What is USMLE? How to Crack it?
Every medical student has to go through a life-changing decision in his/her life. It’s when you must decide what kind of future you want. Do you want to appear for NEET PG or USMLE or PLAB or AMC? This decision is tough because it affects the rest of your life. It must be made keeping a lot of things in mind: the lifestyle you want, your parent’s support, financial aid, interest in a specialty, which country you like, and where you can imagine yourself living for the rest of your life.
I was in the same dilemma in 3rd-year med school when a lot of my classmates were joining DAMS and Bhatia for their NEET preparation. Marrow and Prep Ladder were not famous among students at that time. I had to decide too. I literally used to scratch my brain out thinking about my future. I was a lost soul to be honest. Everybody used to give me free advice and most of them used to be so vague. They didn’t help me much. But then one day I sat down, started writing pros and cons, and started ruling out options that I will never pick. E.g., it’s next to impossible to get into the Canadian healthcare system if you are an international medical graduate (IMG), so there goes my Canadian option. I never liked Europe much so I could never imagine myself living there for the next few years of my life. Hence, I dropped the option of PLAB even though a lot of my friends said that it’s easier than the other roads. But I wasn’t looking for easy, I was looking for a perfect fit for me. AMC is as tough as USMLE but again my heart was not there either. I was just left between USMLE and NEET PG.
One bad thing about me is I have a hard time choosing among two options. I was so confused and unfortunately, I couldn’t pick anything with 100% of my heart in it. So, I wasted a lot of months just dwelling over my options. Being near to my family, to be able to reach them in need of crisis, or to just be there for family events had me shift towards NEET PG. And a better learning experience, a healthy environment, and better opportunities made me think of USMLE. I had one notion in my mind, that whichever one I pick, I would have to work hard for that. Nothing is going to come to me easily, so I better decide what I won’t regret working hard for.
After a lot of overthinking, I picked USMLE because of many reasons. One was the daily incidences of violence against doctors and the society sitting silently in India. I didn’t want myself living in constant fear of getting attacked or molested. The second reason was I wanted to choose a better learning environment and a place where I can grow professionally. Another reason was I wanted to escape the partiality that we face in India at every level. Even if you are worthy, somebody else will get more opportunities than you because we have a corrupt society.
As I had no contacts and I was the first doctor in my family, I had to do research about resources and the process thoroughly all by myself. This took a lot of my time but by that time, I developed a strong desire to pursue USMLE. I was a bit late till I collected everything, and then the internship came, which was hectic so couldn’t study during that. Though I took full use of that time to see cases and learn as much I could practically.
After the internship, I was supposed to prepare for Step 1. But unfortunately, I lost my mum to metastatic breast cancer just before my internship ended. So, I had to come home to support my father overcome this great loss that we experienced. And then covid anticipation was reaching heights. My study got hindered and I used to have mental breakdowns. At one stage, I felt like giving everything up but thankfully I came out of that phase. It was hard but yeah, I saw life from a new perspective and started thinking a lot more practically. I started making short-term goals and started studying again in May 2019.
After a lot of self-motivation and from my father’s support I gave my step 1 in December 2019. That exam was my mental benchmark, thinking if I could get good scores then I am good enough to pursue USMLE. If not, then I can always prepare for NEET PG and I won’t have regrets of not even trying. But God had a plan for me. I scored quite good in step 1 and that gave me my confidence back that yes, I can achieve a lot more in life. I am capable and worthy enough to achieve great things. If life threw lemons at me, I am going to make lemonade and drink it with my red-colored goggles on. Since then, I have trusted God with every decision I make. I just ask him for some indication to tell me that I am on the right path.
Similarly, I got one opportunity to work at Marrow in March-April 2020, when I was preparing was step 2. I thought this might be a diversion from my studies and how am I going to take care of my family, study, and on top of that work a full-time job? But my father said if this opportunity has come at your door without even trying, you should be thankful. This might teach you some good life lessons. I took the job and to be honest I really did learn a lot here at Marrow and was able to keep my sanity while studying too. Yes, it was hard to juggle everything, but my father was my pillar.
I gave my step 2 in September 2020. The score was not what I expected but it was good enough to get me a good college if I tried. This time, I was not disappointed. I try to do something productive every day to bring myself closer to my goal. I believe something special is planned for my future. I never doubt myself now. I am going to apply for an internal medicine residency in match 2023. Keeping my fingers crossed and keeping unlimited faith in my god and my father.
If somebody asked me if this was the way you thought your life would be, I would never have guessed. I am a new person now. All these experiences have made me grow in ways that I cannot explain. Just remember, whatever happens, it happens for a reason. Never doubt yourself. You can achieve so much more; you just have to realize your potential and self-worth. Good luck with your future!
Written By: Dr. Jasneet Kaur, MBBS Government Medical College, Amritsar, Punjab. USMLE Step 2CK