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Cost of Living for International Students in US! Cost of USMLE Journey!

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Cost of Living for International Students in US! Cost of USMLE Journey!

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I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want my team to help you with your USMLE preparations, click here.

Cost of Living for International Students in US! Cost of USMLE Journey! 

Cost of living in the US in one of the main considerations for students when pursuing research or residency in the US. In this post, we will cover the different aspects of cost of living in the US and USMLE journey for international students and medical graduates. These costs should be kept in mind when pursuing an unpaid research position or clinical rotation in the US.

Rent

Rent is where most of your money will be spent every month and it varies based on the city, location of the house/apartment within the city, and whether you would like to share a place with someone or live by yourself. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in Boston can cost around $3000 a month while a room in a shared house in Rochester, MN can cost $500 a month. If you are looking to save money, try to find roommates or houses where you can rent a room rather than having your own place. Usually institutions have a list of those who rent or a Google sheet for those looking for roommates.

Check out the cities below for general rent prices reported by renters in the U.S., with the average rent in the U.S. being $1,249 a month:

Source: Earnest

What makes rent more expensive:

  • Living alone (1-bedroom apartment)
  • Living in high-demand or trendy parts of town
  • Living in more urban, densely populated areas, the West Coast, the East Coast, or the Northwest
    • Boston, MA and Miami, FL: $1,500-3,000 per month
    • Washington D.C. and New York City, NY: $1,700-3,000 per month
    • San Francisco, CA: $2,200-4,000 per month

What makes rent less expensive:

  • Sharing a place with roommates (2 or more bedrooms)
  • Living in more rural, suburban areas, the Midwest, or the South
    • New Orleans, LA: $1,100-2,000 per month
    • Detroit, MI: $1,000-1,800 per month
    • Dallas, TX and Houston, TX: $1,000-1,800 per month
    • Chicago, IL: $1,300-2,500

See the below image demonstrating relative cost of living in different parts of the U.S. This metric includes everything from rent to groceries to commercial purchases:

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Source:Business Insider

Unless you are planning to stay in one place for more than 4-5 years, renting is almost always the best option. Purchasing a condo/house is an investment that only pays off in the long-term that also comes with its own set of extra effort. For example, most apartment landlords are responsible for any maintenance repairs that may arise while you are living in the apartment. However, if you own your own place and your washing machine breaks down, you are responsible for all costs of replacement.

Apartments.com, Zillow, Facebook Marketplace, and even Craigslist are tools to explore all your options and get a feel for what is a reasonable price range for what you want.

Usually it is best to start apartment shopping around 2 months prior to moving and to sign a contract for a place roughly 1 month out from moving. Most apartments also require proof of renters’ insurance, which ranges from $10-$30 per month. Some apartments offer renters insurance that you can purchase through them, or you can purchase your own insurance through another company.

In addition to rent, there are some common utilities that your landlord should specify in the lease contract:

  • Electricity- $50-100/mo. If your air conditioning is electric, this would increase to up to $150/mo
  • Internet- $45-$50/mo
  • Water, sewer, and trash- usually covered by the landlord but may cost around $15 per month
  • ESTIMATED UTILITIES TOTAL COST: $165/mo

Food

The price of food doesn’t vary much between cities, but the amount you will spend depends on whether you are looking to make your own food (will cost around $300-500 a month in groceries) or eat out. A fast-food meal can range from $7-15 while eating in a restaurant can cost between $15-30. Of course, you might find more expensive options with some meals going up to over $100 at fancy restaurants. 

See the below graph comparing the cost of a gallon of 2% milk in different U.S. cities to get a general idea of the cost of groceries relative to location.

Data from the 2019 United States Department of Agriculture retail milk prices report.

Some of the cheapest places to get groceries include:

  • Walmart
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Aldi
  • H-E-B

In Houston, TX, one might spend roughly $400 a month on groceries buying ingredients for a new recipe every week as well as basic necessities. Finding a cookbook you like and trying new recipes is a great way to save money while avoiding the temptation to eat out! It also helps to allow oneself a set “weekend” budget for a meal and/or drinks adding up to around $50. ESTIMATED TOTAL COST FOR FOOD: $450/mo.

Commuting

This will depend on whether you are living close to your work or not and whether the city has good public transportation. If the city has good public transportation, it will not be expensive ($70-150/mo). See the below graph comparing monthly costs of public transportation in U.S. cities with the largest number of commuters:

Source: valuepenguin

You might choose to live walking distance to the hospital. However, places near big hospitals are generally more expensive. When shopping for places to live, Google Maps has a “public transport” option that combines walking/bus/metro to find the fastest combination to get in to work each day. This is a great tool to use when shopping for apartments to determine what your commute will be like.

