Dr. Yousuf is starting his emergency medicine residency after failing to match. Learn from his failures and triumphs and how you can avoid similar mistakes.
Dr. Ibbad Yousuf is @dr.bad_md on Instagram. He went to AUA, a Caribbean medical school, after struggling in his undergrad. He thrived at AUA but still struggled with classes every now and then, and still picked himself back up. But he was class president at his Caribbean medical school, and he didn’t match into residency the first time. He talks about that today, as well as what he did during his time off before finally matching.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:40] Going to a Caribbean Medical School
A lot of people think I am against Caribbean medical schools when I tell students you shouldn’t go to a Caribbean school. I am not against Caribbean medicals schools. I’m just against the lack of transparency coming from Caribbean schools. They tell you a lot of things, similar to military recruiters. They tell you what you want to hear when in reality it’s probably a lot different.
This is why I’m bringing Caribbean grads onto the podcast to talk about their experiences. There are a lot of issues with going to a Caribbean medical school. But you can go to a Caribbean school and be a great physician.Going to a Caribbean medical school doesn't mean you get less education, but a lot of students who go to Caribbean schools aren't coming in prepared for medical school.Click To Tweet
[04:00] Dr. Yousuf’s Interest in Becoming a Physician
Ibbad began having an interest in becoming a physician at 13-14 years old when he started taking an introductory science research course. Obviously, he likes science. But the human part of taking care of people came into the story when his mom got sick.
Ibbad took care of his mom in and out of the hospital and the doctor’s office. He realized he wanted to be able to scale helping people. That is, he wants to be able to help more than one patient at a time. His goal is to be able to help millions and billions of people, and medicine was the way to get him there. After becoming a physician, he is also interested in possibly launching a biotech startup or a wellness startup.I love science, and medicine is the application of science to helping people.Click To Tweet
[07:00] Undergrad Years and Premed Struggles
Ibbad thought that if he had to learn all the hard sciences in med school, why should he spend all his time as a premed studying the same subjects? So he started with a business major, then shifted to journalism, until he changed to sociology and health sciences. And he ended up getting a women’s studies minor.The end goal was always getting into med school.Click To Tweet
The biggest thing he struggled with as a premed student, he admits, was studying. He graduated from high school early and got into college. But he didn’t know how to put together the volume of information in college.
Failing Out of Undergrad
So he failed out after his sophomore year from a combination of life and not knowing how to study. Plus, he was working at that time and partying. So he failed, but got he back in that same semester with the stipulation that he was going to have to do well until he graduated.
He actually got the wake-up call after receiving a piece of mail telling him about his failure and dismissal. He realized he had to get in touch with the dean. His parents didn’t get mad but they were startled, knowing that Ibbad used to do so well. Ibbad admits it took a lot of self-awareness to figure out what he needed to do to improve.
From that point forward, he got a 4.0, a huge turnaround from failing. Ibbad attributes this success to his focus. He realized there needed to be certain levels and areas of focus, and he made it happen.
[11:50] Taking the MCAT and Going to the Caribbean
Not having a lot of guidance, Ibbad just studied for the MCAT like he would have normally done for any exam in college—study for three weeks and take it. He didn’t realize he sucked at taking standardized exams. This is aside from the fact that the MCAT is a whole other beast. So he took the MCAT and didn’t do well, obviously.
As a result, he decided to apply to Caribbean medical schools. He went from interviewing to getting admitted almost within a month, and then he moved to the island.
[15:00] Course Correction in Medical School
Ibbad says self-awareness is the key. He failed a bunch of his block exams in medical school. So he realized his weaknesses. He realized he didn’t know how to study properly. But medical school taught him how to do that.
Every time he had to level up, he taught himself something new to bring up his weakness. So the keys are self-awareness, determination, and drive. It’s important to know where you want to get to, where you are right now, and how you can get there.It's important to know where you want to get to, where you are right now, and how you can get there.Click To Tweet
Having known many people who have given up, he sees time as passing anyway. So what can you be doing in the meantime to allow you to get to where you want to be in the future? He adds that sometimes you need to take a step back from what you’re doing to get a more holistic picture of it. And this is what helped him to course-correct over time.
[Related episode: DO vs Caribbean Medical School? What Should I Do?]
[17:50] The Caribbean Environment: Dealing with High Attrition
Ibbad describes the diversity in the Caribbean. A lot of the other students had careers before wanting to get into medicine, so it’s a lot of nontraditional students. A lot of them didn’t have direction or physicians in the family. And he saw strength in this diversity.
The attrition rate for Caribbean schools is much higher than U.S. schools, and Ibbad explains there are two ways you can take that. You can see it and realize this isn’t for everyone. And then you can also see how this is a survival thing and this, he used to drive himself.The attrition rate for Caribbean schools is much higher than for U.S. schools, but there are different ways you can look at that.Click To Tweet
He saw the attrition was high, and so part of what he worked on as class president was working with the dean and the administration to reduce the attrition rate. Their discussions involved troubleshooting and figuring out why their students aren’t doing well.
