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How I got my Electives & Visa!

I am an Intern and like you all here I too am planning to pursue a residency in the US. Coming to the main story, how I got my electives. I have no family in the US and not many seniors or friends to guide me with the process either. Internet has practically been my source of all the info and let me assure you, it is good enough. Through people who have secured electives on these communities, their descriptions, various websites etc I too was able to chart out my plan and thus got electives. But before I begin, let me tell you one more thing. There is no one single source that will give you all the info and neither am I trying to do so. Things change and the so do the policies of the colleges. And no one person can collect all the info at one place. You have to do your own research. You have to search for the best place that suits you and that accepts you. I am describing below my story.

1.      When to start: The process of finding electives should start as soon as you decide to pursue the USMLE path. There is no denying the fact that after your MLE scores the single most important factor that seals your fate is USCE and electives are undoubtedly the best of them all. If you are just into your internship, well and good. If not, it is worthwhile to take some break during your internship and prolong it (read extension) till you secure electives. Remember that you still need to be a final year student when you are doing your electives. In India this means that you should still be enrolled in your internship while for students in Pakistan I guess it means that they should be in the Penultimate year (Since the medical diploma is granted before the beginning of internship there.). There is no fixed deadline so as to how early you should begin doing your research but the earlier you start, the better it is. Though different universities have different guidelines on how early you may apply and please follow them religiously. Do not be over zealous to apply before the application process has even begun, your application will not even be looked into. I began my research work when I entered internship. Was not so keen on electives in the beginning so didn’t think about it so seriously but as my internship drew towards the half way mark, I got more serious. Advice from some seniors and online resources such as this one made me think about electives seriously. Finally just 3 months left for my internship to get, I filled up my applications. Within a month everything got done and now I have taken an extension of the last two months which I will finish when I get back after my electives.

2.      Where to start: USMLEtoMD is a good website to start and get some nice info about electives, clerkships, observerships etc and get some fair idea about the terminology. See where you fit in and what is that you can afford. I believe some universities in India do not allow you to break internship in between so in those cases it is worthwhile to try to clerkships. is another awesome resource. The guy has done an extensive work and is one of the best maintained and updated websites I have seen. But at the same time, please do not rely on these websites for all the info. As I said before, policies of the colleges change and even the most well maintained website cannot cope up to keep themselves updated, hence do your own research. Make a list of all the universities that you think you can go to and  check their websites individually. If you know of any other university that is not mentioned in the list on these websites, do check that up as well. Do verify the requirements on each univ website. Many a times we just do not apply coz a particular univ asks for TOEFL or Step 1 or some other mandatory requirement. Mail them and ask. They may be ready to waive it off for you. What’s the harm in asking?? Email is free and they reply promptly.

3.      Make your priority chart: Applying to univs in the US is expensive, especially if they ask for an application fee. Even if they don’t ask for a fee, sending the documents to US by the DHL Univ Express coupons costs you minimum 900 bucks. So make your choices well and apply accordingly. A well thought out application plan and thus applying to a few univs is good enough. You need not have to apply to a dozen universities. I applied to just two places and got selected at both. But I applied to those places where I was confident to get accepted. So make a priority chart first of the univs you plan to apply. Location of the univ, Application fee, Tuition fee, whether they are IMG friendly or not, previous selections of Indian students etc can be deciding factors.

4.      Mail them: It is a good idea to mail the university coordinator or the email ID of the concerned official mentioned on the elective website and ask for the eligibility and other requirements before you actually apply. Sometimes the univ may have a policy where in you must be sponsored by a faculty. In that case do not be scared to approach the faculty. Most of the times they are pretty forthcoming and accept you (I got accepted this way). But you need to be polite and intelligent while mailing them. Some tips are as below:

a.     First of all, search for their email IDs(of the mentors/faculty) by thoroughly scanning the university or hospital website. Most of the times they are mentioned there. If not, you may call up the hospital (phone numbers are invariably given or the website or you can google them up) and ask them to connect to the concerned doctor’s assistant from whom you can procure the number. While making calls please make sure you understand the time zones well, they follow EST and PST on the eastern and western coasts.

b.     Write a proper subject to the email. Do not leave it blank. It may be “Request to Sponsor for Elective”.

c.     Address them by their second name. Like “Dear Dr House” if the name is Gregory House, MD.