Google.com/maps

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If you choose to buy or rent a car, here are some costs to consider:

  • Buying a dependable used vehicle can range from $5,000-$20,000
  • Insurance- $1,592/yr (can go up to $2,000/yr if you don’t have a driving history in the U.S.)
  • Fuel- $1,344 per year (assuming you drive ~12,000 miles a year)
  • Maintenance and tires- $914/yr
  • Licensing, registration, and taxes- $668/yr
  • ESTIMATED TOTAL COST FOR VEHICLE: $4,518/yr

Finding an apartment close to where you’ll be working and biking in is a great alternative to public transportation. Avoiding traffic jams or depending on public transport to get in to work is nice, and it can be a way to exercise when you’re busy. If it’s raining, you can wear a poncho!

Meetings

If you are in an unpaid position, your mentor might not have enough funds to pay for your travel to scientific meetings which are a good opportunity for you to expand your network within the field. The cost of attending these meetings will depend on the registration fees (sometimes waived for students), flights, and hotels. Generally something between $700-1500 per meeting. 

General expenses

It is also important to leave some spending money for things such as clothes, fun activities, cell phone ($30-60 a month), etc., in to maintain a decent quality of life outside of school. Some common monthly expenses might be:

  • Netflix: $9/mo
  • Spotify for students (includes Hulu and SHOWTIME): $5/mo
  • Apple Music for students: $5/mo
  • Amazon Prime: $13/mo

In general, spending a year in the US without a paid position (for research or clinical rotations or school) can cost anything between $12,000 to $40,000. You have to consider that you generally cannot work outside your research if you are on J1 and you will not have a source of income. It is also important to factor in your plane flights to and from the U.S., as these can cost several thousand dollars. Plan wisely and make sure to enjoy the experience.  

 by Maajid Bhat and Malke Asaad

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Requirements for Medical Residency in the US for IMGs

Miscellaneous Blog

Requirements for Medical Residency in the US for IMGs

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If you want my team to help you with your Residency Application, click here.

Requirements for Medical Residency in the US for IMGs 

In this post, we will summarize all the requirements to start medical residency in the USA for international medical graduates from the STEP 1 to Matching into residency.

We will provide you with a step-by-step explanation of the stepping stones and hurdles that you face while applying for a US residency program.

Before we start, have a look at the number of active applicants in the 2020 application cycle.

Source: NRMP®

USMLE STEP 1

 

The STEP 1 exam tests the applicant’s knowledge of the basic sciences.

STEP 1 is a one-day examination with a total duration of 8 hours. The exam is a multiple-choice based exam, with questions being divided into 7 blocks. Each block has up to 40 questions, and the total number of questions do not exceed 280.

A more detailed description is available at the following link:

United States Medical Licensing Examination | About

United States Medical Licensing Examination | Step 1

What is the scope of the exam?

 

A broad generalization of subjects from where questions are asked in this exam are as follows:

  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Biochemistry & Nutrition
  • Genetics
  • Gross Anatomy & Embryology
  • Histology & Cell Biology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology

What do I need to study for STEP 1?

 

Check our detailed blog post about the study resources for STEP 1.

What do I need to do to apply?

 
You would need to apply for USMLE/ECFMG identification number that can be used for all USMLE-related exams. Check our detailed blog post on how to apply for your first STEP exam.

After applying for certification, you need to verify your student or graduate status by your medical school, and upload any additional required documents. Afterwards, you get scheduling permits (a paper that has numbers that allow you to both schedule your exam and start your exam on your exam day). For more details, check our post about registering and scheduling your first STEP exam.

How much does STEP 1 cost?

 

The fee for STEP 1 is $975, along with an International Test delivery surcharge of $180 if you’re taking the exam outside of the US/Canada. Rescheduling, extension of eligibility period, changing of test centers all will incur extra charges.

How much should I score on STEP 1?

 

In STEP 1, a score of 250 and above is considered a good score for IMGs. Residency programs are less likely to score filter applicants with over 250. You must also know the average score for the specialty you are applying for, as they differ for different specialties. Competitive specialties have higher mean score for those who match, while have lower mean scores.

This graph shows the USMLE Step 1 Scores of International Medical Graduates who matched and did not match by specialty. As you noticed, there is a big difference between the different specialties.

Source: NRMP

STEP 1 will become pass/fail on January 26, 2022. Therefore, the value of STEP 1 score will transition to other aspects of your application.

USMLE STEP 2 CK
What is the STEP 2 CK?

 

Step 2 CK tests the application of medical knowledge, skills, and understanding of clinical science.

Step 2 CK is a one-day examination. It is divided into eight 60-minute blocks and administered in one 9-hour testing session. The number of questions per block on a given examination may differ but does not exceed 40. The total number of items on the overall examination are around 318.

Check more details about the STEP 2 CK.

What is the scope of the exam?

 

The STEP 2 CK exam asks questions related to body systems just like STEP 1, with more focus on investigations and management spanning internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics gynecology, surgery, psychiatry, behavioral sciences, and statistics.

How to apply for STEP 2 CK?

 

If you’re applying to STEP 2 CK as your first exam, check our detailed blog post on how to apply for your first STEP exam.

If you already applied for STEP 1, the application is similar to the STEP 1 application.