In fact, he remembers looking at a roster of a few hundred people, and within the first two weeks, there were some who didn’t show up to the island. Some may have been accepted to a U.S. school. So he realized that a large chunk was taken out that way. Then after the first two weeks to a month, they had their first lab exams. This was another reality check about whether this was going to work for you.
[Related episode: What Are My Chances After Dropping Out at a Caribbean School?]
[22:45] Misleading USMLE Pass Rates at Caribbean Medical Schools
Many Caribbean schools boast their USMLE pass rate. But it’s not really a real number because there are exams the schools give to see how well you’re potentially going to do when you sit for the exam. And if you don’t do well on those comprehensive exams, they’d tell you that you’re not ready to take Step 1 yet, so they’re not going to let you take Step 1. And they may never let you take it because you may never get to that point where you’re going to pass.
Ibbad admits having to take comprehensive exams before he was allowed to sit for the Step exams. But he didn’t think it was a way to weed you out. Ibbad did pretty well in his exams at about the 90th percentile.
[26:10] Not Matching to Residency the First Time as a Caribbean Medical School Grad
For Ibbad, not matching into residency the first time was tough. He got the grades he needed to get on the boards. But that said, it gave him a different perspective of the overall process. Applying to emergency medicine is very competitive, and he was aware of that. But he was also the kind of guy that’s focused on one thing. The match rate for international medical graduates (IMGs) in 2018 was 1.6%, which means there’s a chance.Emergency medicine is very, very competitive, and I was aware of that. But I'm also the kind of guy who gets focused on one thing.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Looking at Emergency Medicine Match Data and Surveys.]
Matching into Residency from a Caribbean Medical School: It’s a Numbers Game
As to why he didn’t match the first time he applied to residency, he says one of the reasons is that it’s a number’s game. Ibbad didn’t have enough interviews. He only applied to emergency medicine residency programs.
He also understands his limitations coming from a Caribbean medical school. It was a matter of understanding those red flags. The optimum number to match was 13 residency programs as they say, and it’s supposed to be higher for IMGs, but he only applied to a third of that.
So this year, he did something different. He applied to other programs, too, not just EM. After all, his goal was to become a practicing physician. He also had to put his ego aside, telling himself it doesn’t matter what specialty you get into. And the numbers just worked out.I decided to apply to residencies in multiple specialties, knowing that the dream was to be a practicing physician and then pivot that into bigger things later.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: From Caribbean Med School to a U.S. Dermatology Residency.]
[30:10] Opportunities Available If You Don’t Match
There are different opportunities available to MDs and DOs who don’t match into residency. There are investment banks that love to have MDs on board, even without a business background. There are also a lot of educational companies out there that need MDs to help create content and courses. So you can do one of these to either pass your time or make it a full-time career.There are investment banks that hire MDs even without a business background, and there are educational companies that need MDs to help create content.Click To Tweet
Ibbad was one of the medical scholars at Picmonic. Having not matched, he was looking for jobs with pharma and on the business end of healthcare. A research opportunity opened up and he took that opportunity.
If you aren’t in residency, you have to start paying back your medical school loans immediately. But it depends a little on the type of loans you have. A handful of Caribbean medical schools have U.S. federal loans. But the schools have to be around for at least ten years to get the U.S. federal loan process in place. So Ibbad’s first few semesters were done on private loans. These were the ones that needed repayment immediately. All this being said, the loan companies and the bank work with you, so it’s doable.
[33:05] Reapplying for the Next Match
Ibbad was creating medical content in his year off, teaching students how to learn and troubleshoot and change paths like he had. And he was also working on some research. Currently, Ibbad is transitioning into starting residency. He’s also getting back into studying a few hours each day.
[34:55] Ibbad’s Advice to Those Going to the Caribbean
Try to reach out to other people who have been through the process. He believes having that first-person perspective is very important. Secondly, be extremely self-aware. Thirdly, know that your timeline may not work out the first time around for what you want to do.Being in a Caribbean medical school, you won't necessarily match into the residency you want on your first try.Click To Tweet
As a student at a Caribbean medical school, you won’t necessarily match into the residency you want on your first try. But you can take a gap year for research or explore other options if needed. Just know these things, and keep doing what you have to do for yourself. It’s not bad on the other side when you finally get there.
Be Self-Aware About Whether a Caribbean Medical School Would Work for You
It’s easy to get into a Caribbean medical school, but it’s harder to stay in. But it was fun. Ibbad lived with the beach ten feet away from him, and that was his study break. He worked hard during the week so he could have fun on the weekends. It was a great time.You get out of anything whatever you put into it. I think that applies anywhere.Click To Tweet
To wrap things up, we touch back on the subject of matching into residency from a Caribbean med school. One of Ibbad’s classmates matched into neurosurgery residency at Brown, and another student matched into orthopedics. So you can match into competitive residency programs from a Caribbean medical school. But the attrition rates are high, so you need to be self-aware going into it.
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my Premed Playbook series of books (available on Amazon), with installments on the personal statement, the medical school interview, and the MCAT.
- Related episode: Can I Come Back from a 2.4 or Should I Go to the Caribbean?
- Related episode: Rejected from the Caribbean! Now with a U.S. Acceptance!
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!
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