research but my school buddy who is a resident in psychiatry suggests that observership is far more better than research experience...

    I would like to have your inputs. What would you do if you were in my situation

    1. If I were in your position, I would think - how much is the additional observership going to add value to my existing portfolio. Is it going to help me get a good letter or is it going to help me network for access to a potential residency position? Observership for sake of such is not going to be as useful because in reality all it does it add a line on your CV that in itself does not as impactful as the experience itself. I think of an obsie as a stepping stone to really market yourself. If you consider getting an observership as a goal which will help get residency that would be incorrect. Getting an observership is step 1 towards a lot of hard work to market your talents professionally and personally. If you have achieved that in the last 2 and the third is just for CV then diversifying may make more sense. On the flip side, what will the research rotation get you. The buck never stops when you gets such opportunity. What you make of those opportunities is what matter.

  7. Hi,
    I am an IMG from Iran.Now I am living in Canada.I am going to publish two papers which I did in my country, one in surgery and the other in pathology field. But the problem is that my favorites are IM and neurology. My question is does it worth to publish my articles? Because they are not in the field which I am interested in.
    The other question is can I find research position in neurology or IM in Canada instead of US.Does it work for me?
    Also I have a reseaech experience in bioengineering at UVIC university of Canada about it good point in my CV or not?

  8. Hi,
    I am an IMG from India . I have just got a call to do a research which has the potential to be published in a journal. I have been called to be a co-investigator/co-author in the project. Does this research can add a value to my CV as I am just a co-authour and not the principal author ?

  9. hi
    i am an img from japan. i have done a research for like a year in surgical anesthesiology but is excluded from the researched group recently. anyways i had one oral presentation but that is far from publication. i want to match in gen surg as an img. should i do the same research by myself and try to publish in a small journal or move on to other project with my advisor?

    1. i need to correct that im a med student not img yet


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