Japanese International Medical Graduates and the United States clinical training experience: Challenges abroad and methods to overcome them

Brian S. Heist, Haruka Matsubara Torok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Introduction: Due to the large language and cultural distances between Japan and the US compared to many countries, Japanese International Medical Graduates (IMGs) may have a different US training experience, including more stress, than many IMGs. We examined the US clinical training experience for Japanese IMGs, including the challenges encountered, how those challenges are overcome, and the benefits of US training. Methods: We performed individual semistructured interviews with 35 purposively sampled Japanese IMGs who had completed US clinical training. Exploratory thematic analysis was conducted using iterative data collection and constant comparison. Results: All participants reported high personal growth and that US clinical training was worth the sacrifices. Commonly fatigue was lower than during Japanese residency. Participants explained medical practice and local culture associated challenges that aligned with literature on US graduates and other IMGs. By contrast, nearly all participants reported that English communication was very challenging, and described specific language related struggles and methods to help overcome them. Communication struggles were contextualized within an American training culture that values verbal assertiveness. Self-esteem varied among participants and, for some participants, improved with confidence in communication. Several participants reported depression and other mental illness. The training environment varied among residency programs. Conclusions: Japanese IMGs who completed US training report that it was worth it, but describe significant language and culture related struggles and effects on mental health. Further research should address which Japanese IMGs are most likely to struggle, how this will transpire, and how to optimize the US clinical training experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-118
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of General and Family Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We greatly appreciate the time and thoughtful comments contributed by all participants, and financial support from the Shadyside Foundation, Thomas H. Nimick Jr Competitive Research Fund (Grant / Award Number: 'CRF2019').

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of General and Family Medicine published by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd on behalf of Japan Primary Care Association

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • medical education
  • medical migration
  • postgraduate medical education
  • qualitative research


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