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MEDICAL STUDENT COLUMN Beyond Borders: A Night of Unity for Female International Medical Graduates Interested in Urology

By: Sasha Vereecken, BScN, RN, Saint James School of Medicine, Anguilla; Eman Naeem Chaudhri, MBBS, Alfaisal University College of Medicine, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Claudia Ramirez Marcano, BS, Universidad Central del Caribe, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico; Romina Vega Hermosillo, MD, Universidad Anáhuac, Estado de México | Posted on: 18 Mar 2024

In an era where videoconferencing platforms allow us to connect with people all over the world, students from the SWIU (Society of Women in Urology) Mentorship Committee recently hosted a night for international medical graduates (IMGs) interested in pursuing a career in urology. The virtual event featured a question and answer session with matched residents Dr Lina Posada and Dr Sanam Ladi Seyedian, which provided a unique opportunity for aspiring female urologists from all over the globe to network, learn, and build a sense of community despite their physical distance. The inspiration for this event stemmed from recognizing the critical need for enhanced mentorship opportunities tailored to IMGs. We recognized during the mentor/mentee matching process that there currently is a gap in mentorship available specifically for IMGs.

We wanted to dispel the notion that it is impossible for IMGs to match into urology, so the highlight of the evening was a panel discussion featuring IMGs who had successfully navigated the competitive landscape of matching into a urology residency program in the US. The residents shared their journeys, shedding light on the challenges they overcame, their strategies during the application process, and insights into life as a urology resident.

Although urology is a progressive specialty, the cultural backgrounds of practicing female urologists do not mirror those of society. Certain cultural barriers hinder a smooth transition into urology due to the nature of the job, which involves addressing private and sensitive health concerns. Dr Seyedian offered her unique perspective on pursuing urology as a Middle Eastern woman; she was often discouraged from joining the specialty due to the taboo nature of the field in her culture. The strength and grit required to overcome these cultural barriers might be overlooked by program directors reviewing applications, especially when considering IMGs. Furthermore, the visa process and geographical hurdles may paint a discouraging picture for IMGs. However, the residents consistently emphasized one point: your story is your strength.

Breaking barriers and overcoming obstacles, including leaving family behind, navigating the visa process, and securing research positions, all contribute to the challenging journey for IMGs. This journey involves the difficult decision to leave behind familiarity and training in their home countries to pursue surgical training in the US. The personal, professional, and even financial progress throughout this journey is far from linear. Aspiring applicants’ resilience and grit shine through to seniors, mentors, and program directors alike. It is a big financial undertaking at the beginning (visiting rotations, applications, exams, and paperwork)—especially when your foreign currency gets converted into US dollars—but in the end, having the career you always dreamed of pays off!

The triad of research, mentorship, and networking emerged as a cornerstone in the residency application discussion. The insights shared by Dr Posada and Dr Seyedian emphasized how the time preceding application submission should be utilized strategically. They advocated for engaging in impactful research work as an opportunity to acquire knowledge, enhance competitiveness, and foster connections. For IMGs, it is a great first step to seek research opportunities and a mentor within your home country; that mentor can start guiding your career path in urology. Look for clerkships while you are a student because as soon as you graduate you are only able to do an observership, and the hands-on clinical experience in a surgical field has far more value and can also result in a recommendation letter. Dr Posada shared that when looking for research, keep in mind that it may be 2 to 3 years and, in some cases, may start unfunded. Every experience matters and signifies a commitment to the specialty from the early stages of medical education.

Finding research opportunities in the US can be particularly challenging for IMGs due to visa barriers and limited program accommodations. In Dr Posada’s words, “[This is] the toughest part of it all. Look at everything and everyone, everywhere. I found mine during my student rotations [in the US], and even then, it is challenging. Keep looking around again and again, because mentors can connect you with anybody.” One option, highlighted by the residents, is directly emailing physicians, or taking advantage of platforms like X, LinkedIn, and Instagram to uncover research prospects. On social media, you can also find several associations (such as SWIU!) and IMG-friendly programs that offer tools for career advancement, including webinars, mentorship programs, scholarships, and research opportunities.

Additionally, the residents recommended finding mentors who are at different points in their career within urology, emphasizing the unique perspectives offered by seasoned attendings, recently graduated peers, and current residents. They stressed the importance of casting a wide net in the professional sphere, urging aspiring applicants to position themselves for exposure and connections at all times. This includes attending conferences, ideally alongside a mentor, and then exploring specific programs and forums to approach speakers who may offer potential growth opportunities. They recommended looking for clerkships early on while you are still a medical student, as clerkships can hold more value and result in a recommendation letter, as opposed to postgraduate observerships. This, coupled with embracing one’s unique story and path, was emphasized as pivotal in becoming a well-rounded, successful urology applicant.

As the night ended, a pivotal question came from the group: “How do you cope with imposter syndrome and the pressure to be perfect?” This resonated with many of us. Dr Seyedian provided crucial advice in her response: “Do not let imposter syndrome get the best of you. In this competitive and ever-changing field, self-doubt will always peak through, and it is up to us, believing in ourselves, in our journey, in our path, and in our strength, to overcome any sense of disbelief. We have put in the work to get to where we are, and that makes us strong enough to face the challenges ahead. Believe in yourself, and believe in your story.”

When individuals have similar goals and interests, they come together. After this videoconference, we formed friendships that empowered us to stay in contact and form a bond through our passion and desire for professional growth. Having our questions answered by the residents and knowing that they were in a similar situation to us gave us key insights to achieving our goals: patience, curiosity, and hard work. As the night ended, a realization came upon us in our new email exchanges with one another: we were no longer going to have to navigate our paths as aspiring urologists alone; instead, we will persevere together, sharing our efforts and successes to lift each other up for the better.