Saturday 13 July 2013

Can foreign medical graduates (IMGs) with MD or MBBS apply for research in US?

One of the extremely common questions that is being asked on the internet is - can someone who has trained to be a physician or finished medical school from an international school pursue research in the US? The answer to that question is a resounding yes. 

In order to consider research as a path for further training there are some basic prerequisites that need to be fulfilled. Fortunately, courses like medical ethics, biostatistics, microbiology, pathology etc which are covered in your earlier years of medical school do satisfy some of the course requirements needed for application for graduate school. Theoretically, it would be possible to apply t just any doctoral course - linguistics, humanities, communication or engineering but the best recourse a person trained in medical field is to apply to medically related fields like microbiology, immunology, virology, pathogenesis etc. I have covered the potential doctoral fields and their correlation to the specialty of residency application elsewhere on the site. 

Once you have decided that this is a career path you want to pursue, a few boundaries and outlines must be drawn. After application to graduate schools when you write your career statement or statement of purpose make sure you indicate one of two possibilities: 

1. Apply to masters degree and explicitly indicate how this would help in your career development 

2. Apply for doctoral course and commit to completion of the PhD and your research and state in writing that you are devoted to finishing your thesis and that the long-term goal for you is a career in scientific research or clinical-translational research. 

What you do not want to do at any cost, to affect the chances of your peers and colleagues (and to some extent your self – karmic returns), is to join a doctoral program (because of the monetary benefits of tuition waiver and monthly stipend in addition to other aid) and drop out in few years without completion of your project because you got accepted into a residency program. Do not do that. Plan your professional development well. There are two big fall outs when someone does this ‘bait and switch’ the graduate school will be very way of taking another MBBS from a foreign country, because they know they will be ‘used’. It will be more difficult for the next bright eyes fresh doctor who wants to really become the next leader in medical field. 

I can attest from personal experience that one of the first things the director of the graduate program I had applied to during a phone interview asked – are you planning to join a residency in the future? Are you giving your USMLE? Are you planning to leave us if that is the case? I was slightly taken aback at the candor of these questions but since I had no plans to quit – I answered truthfully, “I have no plans to quit research and leave project unfinished, and I do plan to get back into medical practice after my doctoral studies are concluded”. After a few months of starting my courses at the grad school I realized that in the previous years, they had 2 foreign trained MBBS doctors, who joined the program and just left the program to join a residency after coming to US. 

If you are planning to do that – apply to residency in a 2-3 years time, tell them and apply to a masters program. It is a professionally discourteous to lie up front to secure acceptance to a PhD program. In a masters program, you may not get the funding or aid but you may get the experience of working in US, additional qualification to your CV and help you network grow contacts. There are many on campus job one can do when they are a master’s student to supplement the income.


  1. Hello sir.....that is a very good insight to the pHD vs residency dilemma.

    i personally was always interested in research....especially immunology or genetics......i had also secured a position of bsc in molecular genetics after my 12th in ohio state university...but had to pursue medicine in india coz my parents thought doing "medicine" wil serve u better.....!!!

    Though im glad now, but i still wanna pursue research which involves both medicine n lab work...the so calld clinical-transition research you are talking about.....How should i go about it...???

    1. If you have finished medical school 2 options
      1. Grad school in US - PhD - residency - career path
      2. Residency - clinician scientist career path

      advantage of 1st is that you will be trained to be a scientist and will be able to have a considerably different perspective. second pathway is faster but will limit your research outlook unless you develop your career that way.

  2. Hey Droidor,
    I am an IMG without green card and I wish to do some pre residency research for around one year, so if I apply for the research positions which visa will I need, is it J1 visa (or are there any other visas)?? And if it is so then will I get stuck with J1 visa for residency or I can still be eligible for H1B visa during residency??

    I don’t wish to do the waiver jobs at the end of my residency and would be pursuing fellowships soon after residency!!
    Please suggest !! Thank you!!

    1. Also, what are my chances that a professor would be willing to sponsor an IMG for H1B visa ,, even if it initially requires to work for a few months as a voluntary researcher on B1 visa !!!

    2. Hello IMG for cardio, the scenario that you posit is pretty complex even for conventional visa standards and I recommend seeking help from a forum or community that specializes in visa related matters. If you are going to do a masters level course or a graduate school enrollment then the safest best is NOT the exchange scholar but a visiting student F1 visa. It is easier for F1 to have conditional EAD (employment authorization document) or change to H1B without the potential terms and conditions that J1 carries. But I recommend seeking help from visa forums. Thanks

  3. You may not get the funding aid who get the purpose of medical radiography personal statement of purpose make sure you indicate one of above all the possibilities:


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