International students help their compatriots study medicine in the US.
Conventional wisdom has one message for international students who dream of attending an American medical school: don’t bother trying.
“We are generally told that applying to medical school in the US is very difficult and often hopeless,” says Ghazal Aghagoli ’19 MD’23, an Iranian Canadian, adding her peers were even told “that they should go back to their home country.”
Of the 21,869 matriculants to US medical schools last year, the AAMC reports, just 272 were foreign applicants, with an acceptance rate of less than 1.5 percent, compared to 43 percent for all applicants. Less than a third of US med schools even consider international applications.
“When you go to those schools that actually take internationals, some of them are very dismissive of us applying,” says Benjamin Gallo Marin MD’23, who is from Nicaragua. “You really think it’s impossible.”
After earning their spots at The Warren Alpert Medical School, Aghagoli and Gallo wanted to get the word out that the dream wasn’t, in fact, hopeless. In May they joined forces with Azan Virji, a Harvard med student from Tanzania, to found F-1 Doctors, a mentorship platform where international students, residents, and attendings volunteer to guide their peers through the application process. “What we’re trying to do is dispel a set of myths,” Gallo says. “We’re trying to put faces to these statistics.”
Gallo says that while his pre-med advisers at Princeton, where he earned his bachelor’s, were encouraging, he had wished he could talk to another international student who’d already gone through the process. “I just didn’t know where to find them,” he says. “There wasn’t a way to look for them.”
He not only needed someone to tell him, yes, he could do this. He also needed practical help: what additional steps did he have to take? What should he write in his personal statement? What immigration documents did he need?
Since founding F-1 Doctors, more than 70 mentors from 30 countries have signed on, including pre-med and med students, dental students, and current providers. “We didn’t realize how many of us are out there,” Aghagoli says. Most, she adds, volunteer for the same reason: “When we got into medical school, we vowed to make sure that the next generation of international medical students doesn’t face the same struggles that we did.”
For more information, visit www.f1doctor.com.