Do you want to know how to get electives and clinical experience in the US and Canada as an IMG? Then keep reading. Having hands-on experience in the United States and Canada is crucial if you want to get into residency programs as an IMG( International Medical Graduate). In this blog, we’ll talk about why that is, and we’ll give you some tips for finding and applying to electives and clinical experiences in the US and Canada. We’ll also give you some tips for highlighting those experiences on your residency applications. So keep reading if you’re committed to becoming a resident doctor in the US or Canada. 

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Article Contents
7 min read

Why are electives and Clinical experiences so important for IMGs? Where can you find electives and clinical experience opportunities in the US and Canada as an IMG? How can you apply for electives and clinical experience opportunities in the US and Canada as an IMG? How can you highlight your experiences on your residency application Conclusion FAQs

Why are electives and Clinical experiences so important for IMGs? 

The competition for residency programs is already fierce, but it is even more intense for International Medical Graduates (IMG) in the United States and Canada. Each year, there are thousands of applicants competing for very few spots in residency programs. In recent years, US IMGs matched at an approximate rate of 59.5% rate while non-US IMGs matched at a rate of 54.8%. The rate was even lower in Canada, with IMGs matching at an approximate 50% rate.

These numbers tell us that if you want to get into a residency program as an IMG, you need to submit a compelling residency application that stands out and ace your residency interview. One of the things that you can do to improve the quality of your residency application as an IMG is to get electives and clinical experience in the country where you are planning to pursue your residency.


Most of the time, students get electives and clinical experiences during the final years of medical school. These experiences allow students to gain hands-on experience in a hospital setting by observing and participating in the care of patients under the supervision of experienced healthcare professionals. That experience is an important part of their training because it allows students to get a better understanding of the healthcare system that they will be working in. 

As an international graduate, you most likely have clinical experience in the country that you studied in. For example, if you attended one of the increasingly popular Caribbean medical schools, you likely completed a clinical rotation at a hospital in a Caribbean country. If you wish to become a resident doctor in the US or Canada, you will need to get that training in your target country as well. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that program directors and committees want proof that you have undergone appropriate training in patient care and interaction before you join their team. Many medical practices are universal, but there are nuances in patient interaction and practices that you must know if you decide to become a doctor in the US or Canada. Residency programs want to know that you are aware of those nuances and that you've gotten a chance to "test drive" their healthcare system and experience what it's like to be a doctor there. 

Want to find out what the Most Competitive and Least Competitive Residencies are? Check out this video:

Furthermore, having electives and clinical experiences in the US and Canada as an IMG also gives you a chance to do the following: 

Familiarize yourself with the way things work in the US and Canada

Electives and clinical experiences enable you to get first-hand experience in the clinical setting of your target country. This is valuable because it allows you to get familiarize yourself with the country's expectations and standards of care, and the systems used for medical record-keeping, the technology used, the terminology used, and so on. 

Furthermore, depending on where you are from, the culture in the US and Canada might be completely different from yours. Getting this work experience in the setting you will actually be in during residency will allow you to get to know those differences in advance and start acclimatizing to them. This experience will therefore make your transition into residency a little bit easier because you will already have a better idea of how you are expected to communicate with your colleagues and patients.

Build your network and secure letters of recommendation

Electives and clinical experiences also give you a chance to meet physicians in your target country. This is important because it gives you the opportunity to develop relationships with potential mentors, advisors, and colleagues. These relationships can be helpful in many ways, including giving you insight into the residency application process, providing advice on how to improve your application, and, even on how to become a better physician. 

Additionally, recommendations are a very important part of the residency application process. By working with other physicians in the US or Canada, you get a chance to impress them and build relationships with potential referees. Getting a CaRMS reference letter or ERAS letter of recommendation from a credible physician within the country can go a long way toward showing residency program directors that you are an ideal candidate. 


When you first start working with a specific physician, make it clear that you intend to apply for residency in the future, ask them what the expectations are for you, and always work to exceed them. Check-in with the physician in question from time to time to see how you are doing and find out how you can improve your performance. This is a great way to let them know that you care about your work with them, but also about your abilities as a future doctor. It is a sure way to impress them and bring you one step closer to securing a reference letter.

Improve your proficiency in English

Depending on where you are from and the language you studied in, electives and clinical experiences can also help you improve your language skills. This is important because residency programs require applicants to be proficient in English. If English is not your first language, having electives and clinical experiences in an English-speaking country will give you the opportunity to improve your language skills.