How much does STEP 2 CK cost?

 

The fee for STEP 2 CK is $975, along with an International Test delivery surcharge of $200 if you’re taking the exam outside of the US/Canada.

Rescheduling, extension of eligibility period, changing of test centers all will incur extra charges.

What do I need to study for STEP 2CK?

 

Check our detailed blog post about the study resources for STEP 2CK.

What are the average scores of different specialties for STEP 2 CK?

 

This graph shows the USMLE Step 2CK Scores of International Medical Graduates who matched and did not match by specialty. Similar to STEP 1, there is a big difference between the different specialties.

Are there any limits on the number of STEP attempts that could be taken?

 

From July 1, 2021, examinees will be limited to four attempts per Step exam instead of the six allowed currently.

OET Exam

 

Occupational English Test (OET) is a medical English language test that was added after the cancellation of the STEP 2 CS exam.

The OET Medicine exam has 4 components:

  • Listening (45 mins, 42 marks)
  • Reading (60 mins, 42 marks)
  • Writing (45 mins) (has 6 criteria; “Purpose” has a maximum score of 3, the rest have a maximum score of 7)
  • Speaking (20 mins) (maximum of 6 marks on each of the four linguistic criteria, and a maximum of 3 marks on each of the 5 Clinical Communication Criteria)

Each component requires a score of 350 (grade B) to pass. A score of 350 equates to at least 30 marks in each component.

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Graduating from Eligible Medical School

 

For an international medical student to be eligible to apply to ECFMG Certification, their medical school should meet certain ECFMG requirements. The eligible schools are listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools .

“The ECFMG® has announced that, effective in 2024 (previously 2023), physicians applying for ECFMG Certification will be required to graduate from a medical school that has been appropriately accredited. To satisfy this requirement, the physician’s medical school must be accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by WFME.”

Research

 

To increase the chances of matching, many applicants perform between 6 months to 2-3 years of research, especially for competitive specialties.

Research opportunities are usually unpaid positions if you don’t have much research experience. Hence, it is important to have an adequate source of personal finances for living in the US.

Check this video on how to apply for research positions

Play Video

And this video on the value of research when applying to residency

Play Video

Research Course

The research course will teach you how to take a research project from idea to publication and in which I will share my 3-year experience of clinical research in which I had over 100 publications and 80 presentations.

 

USCE (US Clinical Experience)

 

USCEs are a necessary part of the US residency application. USCE can help you get Letters of Recommendation (LoRs), which will help you when you apply to residency.

Here are the types of USCE

Electives/Clerkships/ Sub-internships

 

The best USCE for an application is an Elective/Clerkship. Available only to those who have not yet graduated from medical school. More often than not, it provides a more personalized LoR. The cost of electives can vary between $100 – $5000 per 4-week elective.

Externships

 

Provides some type of hands-on experience for medical graduates. Usually not done in big university hospitals.

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Externships

 

Provides some type of hands-on experience for medical graduates. Usually not done in big university hospitals.

Observerships

 

Observerships are a good choice for medical graduates in which you observe medical care. Observerships do not allow you to interact with patients, however, they give you an opportunity to become acquainted with the US healthcare system and develop networking opportunities.

Telerotations

 

Telerotations became popular with the COVID-19 pandemic. Although telerotations are not as helpful as in-person USCE, they are better than nothing when you are trying to build your CV. Telerotations cost vary from free to $2000 a month.

To learn how to find USCE, check out this video:

Play Video

ECFMG certification

 

Although you can apply to the MATCH® without ECFMG certification, it is highly recommended that IMGs apply with ECFMG certification. In order to match, IMGs must be ECFMG certified. Recently, there has been a change in the certification requirement after the cancelation of the STEP 2 CS exam. To check the six pathways for ECFMG certification, check this video

Play Video

 

And this website.

I hope this information helps you in your preparation for the long, but rewarding US residency journey.

 

By Susmita Sengupta and Malke Asaad

Latest Articles
Need Help?
Get 1 on 1 Residency Advising
Clear up any doubts you have about the residency application process and maximize your chances of Matching at your Dream Specialty!

CV Editing

Our editing goes beyond language and grammar corrections to structural editing and content advising based on your personal story and achievement.
Interview Preparation
The best way to learn something is to do it. That’s why we divide our one-hour interview preparation sessions into two parts. The first half of the session would be a mock interview as if you are interviewing with a program while the second half would provide you with feedback on your performance.

Research Course

The research course will teach you how to take a research project from idea to publication and in which I will share my 3-year experience of clinical research in which I had over 100 publications and 80 presentations.

USMLE Tutoring

Get personalized study plan and schedule, study resources, and subject-specific tutoring to ace your USMLE exam!

Do you want our experienced team to edit your Personal Statement?

Application Packages
Want to have everything for your MATCH application handled?

Contact Us

How can we help you?

Leave your message here and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible.

Requirements for Medical Residency in the US for IMGs Read More »

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