COMMENTARY

COVID-19 Ruins Korean Med Graduate's US Plans

Hyechang "HC" Rhim, MD

Disclosures

May 16, 2020

I didn't stumble into medicine; I ran into it.

After my first semester of college, I took a leave of absence to fulfill my military service with the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. While running during training, I often thought about my future. All of that thinking led to me running farther and faster. Eventually, I ran myself right into multiple injuries.

Hyechang "HC" Rhim, MD

Luckily, those injuries sparked a curiosity in the human body, training, nutrition, and physiology. I decided to become a doctor who could help patients return to activity. To fulfill my dreams, I knew I needed training in the United States, one of the leading countries for sports medicine.

By the time I had taken United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) S
tep 1 and Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), as well as exams to qualify for a Korean medical license, I was close to burnout. But I had no time to rest before I was running again. This time, I was racing against the spread of the coronavirus around the world.

Close but No Exam...

On March 13, I arrived in the United States from South Korea to take the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) exam. This was supposed to be my last test before qualifying for Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) certification, a requirement for international medical graduates (IMGs) to match into US residency programs.

Knowing that time was against me, I bought a plane ticket that left just 2 days later. My exam was scheduled for April, but I was hoping to arrive in the United States and reschedule to a date that was sooner. Even if rescheduling didn't work, I was planning to stay until I could take the exam. My parents were...not happy. Not only was there a virus spreading, but they also wanted to spend as much time together as we could before my residency training abroad.

When I landed in the Atlanta airport, I was worried that an immigration officer would ban my entry; more and more countries were refusing Koreans at that time. When I got through, I felt a sense of relief. I turned on my cell phone and logged into the ECFMG website. I had been carefully monitoring for any changes—day and night—since February. The last update was just before I put my cellphone into airplane mode. Everything was still on. When I logged in at Atlanta, I read the latest news: "Testing centers will be closed." My sigh of relief turned into a sigh of grief. As fast as I was moving, the coronavirus was faster.

A few days later, the US embassy announced that it would suspend issuing visas until further notice. This put another opportunity in jeopardy. I had been accepted to the master of public health (MPH) program at Harvard University starting this summer and had communicated with professors about research opportunities. One of the reasons I worked so hard to finish Step 1 and 2 CK before graduation was so I could focus on that research. Many IMGs take a gap year or two so that they can take these exams in order to complete obligations associated with their institutions and to participate in observerships at US hospitals. I had managed to complete most obligations in advance. Suddenly, all of my efforts were in vain.

Comments

3090D553-9492-4563-8681-AD288FA52ACE
Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as:

processing....