Get to Know Your USMLE® Step 2 CK Faculty: Dr. Jamil ElFarra

Continuing our interview series with Becker faculty members, join our conversation with our USMLE® Step 2 CK instructor, Dr. Jamil ElFarra!

Dr. Jamil ElFarra is a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at the Norton Health Group in Louisville, Kentucky. He has over 12 years of experience teaching medical students and residents and has helped hundreds of students successfully navigate and excel in the USMLE exam. He did his Obstetrics and Gynecology residency in Stamford Hospital/Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. During that time Dr. ElFarra won several awards, including the Resident Teaching Award for three consecutive years, and Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine Excellence in Obstetrics Award. He is the author of several book chapters and publications, including the Pregnancy-Related Stroke chapter in the upcoming 6th edition of Critical Care Obstetrics and coauthor of Becker’s Obstetrics and Gynecology for USMLE Step 2 CK.

We chatted with Dr. ElFarra about his inspiration to pursue medicine, his experience as an international medical graduate, and advice for any medical students who are struggling with the USMLE®.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Becker instructor Dr. Jamil ElFarra

What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?

My mom delivered me too early and they had to do an emergency C-section. Afterwards, she ended up getting a DVT. Growing up, we’d always hear about how lucky she was to survive all because of the physicians who helped her out. Her experience influenced my decision to do obstetrics and gynecology because I personally know how important it is to have a good doctor.

I’ve got an older brother who’s also in medicine and I always looked up to him. I would visit him and hear his medical stories. Since then, I knew I was going to become a doctor.

Were there ever times where it got too challenging and you considered another career field?  

Absolutely! I can’t count the number of times where I asked, “why am I doing this?” [Laughs.]

What helped you get through those moments?

I think it was sticking to my ultimate goal. If you have an important goal that means something to you, you’ll never give up. I constantly reminded myself that nothing in life comes easy and if I want something, I have to work hard for it.

When I finished medical school and came to the US to study for the USMLE®, I had to remember why I wanted to be a doctor. That was the most challenging time – I hadn’t done Biochemistry for 10 years, and now I had to go back and re-learn it! There was so much uncertainty on whether I’d earn a good score on the exam and then whether I’d match or not. That was tough! I’d often close my eyes and imagine myself walking around in a residency in the US and how much that’d mean to me. That would really bring back my focus.

Where did you attend medical school?

King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

What was your experience as an international medical graduate?

At my time, I think they only accepted around 160 foreign medical graduates out of a thousand US residency spots. I had people telling me I wouldn’t make it! The odds were against me, but this was my dream. If I didn’t pursue my dream, I’d always look back and regret it.

If you do your best and get the best scores you can, at least you’ll know that you did all that you could.

How did you transition to being an instructor?

I always enjoyed helping my classmates understand difficult material. When I was studying for the USMLE®, I was fortunate enough to have great instructors! I was taught by Dr. Ruebush and Dr. Daugherty. They noticed that I was helping my colleagues and offered me a Teachers Assistant position. When I went into residency, I won numerous teaching awards, like the Medical Student Teaching Award, for three years in a row. This passion was always there!

Can you think of any of your favorite moments as a teacher?

When there’s a student who starts out really far off from where they need to be, and you help them get a really good score! When you witness someone that you taught make it to where they want to be, it makes a huge difference.

What advice do you have for any medical students who are struggling to overcome the challenge of the USMLE®?

I’ve seen students who are used to mastering everything – they read every single page of every single book and go into all of their exams prepared. The USMLE® is much different from other exams. You can’t master every single subject; instead, you have to look at the bigger picture. And, you have to be okay with that so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Every student is different so I actually try to understand and tackle their struggles from an individual point of view.