IMG Social Group Gains New Leadership and Plans State-wide Expansion of Proposed Model

Tolu Odebunmi, MD, MPH, and Steffi Masilamani, MD, started the International Medical Graduates Social Group in 2019 as a support group for international residents and fellows at the U of M Medical School. They recently passed the baton to a new leadership team. The group is run through the Graduate Medical Education (GME) Office as the first school-supported group of its kind.

“When I started residency, I was looking for an IMG community, and I realized that there wasn’t one established already,” Dr. Odebunmi said. “I reached out to GME and asked if a group for international medical graduates could be formed, and they gave me the go-ahead.”

Both Drs. Odebunmi and Masilamani were motivated by the need for a community, but also by more concrete challenges that IMGs face when starting residencies in the U.S.

“Acquiring my visa for residency was very challenging and stressful. I decided that there should be an IMG network, so people with similar challenges can connect and talk,” Dr. Masilamani said. “So, when Tolu sent out her email suggesting we form a social group, it clicked, and I said yes.”

With the help of two other members, the group wrote and published a letter to the editor, in the journal Academic Medicine, detailing the formation of the group, its purpose and their hope for its model to be reproduced nationwide. This kicked off a new era of funding, recruitment, growth and restructuring. 

“Different people within GME were super supportive. They helped us announce our social gatherings in newsletters,” Dr. Masilamani said. “Just in the past six months, the group has started taking on a much bigger and more active role.”

This was thanks to a series of GME-funded events: orientation panel for the new incoming residents and fellows where Dr. Masilamani was a panelist, a happy hour for IMGs and an IMG orientation. GME Administrator Christy Illig also played a role in expanding the email list to include all IMGs, not just those with J-1 or J-2 visas.

As Drs. Odebunmi and Masilamani moved on, they identified two group members who showed interest in leadership and a passion for the IMG group’s mission who would take over as co-leaders: Irem Sonmez, MD, and Svatava Merkle, MD. The new co-leads have met with GME administration and plan to work off the Academic Medicine article in order to institute the IMG support group model in other residency programs in Minnesota. They will also be continuing the work that Drs. Odebunmi and Masilamani started in updating the IMG handbook with more current information on housing, moving to a new country and visa processing information and timelines for different countries.

“Steffi and I would like to say thank you to GME for their support with the IMG social group,” Dr. Odebunmi said. “The encouragement we received from them contributed to the awesome time we had serving as co-leads these past two years. We are so grateful. We would also like to specially recognize the roles Christy and Jennifer played to help the social group be a success. Thank you for always being in the trenches with us.”

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