d.     Tell them about yourself. Tell who you are and where you study. Tell them why you are interested in a particular elective.

e.     Attach your recent CV to the mail and mention it that you have attached it in the text of the mail. Trust me; they go through it very carefully.

f.        Close the mail by saying that you are hoping to hear from them soon.

g.     If you know their administrative assistants email ID, CC the mail to him/her as well. They are the ones who will get your work done. So be genuinely nice to them. By this I mean, be  actually nice to them, thank them if they reply back. Remember, they are doing a favor on you by even replying to your mail. They don’t gain anything by replying and moreover they don’t lose anything if they don’t.

h.      If they reply, good enough. If they say you are accepted and they will sponsor you, thank them and follow up, but don’t overdo it. If they say that they cannot accept it due to some reason, still thank them. It’s not a bad idea to make people feel important and laud them for the effort that they have made. Who knows the person may remember you just coz you said thanks even when you were rejected and remember you again when there is a position available.

i.         If there is no reply, you might as well send another mail or call up and follow your application after a week. But don’t keep pestering.

5.      What next: Once you have decided where all you are going to apply, get the preliminaries ready. Get your titres done for various diseases. If you have not taken vaccinations (like Hep B and Varicella) take it as soon as possible. It needs at least 4 weeks for the titres to come up and since these tests are not done at all the places, it might take a couple of weeks for you to get the results. Religare (Ranbaxy) is a good lab which does these tests. There may be other labs too but I am not sure about them. Most of the Univs will ask for these titres: Hep B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella and Mantoux/Chest X ray. It will cost you around Rs 5K to get all the tests done. Get the various forms and letters required from your dean, college etc ready. Various univs have different requirements and it might take you some time to extract all the forms from the college officials.

6.      Fill up the forms: It is better to type all the info into the forms than writing with hand. Especially if you have handwriting as bad as mine, typing is definitely a better option. Most of the forms are available online in PDF format. You will need a PDF to Word converter before you can enter text in them. There are some free tools that do this as well. Google them!! Fill up all the info correctly and without ambiguity. All the forms should tell the same dates etc.

7.      Application Fee: If you need to send an application fee too, please make sure what form will they accept it in. Ask them specifically if they accept international cheques. A cheque is a draft (also called a dollar draft)made in a bank in India. You may get it made from SBI or any other bank at your place that deals in foreign currency.

8.      Send the forms: You may send the forms by speed post or by a courier agency. Speed post is fast only till it is in India. Once out in the US, the mail is carried by standard US Postal Service and they may delay the mail by a week or two. DHL delivers within 3-4 days in major US cities and that can be tracked easily. Buy DHL University Express Coupons. Normally DHL charges Rs 2K for parcels to the US but with these coupons the cost is only around 900 bucks. That’s a pretty good bargain. Speed Post will cost you around 500 bucks.

9.      Now wait and keep your fingers crossed.. If you have planned your application well in advance and sent to univs after a considerable pre thought, you need not apply to more than 4 places/univs. All the best!!


Lastly a few more points to ponder upon. Do not keep sending them emails unnecessarily. It sometimes is irritating and might create a bad impression not just for you but others who are applying as well.

Be polite and courteous in your communication. Saying thank you and please doesn’t hurt a bit but can definitely win you a lot.

Share your knowledge!! You are not going to lose anything by sharing what you know. You are your own competition. There is no one else who is competing with you in the USMLE race. I got my electives coz someone else shared his info and I learnt from it. I have a responsibility to share and you by reading this share that responsibility as well. I hope all those who read this, gain from it do well. I wish you all succeed in your aim and then share what you know so that others may gain too.
And now How I got my Visa

Hi.. Here are my two cents on the Visa Interview. I am first going to describe my Visa interview and then going to discuss a few points about it that I feel made me secure it easily.

My Visa interview was at the Chennai Consulate, reporting time 9 am. I reached the city a day before and reached the consulate at 8:15 am. There was a huge line with about a hundred people already standing in front of me on the road and the footpath. There is no rain shelter there and weather can play havoc. I had my interview in January which is an unlikely time for it to rain in Chennai. Sky was a bit cloudy when I reached and when I was in the interview it did rain outside as well. Moral of the story is, carry some weather protection like umbrella (preferably a cheap one) when going to the interview. They won’t definitely allow you to carry it inside though but you obviously don’t want to go inside all wet. Carry a cheap umbrella and leave it outside if they say so. Do carry a bottle of water as well as it may be sunny and really hot and leave that out as well if they insist. Be prepared to wait for long durations!! I stood in the queue for about 45 min and then was let in.

