Saturday 30 April 2011

Volunteering: an untapped opportunity for IMGs

Volunteering an untapped potential for IMGs

As I sat down to analyze the characteristics of matched versus unmatched applicants, I came across a hitherto undiscovered trend that may be the Holy Grail that some IMGs are looking for. Volunteerism.

Parsing through the Charting outcomes of the residency match data, a publication of the NRMP (3rd edition, latest one). I recognized an important trend amongst the applicants who matched versus those who did not.  Looking at the publication here is the raw data

Table 1

Matched IMG
Unmatched IMG
Delta variance (IMG)
Number of specialties ranked
Research experience
Abstracts, presentations
Work experience
Volunteer experience

Table 1: Comparing the characteristics of matched versus unmatched IMG applicants

figure accompanying table 1

In table 1, we can see that IMGs who matched, ranked fewer specialties (this is a consequence and not cause of matching, stronger candidates apply to one specialty and get in as opposed to people with lower scores who apply in multiple specialties.) They also had slightly more research experience. They did however have fewer abstracts and presentations than those that did not match. My hypothesis is that applicants with lower scores tend to ‘fill’ in the resume with abstracts and posters and work that may not have much credible standing, thus elevating the numbers of such data in the unmatched category.

IMGs who matched had a lesser work experience (again could be a reflection of unmatched candidates wanting to improve resume with work) but the biggest impact of all was a big surprise. Volunteer work had a +0.9 difference between matched and unmatched applicants. On average matched applicants reported 3.5 mean volunteer experiences versus 2.4 in the unmatched group. This was comparable to the delta variance in similar set of data for AMGs (+0.9) data not shown.

Figure 2 demonstrates the relative importance of these factors for the matched versus unmatched applicants in the form of delta variance (diff between matched and unmatched group)

Unfortunately, NRMP did not define what was considered as a volunteer experience. Looking at SDN or resources of US seniors, some popular activities are working in free clinics, working for charitable organizations as volunteer or even going abroad for medical charity work. I dont think many IMGs will be interested in the latter, but volunteering for free clinics in your city may be a very good way to boost your resume. Now, you may have to ask around regarding the visa issues and how much you will be able to work in the clinics (direct patient care versus non clinical duties) and individual clinics may be the best source.

I have come up with some resources, which may be of use to IMGs. If you are just waiting for scores to come or studying or engaged in something that may be contributing to a gap in your CV, then I strongly encourage you to look into these opportunities and bolster your resume. Volunteering seems to work for applicants who matched, why not give it a try?

Volunteer resources
1. Health Volunteers Overseas
HVO is a network of health care professionals, organizations, corporations and donors united in a common commitment to improving global health through education

2. American college of physicians

3. The International Medical Volunteers Association (IMVA) is a nonprofit organization that promotes, facilitates, and supports voluntary medical activity through education and information exchange.
For more information on IMVA, please contact 
International Medical Volunteers Association, 
P.O. Box 205, Woodville, MA. 01784, USA. 
Tel. 508 435 7377 (USA), 508 HELPERS
Fax. 508 497 9568

4. Free Clinics
Free clinics are volunteer-based, safety-net health care organizations that provide a range of medical, dental, pharmacy, and/or behavioral health services to economically disadvantaged individuals who are predominately uninsured. for list of free clinics to volunteer in your community.


  1. hi..

    My name is Dinah, an IMG. I am now staying in a small town with no free clinics nearby. A private hospital in my neighborhood offer volunteer opportunities. Will that be counted or just the free clinics that matter?

    thank you very much for your information and your time!

    1. Hello Dinah, I believe that you need to stay busy no matter what. When there are big blanks in your CV it tends to portend a poor prognosis for interviews. What kind of volunteer work is this? I think if there are no other USCE, observership, research style things (or you have enough of those already) then this will certainly be a good one to have. Also, you may even get a good opportunity to liaison with physicians and faculty who work there to your advantage.

  2. Hi doctor I am an old img. I passed step 1. Unfortunately I had some unexpected gaps for 4 years due to some personal reasons(family, financial). I am now preparing myself for step 2ck. How can I overcome this gap? Is it will be wise to start anything like volunteer or something else right now or after taking ck because I wanna get a good score in ck?

    1. please look at the article referencing this exact issue. hope this helps.

  3. Hello Doctor I am an IMG and I am preparing for my Step 1. I am very sad to have a 10 month gap after my date of graduation without any USCE. I was getting all the documents from my college to ecfmg and getting the application process sorted and also trying to prepare for step1 by just full still with the books. This didn't work and i had to delay my step 1. Recently I heard having such a big gap will be a MAJOR red flag in my CV for residency.
    So i was wondering if you know if 'Advanced Colleges of America' is a legitimate organization to get Externships?? Do they actually provide externships that are recognized by Programs when we apply for MATCH or do these externship (that they provide) have no value at all? It is extremely difficult for am IMG to get an externship or observership just by phone calls or emails. Plus I don't have a proper network nor do i know any US physician. I just want to know if advanced college of america is worth the money they charge.
    I have gone though soo many forums so they all have a lot of mixed reviews, some say its a scam but then the organization themself come up and explain about their program. I have found your website to be the MOST usefull in my research for usmle and residency that why i would really like your opinion on 'advanced colleges of america'.

    Thanks a LOT in advance!!

  4. Hi!

    Would you know if volunteering in my home country would be as good as volunteering in the US?

  5. Hey there. I am an IMG. I havn't given any USMLE exams yet. I am currently preparing for one. Is it possible for me to be able to work as a volunteer at a free clinic meanwhile; with out having given any exams,


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