Furthermore, even if you are fluent in English, you may not be familiar with some of the terms that are specific to the US and Canada. For example, suppose you are a trained physician from Nigeria. In that case, you probably speak what is often referred to as "the queen's English," so if you intend to complete your residency in Canada, the language barrier wouldn't be that great. In contrast, if you want to pursue residency in the United States, you will need to get used to the different pronunciations, nouns, and phrasal verb usage.

Check out this infographic for a quick summary of the key points we just covered:

Where can you find electives and clinical experience opportunities in the US and Canada as an IMG? 

As an International Medical Graduate who wants to get into a residency program in the US and Canada, it can sometimes feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you want to have a chance of matching, you need to have a competitive residency application with clinical experience in the country, but your options for getting that clinical experience in the US and Canada to improve your application are so limited. That said, there are a few ways to find clinical experience opportunities for IMGs. You should consider using the following:


How can you apply for electives and clinical experience opportunities in the US and Canada as an IMG?

The first step in applying for electives and clinical experience opportunities is to verify the requirements and restrictions in the particular state or province you live in. You want to know precisely what you can do and what kind of opportunities you are eligible to apply for. Then, you need to verify the requirements of each program that you will be applying to. 

 Once you've researched and ensured that you meet the requirements of your desired programs, you can begin the application process. This process can be intimidating, but there are a few things you can do to strengthen your application and increase your chances of being accepted.

Here is what you can do to strengthen your application include:


How can you highlight your experiences on your residency application

It can be difficult to stand out from the crowd, even when you're applying for IMG-friendly residency programs. With so many qualified applicants, it is crucial to highlight your experiences and achievements in a way that will catch the attention of the selection committee. The key to your success will be to show the selection committee what makes you a perfect fit for your chosen program and specialty through the different application components like your residency personal statement or supporting documents like the supplemental ERAS application

You can highlight your experiences by crafting a strong residency CV that is clear and concise and uses action words to describe the different duties and accomplishments that you had during your electives and clinical experiences. You should also ensure that you are providing specific details and examples when you talk about these experiences in your personal statement. 

Not sure how to write a CV specifically for residency applications? This video is for you:


Furthermore, you should consider investing in residency interview preparation services. While you can certainly prepare for your residency interview alone, an IMG residency interview prep service can provide you with the tools and strategies to properly highlight your experiences and improve your chances of matching with the right program.

It would help if you started on your ERAS interview prep or CaRMS interview prep before you receive an invitation to make sure that you are not scrambling at the last minute to figure out the best way to showcase your skills and abilities. 


Applying to electives and clinical experience programs can be a daunting task, but if you follow the guidelines that we've provided and give yourself enough time to research and prepare your applications, you will be able to get electives and clinical experience in the US and Canada as an IMG. It is important to remember that you are not alone in this process. There are many resources available to help you succeed, including placement services, academic consulting firms, student associations, and people in your own network. These resources can provide you with guidance and support throughout the application process.


1. Is it hard to get into residency programs in the US and Canada as an IMG?

It is not easy! There is a lot of competition to get into residency programs for IMGS, so you need to submit a strong application and do well in your interview if you want to match with a program. 

2. Why is it important for IMGs to get clinical experience in the US and Canada?

While there are many aspects of medical care that are universals, there are also nuances and systems that vary from one country to another. program directors want to know that you understand these things and that you’ve had a chance to work within the American or Canadian system. 

3. Can I get letters of recommendation from professionals abroad?

You can, but we strongly encourage having at least one reference from a credible professional in the US or Canada. 

4. What are IMG-friendly programs?

IMG-friendly residency programs are programs where international medical graduates have the highest match rates. If you're curious about your chances of matching to those programs, use a residency match calculator to check how competitive you are as an applicant.

5. Where can I find electives and clinical experience opportunities?

You can use paid placement services, enquire with people in your network, and research medical schools that offer opportunities to visiting students. You can also check online for shadowing and volunteer opportunities.

6. Does volunteering count as clinical experience?

It can count. We recommend looking for volunteer opportunities that involve patient interaction as these will look better on your application. 

7. What can I do to improve my chances of matching as an IMG?

If you want to maximize your chances of matching, we recommend that you start to prepare your residency application early, and invest in help from professionals. With the right guidance and interview prep, you can match to a top residency program.

8. How can I use my network to find electives and clinical experience?

Don't underestimate your network. Reach out to friends and family who work in the field but live outside of the country, they may know someone in the US or Canada who can help you. Some international schools also have affiliates or alumni in Canada and the US, so ask your medical school for help. You could be pleasantly surprised.


To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

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