Ask any medical student and they’ll tell you the journey to becoming a doctor is all about landing a great residency. At Xavier University School of Medicine in Aruba, we understand the challenges students face and are dedicated to helping overcome these challenges by preparing them for success. After all, becoming successful requires more than hard work and dedication. It’s about having a solid support system and the right tools to make everything happen.

We sat down with Dr. Abdo Aboud, a member of the Xavier University School of Medicine Board of Trustees—and proud alumnus of the university—to discuss Global Meet, an exclusive program to Xavier that is designed to guide and educate students on how to gain a competitive edge in the residency application process.

Gaining a competitive edge

There’s no time to waste when preparing for the residency application process. According to Dr. Aboud, students should begin preparing for the process on the first day of medical school. If this seems like an aggressive approach—it is. And here’s why: “Everything you do while in medical school matters,” said Aboud. “Applying for residency is highly competitive. You only have one chance to make a good impression, so it’s imperative that your application has a competitive advantage to edge out other applicants. That’s where Global Meet comes in.”

The Global Meet connection

Every year, Xavier hosts Global Meet, which is unique to Xavier. During this event, which is delivered through a lecture-and-panel discussion format, all Xavier students have the unique opportunity to gain insight and knowledge about the residency application process. Each student applies and interviews for every program. At the end of this application and interview process, the programs rank the students they want and vice versa. If a student and program’s ranking numbers are close, the student will get matched. Be advised that it costs money every time a student applies to a program, so he or she might have to spend anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 to apply for a residency—depending on how many are applied for. “The residency matching process is highly competitive and requires serious planning to ensure your application is reviewed in the best light,” explained Aboud. “This is why it’s imperative that students know what field of medicine they want to specialize in, so they can narrow down the programs to apply to.”

Aboud is a proud member of the panel and encourages Xavier students at all academic levels to attend. Here is a snapshot of what they’ll receive:

  • Q&A with experienced doctors to understand steps in the residency process
  • Help with residency applications
  • The best strategies to “match” with their individual residency programs of choice

If you have been studying for a career in medicine, keep in mind some important points regarding residencies. While there’s no denying that grades play a major role in landing a residency, it’s about bringing your “A-game.” And we’re not just talking grades. Having a strong residency application is so much more than that. Aboud said it’s important to humanize your application, and he offers helpful tips to ensure yours is strong, competitive, and viewed in the best light:

  • Ensure your area of specialty fits the program you’re applying to
  • Showcase any related experience
  • Exhibit your strengths
  • Close any academic or time gaps
  • Eliminate any red flags

“It’s more difficult for medical students outside of the U.S. to match with a residency,” said Aboud. “Programs like Global Meet act as a bridge to helping students navigate the residency process for a successful outcome.”

Clinical rotations

Up until now, we have discussed the importance of landing a residency, which can take three years or more, depending on the specialty. Part of the journey to becoming a practicing physician, however, is the completion of clinical rotations, which are a part of medical school. Clinical rotations are a crucial step in a student’s medical school career. Every medical school has relationships with local hospitals and medical practices where students can complete their rotations. “Every medical student is required to complete their clinical rotations in the core fields of standard medicine, plus electives,” he said.

For example, there are six core fields (family medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry, surgery, pediatric, and gynecology/obstetrics). If a student becomes interested in family medicine, he or she would complete elective rotations in areas that build on that interest. It is during this time that students choose the areas of medicine they wish to specialize in. Committing to a specialty is key to opening doors to a future in medicine. If possible, Aboud highly recommends for students to complete their clinical rotations at the facility where they want to do their residency. “Having experience and a proven track record at the same hospital or facility can give you the competitive edge during the residency application process.”

Dr. Aboud’s journey to family medicine

As a Xavier alumnus, Aboud has a story of his own to tell. Born in Iraq, he always had a passion for medicine. He journeyed to Canada, where he earned his undergraduate degree at University of Waterloo. Realizing the country’s severe shortage of doctors reinforced Aboud’s determination to earn his medical degree. He decided to take the Caribbean medical school route and chose Xavier University School of Medicine in Aruba to pursue his dream. “I had friends who attended Xavier and were able to give me firsthand knowledge about the university and its program,” he said. “I applied and began my studies in January of 2012.”

For the next several years, he embraced the program and discovered how certain advantages—such as Xavier’s small class sizes and tropical location—were the perfect combination for his success. “Unlike other medical schools, Xavier’s small class sizes give students the opportunity to ask questions and learn the material, almost on a one-on-one basis,” Aboud explained. “The tropical climate and relaxed atmosphere were the ultimate settings to explore other interests and gain experience in my field, such as planning health fairs for students and becoming the vice president of the student association.”

After completing his required studies at Xavier, Aboud moved to Chicago, where he decided to specialize in family medicine while completing his clinical rotations. “I fell in love with family medicine,” he said. “It’s not only challenging, but it covers a broad area that doesn’t limit me to one type of medicine.” He matched a residency at Sparrow Hospital, which is affiliated with Michigan State University and where he made his mark as chief resident of obstetrics in family medicine for the three years that followed.

One patient at a time

Today, Aboud currently works as a doctor of family medicine in Canada, where he specializes in mental health and psychiatric services. “I am board certified in both the United States and Canada, but I chose to work here where the need for doctors is greater,” he explained. Canada is growing rapidly and there simply aren’t enough medical schools to meet the need. In fact, if you wanted to get a doctor’s appointment (non-emergency) in Canada, you would have to wait anywhere from six months to a year. Aboud also went on to say that the demand for family physicians is global. “We are the first doctor a patient sees. I find that to be the best part of my job—to gain the patient’s trust and make them feel comfortable. It’s a blessing to touch so many people’s lives, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.”

Aboud maintains his connection with Xavier as a prestigious member of the Board of Trustees and planning developer of Global Meet. As someone who has firsthand knowledge of the challenges of medical school, Aboud offers words of wisdom to current and prospective medical students: “Your journey will change, and that’s okay. Don’t think about where you are now. You must grow from your struggles and know you will make it. Remember—everything you do in medical school matters. Push through it all and know you will come out a stronger, wiser, and ready to live your dream.”