COVID-19 Ruins Korean Med Graduate's US Plans

Hyechang "HC" Rhim, MD


May 16, 2020

An Uncertain Future

I spent 2 weeks in the United States doing literally nothing other than receiving heartbreaking news after heartbreaking news. The conferences I hoped to attend were canceled. My research presentation there was supposed to strengthen my CV. My observerships were canceled next. Those were going to help me gain clinical experience in the United States and build relationships that could lead to recommendation letters.

I became hopeless and insecure about matching into a US residency program. Dejected, I came back to Korea. I was under strict government-controlled self-quarantine for another 2 weeks. Being stuck in my apartment was frustrating, but the uncertainty about my future was even more suffocating.

The testing center for Step 2 CS has extended its closure until at least August. Given the unavoidable human-to-human contact during the exam, it may be delayed even further. Plus, Step 2 CS testing appointments are notorious for limited spaces and often fill up at least 3-4 months in advance. The number of examinees who require rescheduling is likely to far exceed the available spots. This process is even more complicated for IMGs who need visas just to take the exam. Many of us will struggle to secure a date that will let us meet deadlines for residency application. We will potentially need to forgo the next Match. My friend and I expressed these concerns in the Korean Journal of Medical Education.

Even IMGs preparing for the 2022 Match are affected. They may not be able to participate in any clinical experience or research opportunities in the United States this year. Visa services are still suspended. The Harvard MPH program has decided that summer sessions will be held remotely. I doubt that virtual or online education will have the same value without actual onsite research experience. As an aspiring academic physiatrist, this is a huge concern for me.

I know that this distress is sincerely nothing compared with what those who suffered from COVID-19 and lost loved ones have experienced, but the uncertainty is still disturbing. Updates about Step 2 CS keep coming but rescheduling is still delayed. Knowing that I won't be able to receive an F1 visa for the MPH program this summer, I accepted a job as a night-shift general physician at a hospital and started working as a research fellow here. I want to make a "Plan B" for my future, but given the ever-changing situation, I don't know what I can realistically do.

Some hope does remain. Certain specialties are now suggesting that residency programs consider waiving requirements like Step 2 CK/CS at the time of application and pushing back deadlines. Also, on May 8, the USMLE announced that it was exploring virtual methods of administering Step 2 CS. This is encouraging, but no specific timeframe has been given.

With all of the factors being considered, we IMGs are largely being left out of the picture. We are an especially vulnerable minority in this chaos. The climb toward residency in the United States as an IMG is now more difficult than ever. Perhaps if someone could at least assure us that we are part of the plan, it would give us something to keep running toward.

Hyechang "HC" Rhim recently graduated from Korea University College of Medicine. He is also a contributing editor for the Korean edition of Runner's World and received an award for his research at the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine in 2019.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


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.