I was wearing formals (with a tie) but I did see people over there in all sorts of attires from full three piece suit to jeans and T shirt. My viewpoint; wear what you want, but just be yourself. Don’t try to act. Don’t wear a suit just because you think it looks professional. Wear a formal shirt and pant, that’s enough. Women were wearing full American attires (like shirt, pant and a jacket, long skirt etc) to sarees. Don’t bother much about it. You are hardly going to get 2 min max with the VO and he shall be sitting across a window and you will be talking via a microphone. So obviously he would be more interested in listening to what you say than to see what you are wearing. Any king of religious symbols like tilak, head scarf etc should also be fine. I saw several women in head scarves and a few gentlemen with their fore heads smeared with 3-4 rows of tilak (some white powder, sorry I don’t know what it’s called) also getting Visa easily. At the max they might as you what it is or what it is called.

In the building after the initial frisking they make you sit in a number of places constantly shifting you from one place to another according to the appointment time. Keep your eyes and ears open so as to move quickly when they tell you to. There will be a pre screening area where they shall take your fingerprints and verify your appointment. Keep your Visa IV letter, Form 156, the HDFC blue slip and the passport ready here. Get it checked and go ahead.

Now there will be another set of queues, each for a different type of Visa. There will be someone to guide you where to sit. Do that as they say and then just wait for some more time. There will tell you when to go to the VO.

My VO was a middle aged White American. Really friendly fellow.

Me: Hello, Good morning Sir!

VO: Hi. Can I have your papers please?

Me: Yes, right here. (Gave him the Visa IV appointment letter, form 156 and 157 and the passport)

VO: (Reading my application) So you want to go to the US for electives. What does that mean? What is an elective?

Me: It is a short period of clinical training in the US.

VO: Can you please show me your degree certificate?

Me: I am still a student, haven’t completed my degree yet. I shall be finishing my college in Aug 2010.

VO: But you have mentioned that you attended your institution from Aug 2004 till Dec 2009.

Me: Yes, that’s right. While filling the application, the website didn’t allow me to enter any date after Dec 2009 in the drop down menu. That’s why. I have my mark sheets though, would you like to see them?

VO: No, its OK. Who would be paying for your trip?

Me: My parents.

VO: What does your father do?

Me: Both my parents are doctors.

VO: Hmmm.. Okay, enjoy your trip in the US. Your Passport will be couriered in a week’s time.

Me: Can I please collect it before that myself?

VO: Sure, you can. Call the VFS on Monday after 3 PM and find out from them.

Me: Thank you.

And so I walk out a happy man.

I am not an expert on Visa issues and standing there in the line I did see several people carrying hundreds of documents with them getting rejected. Here is what I carried with me:

1.      Invitation letter from the hospital and emails that I exchanged with the electives coordinator and the mentoring doctor.

2.      Last 6 months bank statements from both my parents and their last three years Income ax receipts. Also a letter signed by them saying that they were ready to sponsor me for my trip and stay in the US.

3.      Letter from the college saying that I was a final year student, I have been granted leave for the said period and that college has no objection in me taking a break and visiting the US.

4.      A printout of the medical school electives website for the information about the elective programe.

5.      My college ID card and mark sheets.

My strong points (as per my experience) in the Visa IV:

1.      Wish them good morning/good afternoon early on. Don’t wait for them to initiate a convo or ask a question. Helps build a good rapport. Also helps you be confident (or at least show that you are confident)

2.      Be confident. You are not a thief. You are going there so that it helps you as well as them. If they don’t give you a Visa, at the max you won’t be able to go. Nothing worse is going to happen. You still have your degree in hand. Who knows, you might be the next Nobel Prize winner in which case it’s their loss. So be bold and don’t get too nervous. VO is not a monster. :P

3.      Tell them that you are a student as early as possible. Helps clear any doubt about your potential migrant status.

4.      Be brief. Short and sweet is good. Do not elaborate unless asked.

5.      Carry all the documents you think might be important. You never know when you may need one.


All the best to all!!

Observership visa rejected.

