How to move to the USA as a doctor: 4 options

Anastasia , a doctor from Belarus and postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Mexico, talks about medical education in the USA .


We will consider the option when you have already graduated from a medical university in the CIS country. This means that you are automatically equated to a medical doctor (MD), so a physician can move to the USA through: 1) master’s degree , 2) graduate school , 3) postdoctoral studies and 4) medical residency . All of them relate to postgraduate study.

Medical Master’s and Postgraduate Studies in the USA

Master ‘s programs and PhD programs are suitable if your goal is to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree in the USA. To do this, you will have to devote several years to writing a dissertation and mastering related specialties. The master’s degree lasts a year or two and, as a rule, is paid ($15,000–120,000 per year). Graduate school lasts 5–7 years and costs on average $28,000–$40,000 per year, although most graduate students receive a stipend (around the same amount). In both cases, studying is quite intense and, according to reviews, leaves virtually no free time.

An important nuance: master’s and postgraduate studies, unlike the CIS countries, do not cover the field of clinical medicine, which is separated from the rest of science into the practical sphere. The specialties closest to medicine are related ones, for example, bioengineering, medical genetics, public health, drug discovery. Without the necessary technical skills (genotyping, immunoblotting, etc.), doctors are less competitive than geneticists and biologists, but research experience can help.

In any case, the field of study you choose should be new to you, that is, NOT directly related to clinical medicine. Otherwise, the chances are slim, since you will be considered overqualified (too qualified). For admission you need to pass TOEFL or IELTS , as well as GRE . Most likely, you will need an official evaluation of your diploma with the calculation of your GPA score.


Postdoctoral studies in America

There is another option – postdoctoral fellowship. It is suitable if you are planning a scientific career and do not want to work on a dissertation (or have already defended it). You don’t need to take any exams. The university hires you as a staff member to conduct research. You receive a salary ( $47,000–$120,000 per year) , study independently, write articles and grants. You can also use your postdoc time to find a job, network, or prepare for medical residency. Official evaluation of the diploma, as well as calculation of GPA, is not required.

Residency in the USA

If you want to become a practicing physician in the United States, you will need a license, for this you need to pass the USMLE exams and enter a medical residency , which takes 3-7 years (taking into account the narrow specialization). Upon admission, the American Commission recognizes medical diplomas from 82 universities in Russia, 4 universities in Belarus and 25 universities in Ukraine ( more details ).

The first exam for admission to residency tests knowledge of fundamental medicine, the second tests applied knowledge and skills (its two parts are clinical knowledge and clinical skills). The third exam can be taken after admission. A separate English exam is not required; the language is tested as part of patient communication skills in the USMLE. Exams and applications are paid, but the residency program requires a salary ( from $50,000 per year ). It is better to save up a budget for admission in advance, since two stages of the exam cost $3,385, and each application costs $30; they usually send 100–300 applications with the expectation of receiving invitations to 5–7 interviews.

The competition for residency positions is extremely high, it’s difficult even for graduates of American universities, so get ready for a struggle. For example, this year more than 1,000 doctors from all over the world applied to our university (University of New Mexico) for residency in psychiatry. Of these, 70 people were invited for interviews, and 9 were ultimately selected. All these people had a strong research background and recommendations from American professors. Remember, networking, recommendations and research experience are the key to success.

For comparison, the path of Americans to a medical license is even longer and more expensive than that of foreigners: bachelor’s degree -> med school -> residency. For the first two steps, they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and take out loans that will take many years to pay off.

So foreign graduates have their advantages! The main thing is to know that moving to America and becoming a doctor in the USA is quite possible. Sign up for a consultation on higher education in the USA to find out your chances of admission and create an action plan.

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