Elizabeth Karr is a 4th year medical student in the 2015 EM Match. This post is the second in a series - a 4th years perspective. Part 1 was on what a third year students needs to know right now. This post tackles the next steps in planning your application year.
Now, what about residency applications, interviews, and traveling? Start looking at programs during the spring/summer of your third year to decide where you want to apply. Think about what is important to you in a program; the level of trauma, opportunities for fellowship training, experience in sports medicine/pediatrics/critical care/aeromedicine, specific off service rotations, vacation time, work-life balance. Consider whether you are looking for a three-year program or a four-year program; do you want an extra year of experience, and what does that extra year do to add to your learning. Also think about geographic location that you would like to be in, as this is the place you will be living for the next three to four years. Come up with a list of criteria that are important to you and find the programs that fit them.
I think the biggest part of the application process is making sure you submit your application as soon as possible after the ERAS system opens (mid-September). It doesn’t have to be submitted on the day the application cycle opens, but within the first week is best. Also, the application doesn’t have to be 100% complete when you submit it: You can always add more SLOE’s or general letters of recommendation, and you can also add on programs.
After submission, patience becomes a virtue that you will learn, as it won’t be until mid-October or early-November when programs start contacting you regarding interviews. Of note, many programs utilize an electronic system for scheduling interviews and you need to sign up within an hour of getting the e-mail from a program or the interview spots they offer will already be full. So, if the opportunity is there, check your e-mails regularly. I am not someone to constantly be on my smart phone, but during the fall, my phone was set to fetch my e-mails every 15 minutes during the day.
I do wish someone had suggested I take a month off from rotations to do interviews. This process takes time, and sometimes you have no choice as to when to schedule an interview. It is recommended you rank at least ten programs to ensure a match. This means ten residency dinners and ten interview day. That is 20 days right there. Then if you have a long way to travel, you may need another day to drive or fly. It is time consuming. I personally took two weeks off and then was also able to schedule 2-3 interviews each month during rotations. Most rotations know you are interviewing and they can be flexible with your schedule and give you two days off. However, it is not acceptable to miss an entire week of your four week rotation.
When you are accepted to an interview, you should do everything in your power to go to the interview dinner. It is an opportunity to get to know what the residents are like outside of the program. They will be your colleagues, but they will also be the people you will be with for the next three to four years. Most residencies tend to have like minded people, and you need to find the program in which you feel that you fit in. The dinner is also an opportunity to ask candid questions and learn more about the program. They are usually casual and last for anywhere from two to four hours. If your travel gets delayed, most of the time it is okay to show up late. If this is the case, try to notify the resident contact that you are still trying to attend.
After an interview, it is a great idea to write down your initial thoughts. How you felt about the program. How you fit in with the other residents, staff, ect. What you liked about the program, or what you didn’t like. The NRMP has a “Prism” app that can be downloaded to your phone to rank different categories and compare programs side-by-side. It was something that I found very helpful, and all in all aligned with my opinions of the programs. In the end though, it is important to know what your gut feeling is about a place, and how you think you fit in with the program itself and the people in the program.
After interview season is done, you have a few weeks to think about your rank order list. Don’t over think it. There is likely to be 1-3 programs that are at the forefront in your mind. Followed by several programs in the middle of the list in which all seem equivocal. Lastly, there is the bottom of the list; the programs that did not impress you, but would be better than not matching into EM at all. Talk about it with your significant other, family, friends, etc. Then you have to go with your gut and submit your rank list. Once it is submitted, you can rest easy and wait until match day! Also, statistics indicate that 50% of applicants will match to their top choice, and 75% will match to one of their top three choices. It seems the odds are in our favor, so best of luck. Lastly, have some easy rotations planned for the end of the year, because after the excitement of interview season, everyone will be ready for a break!
Look for Elizabeth's next post, An Osteopaths Perspective on Interview Season, coming soon...