Sir i'm a final year student and i was rejected an observership visa (b1/b2) on the basis of my ties with my home country. 

Umar bhae please guide me what can i do next time to get a visa stamping?

1. When should i apply next time?

2. should i apply on the basis of acceptance letter from the same hospital?

3. What should i do to show strong ties to home country?

Please help me through this.i will be highly grateful. Thanks.

elective documents

Hi, i am presently doing my internship in a medical school in India and want to apply for electives.Can somebody plz email me the scanned copies of your elective application forms, Dean's letter and other documents as my my medical school is not willing to sign my documents before completion of internship.I would be very thankful as i can use them to persuade my school to sign mine as well.


I thank you for the immense knowledge n guidance u hav provided here.. i wud be startin with internship in mid feb2011.. n hav jus bgun with this plan of doin electives.. can u jus help me chalk out my plan for the same , also i m considerin toefl in order to increase my chances.. so can u jus precisely mention the steps i need to take... for instance.. 1. gathering info abt different universities.2. meanwhile appearin for toefl and so on... this wud b of grt help to me..

thnx again.

Thanks a lot for your kind

umar's picture

Thanks a lot for your kind words. Sit for TOEFL and get good scores and then apply to places that require it.

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

clinical elective

could anyone please suggest a couple of universities i could apply to for clinical electives that do not require usmle step 1 and toefl? 

Visit the following link.

umar's picture

Visit the following link.

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

urgent help sir ,, umar

sir , i have successfully got 2 month s electives in  MSKCC . 

Jan 31 - feb 25  and Feb 28 - march 25

I need to write usmle step 2 cs somehow..

but the dates available are 

Philadelphia  feb 22 23 24 .

march 29 30 31

will i be able to write iton a weekday taking a leave .....  i am not able to get a date before jan 31  or  in between 2 electeives  or immediately after electives also philadelphia ..

can u see the calendar of step2 cs with ur account and somehow find somee idea of date

You can take a one day leave

umar's picture

You can take a one day leave for CS exam. Getting a date for CS is not at all a big issue... dates are gone and are available again everyday... better not panic... and first concentrate on prep!

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

Exhaustive article. Thanks.

Exhaustive article. Thanks. I'm just wondering what happens if we take an extension from our internship in medical college for an elective and we end up having a one or two month period where we're not doing anything cause our application for elective hasn't gone through yet.

hi sir

iam intersted in doing my elective in surgery can you pls insist me the best site for information regarding how to apply for electives .

You are already on one of

umar's picture

You are already on one of them; the other one might be

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.







Please visit the electives

umar's picture

Please visit the electives section and read it in detail

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

elective branch..

 hi thanks for the wonderful article.. u guys are doing a great job.. i have a small problem here.. im actually confused whether to take up paeds or int med coz i like both equally.. i wud like some advice on that please.. also .. coz i have to apply now for electives, if i do an elective in paeds will that hold good to apply for a residency match in internal med later if i decide? or is it that i HAVE  to do an elective in medicine to get a med seat ? kindly reply at the earliest .. i have to apply this week..:) 

thanks so much !



 Int med elective is best for

umar's picture

 Int med elective is best for Int. med residency and Paeds elective is best for Paeds residency... but both are somewhat related more as compared to a surgery elective...

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

period of elective

hi... and thank you for ur awesme article,

what according to you is the ideal time for which one should do the elective, atlast optimal if not ideal considering the cost and ease of getting one?

i appreciate your efforts ... really



thanks. this site is awesome..

plz can u tell me , doesnt taking extension during internship create any problem as far as mle is concerned.

hi ankita thanks for your

umar's picture

hi ankita

thanks for your kind words...

extension during internship has nothing to do with mle/ residency, to the best of my knowledge.

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.


sir i wanted to confirm , in case i take extension , for a month or two, so that m still atudent n eligibe for clerkship,
do i need to show up wid documets saying wt did i do in those months at US?

u can use an evaluation form

umar's picture

u can use an evaluation form or a letter of recommendation that you would get from your electives.

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

@ Akshay

vaibhav's picture

Dude.. That was a very good piece of information..  I would request u to add 2 more points if u dont mind .

1. How many time frame visa u got?

2. Which colleges u applied and for which months u applied and when did u apply and in which speciality..?

It would b of great help to all. Thank u 

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