The VIRMP Matching Program as a Foreign Graduate – The Very Basics

By Dr. Pedro Bento at VetMed Survival Guide

This is a guest post by Dr. Bento, who writes at Veterinary Survival Guide to help those applying through the VIRMP.  There are a lot of great resources there.  I asked him to write about applying as a foreign applicant, because this is something I haven’t experienced but he definitely has!  Below is his wisdom on the matter.

As the 2019-2020 VIRMP matching program comes to an end, many in the next batch of vet school senior students start thinking about internships. I’m not saying everyone will be thinking about it or that everyone needs to do an internship. But if you want to do it, or if you are unsure, you want to start planning it in advance so you can end up with the best possible VIRMP application when the time comes.

If you’re graduating vet school abroad (i.e. outside the US or Canada), this is really not different. You still want to plan your application well in advance and portray yourself as the best candidate possible regardless of where you graduated. However, as opposed to North American graduates, there are many more details to be aware of. Keep reading to learn more!

AVMA Accredited Schools

Is your school AVMA accredited? Have no idea what this means? This is the absolute first thing to know. You can find the complete list of accredited schools and read additional details here. In a nutshell, a foreign AVMA accredited veterinary school is deemed equivalent to any North American program. Therefore, when your application is being looked at by internship/residency committee members, they know that in theory, your education is similar in quality to their own institution.

If your school is not on the list, you’ll need an equivalence certificate – more on this later. An AVMA listed school is very different from an accredited school. If a foreign graduate applies through the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG), their school will be added to this list. For this to happen, the education department/ministry of your government has to confirm your school is approved in your country. This has nothing to do with receiving AVMA accreditation!

Why is this important? As mentioned above, if you do not have an equivalence certificate such as the ECFVG or Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence (PAVE), you can only apply to a very small number of internship positions, usually at universities.  This is a licensing issue- most states grant exemptions for licenses for those working at the university, but require licenses for those working in private practice.  In order to get a state license, you must have passed the ECFVG or PAVE and NAVLE.

ECFVG and PAVE

Keeping it simple, these are certificates that, upon completion, show that you have the knowledge and skills equivalent to a recent graduate from an AVMA accredited program. The overall requirements, duration, and cost are different between the two.

Which one to choose is dependent on your goals and in which state you’d like to practice (in the United States). The ECFVG is accepted in all states, while the PAVE is not. Check the PAVE website for additional information. Assuming you have one of these, you can apply to most programs. If you read the VIRMP program descriptions, there is a section for foreign applicants that should tell you if they accept foreign graduates, and if so, if ECFVG or PAVE is required. If you have any questions, contact the internship coordinator – It is ultimately your job to make sure you can accept a position should you get one!

Most academic institutions (i.e. universities) will not require ECFVG or PAVE. On the other hand, private practices will. More specifically, in order to work at a private practice (internship or not), you are required to have a veterinary state license. Every state will have different requirements, but they all require the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), and either ECFVG or PAVE if you graduated from a non-AVMA accredited school.

VISAS

Alright, you’re a foreign graduate from an accredited school, or you got your ECFVG/PAVE – are you all set? Not quite yet. You still need a VISA to enter and be allowed to work in the US. The same applies for Canada, although I’m not familiar with the process since I never applied for a Canadian VISA. An H-1B VISA is the typical option for foreign veterinarians, although other options exist. If you are from Canada, Mexico or Australia, there are specific types of VISAS that are easier to obtain. Please comment below if you’re aware of other countries that allow you to obtain a VISA more easily – these are the countries I’m familiar with.

Since I came to the US for my internship in 2010, VISAS for foreign graduates have been harder and harder to get. A few factors are to blame:

1.       Prevailing wage – the Department of Labor (DOL) states: “Employers must attest to the Department of Labor that they will pay wages to the H-1B nonimmigrant workers that are at least equal to the actual wage paid by the employer to other workers with similar experience and qualifications for the job in question”. The problem is, DOL considers veterinary interns and residents as equivalent to MD residents. And their salaries during training are easily double of what we get paid. This leads to a lengthy back and forth of documents and delays in processing times.

2.       Processing times – These can be quite long for an H1-B VISA and there is only a short window of time between February when the VIRMP match results are announced and middle/end of June (for interns) and mid-July (for residents). Many interns and residents have started their programs late due to long waiting periods, which is not beneficial for anyone. This leads to complicated logistical problems for the candidate (moving to a different country) and the program (they’re short-staffed).

3.       Cost – Typically academic institutions will pay for VISA application and processing, but this can be quite expensive and labor intensive. In most cases, expedited processing is requested, which further adds to the cost.

4.       No guarantees – Applying for a VISA is not a guarantee that it’ll be issued. On the same note, expedited processing is also not a guarantee it’ll be approved on time. Not offering positions to foreign graduates takes away the time, effort and guessing from the equation for institutions.

As you can see, there are not a lot of incentives for academic institutions to keep offering positions to foreign graduates. Fortunately, many still have positions open to foreign graduates, although the general norm is that preference will be given to AVMA accredited candidates (this is something usually listed on the VIRMP program description itself). Despite this, you should still apply to programs that would accept you!

Also keep in mind that fewer and fewer internship programs are offering positions to candidates requiring a VISA. This has to do with the above and the fact that you’ll likely be with that program for only one year and then move on. This is in contrast to residency positions where you’ll usually stay for three years.

If I’m not AVMA accredited, how are they going to know if I’m good or not?

The thing is, being AVMA accredited does not mean that you are better or worse than someone else. I’ve seen foreign students/graduates that have a better knowledge base and skill set than North American educated individuals. I’m obviously comparing individuals that are in the same stage of their career: senior students or recent graduates, for example.

However, there’s no way to gauge how good you are until someone works directly with you! Therefore, you should consider doing an externship/clinical rotation with the programs you’re interested in or simply to get your foot in the door.

This can be difficult to set up if you live overseas, not to mention expensive. But if possible, you want to use these programs to work with the people that will eventually evaluate your application, and show them what you know and can do. Ultimately, networking and working alongside board-certified clinicians is what will open most doors. This is exactly what I did back in the day. I used my savings to spend part of my senior year at Washington State University and through dedication and hard work was able to show them I was at least as good as any of their students.

If you’d like to pursue advanced training in the US, but can’t make it happen financially due to distance or any other factors, consider other countries closer to you. There are many European countries that have internships, residencies and board-certified veterinarians.  These countries may be easier to get a visa for than the US, and may be more accustomed to and willing to work with graduates from around the world.  Many candidates start with an internship in Europe and then get a residency in the US/Canada (or just stay in Europe altogether!). You never know! Focus on your goals and work hard!

Let us know below if you have any questions or would like to see a blog post on a specific topic. Also feel free to contact me at pedro@vetmedsurvivalguide.com!

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