Observership for International Medical Graduates

Physicians from abroad who hope to complete residency training in the U.S. may encounter cultural hurdles as they seek to integrate into an American clinical environment. As a result, many seek out “observership” programs, which allow them to enhance their cultural competencies, communication skills and everyday clinical skills before entering the American physician workforce. These observerships are an optional activity and are not a prerequisite for matching into a residency, but many graduates from other cultures feel they are an important part of their preparation for medical practice.

In fulfilment of Resolution C307 (A-14), submitted by the ISMS International Medical Graduate (IMG) Section, a study was conducted to determine the feasibility of developing an observership program in Illinois. The ISMS IMG Section is exploring options for doing so on a cost-neutral basis. In the meantime, this page exists to provide a starting point for IMGs who wish to pursue such an experience.

Many observership programs are available across the country, but information can be difficult to find, and the landscape is ever-changing. The American Medical Association maintains a page with some information, and there are other independent sources that can be found through a web search for terms such as “IMG Observerships” or “list of hospitals offering observerships.” A variety of institutions offer these programs, from private practices to large teaching hospitals; at larger institutions, observerships are often connected with residency programs in particular specialties. 

Here are a few basic tips to consider for anyone seeking an observership:

  • Know the cost.  Observers are usually expected to pay all costs related to the program. Each observership is different, but program costs often amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the length of the experience and the nature of the institution that offers it. These costs are in addition to living expenses such as housing and transportation, which are also the responsibility of the observer.
  • Know what you are getting.  Observerships will allow you to do just that: observe. They usually take place over the course of a few weeks, during which you will have minimal or no patient contact. You will, however, gain a better understanding of American culture and expectations, and have the opportunity to interact with practicing physicians. These will not guarantee you a residency position, but they may be invaluable as you pursue further opportunities.
  • Be prepared.  You will most likely need to apply for your own visa, provide proof of health insurance and immunizations, and make your own arrangements for housing, transportation, and other necessities. Individual institutions may have additional requirements. Information about visas for IMGs can be found here.
  • Start early, and be patient.  Much like applying for residency, finding an observership can be a long process involving many hours of research and hundreds of emails. Institutions often take weeks or months to process applications, and applicants coming from outside the U.S. often must take many steps before they are allowed to enter the country. Be patient, and don’t give up!

There are many online forums and communities that offer advice and support to IMGs, and prospective observers may find helpful information and ideas there. Of course, ISMS is not able to review these resources for accuracy, and does not endorse any particular website or forum. It is the individual’s responsibility to ensure the accuracy of whatever information is provided.

The Illinois State Medical Society and its IMG Section wish our future colleagues the best in their studies and in their pursuit of a career in medicine in the United States.

If you are a physician who is interested in hosting observers at your medical practice or institution, the American Medical Association offers a package of resources to assist you.  Click here  for more information.



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