6 Tips to Start Your Residency Applications on the Right Foot

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Can you believe it? It’s already that time of the year. Residency applications are just around the corner. Soon, thousands of medical students from across the country and globe will submit applications seeking PGY-1 residency positions for the following year. You will be one of them. Somehow you will need to stand out amongst the vast number of applicants. Here is how to do it.

    Your goal from now until September 15, 2019 is to create an application that is as perfect as possible. At this point in time there are already several aspects of your application that you cannot change. These include Step 1 scores and possibly other board scores, MS1 and MS2 grades, clerkship grades and evaluations, and dropped or failed courses. Regardless of how well you did, the time that you put into perfecting your application over the next few months and your preparations for audition rotations, sub-I’s and interviews will be crucial. Take each step seriously and always have a strategic plan of action. In this blog post I will highlight important steps to take so that you can set yourself up for success during this residency application season.

    How to Write an Outstanding Medical Residency Application

    1. Choose your specialty.

    First and foremost, decide on a specialty. If you still haven’t decided, it is now the time to do so. Being indecisive about your specialty will slow down your application process.

    Applying for multiple specialties out of indecisiveness will reduce the time and attention you spend on your application, which will reduce the overall quality of it. Additionally, it will be difficult to write your personal statement and obtain letters of recommendations and audition rotations/Sub-I’s if you do not first pick a specialty.

    Please note that this does not refer to those applying for backup specialties. It is a wise decision to apply for a backup specialty if your specialty of choice is competitive (i.e radiology, surgery, OBGYN, ophthalmology, dermatology). This is especially important for IMG students.

    2. Know your residency application deadlines.

    Know your deadlines. The most important deadline in this year’s cycle is September 15, 2019. On this day, ACGME-accredited residency programs begin receiving applications.

    Please ensure that you submit your application on or before this date. Not doing so will be detrimental to your application. Applications are received on a first come, first served basis.

    Submitting your application after this date will automatically place your application behind all those who applied on September 15, which include the majority of applicants.

    Another important deadline to pay attention to is the MSPE/Dean’s Letter release date, which is October 1, 2019. On this day, residency programs have access to your MSPE or Dean’s Letters. All letters of recommendation should be uploaded by this date.

    Other deadlines to pay attention to include USMLE Step 2 CK or COMLEX 2 and CS score deadlines. My recommendation is to take them as early as possible. Most medical schools will provide their students with a score submission deadline.

    3. Schedule audition rotations and sub-I’s (early on).

    Start scheduling audition rotations and Sub-I’s early on in your 4th year. Audition rotations are rotations at a program you are interested in potentially attending for residency.

    You can apply for them online through the Visiting Student Application Service (VSAS) or on individual program websites if they accept students who cannot apply through VSAS (i.e IMGs). Scheduling audition rotations and Sub-Is early on allows you to potentially add an extra letter of recommendation to your application.

    Furthermore, it will ensure that you will not have to take any days off to attend interviews. It is better to schedule your interviews during rotations that are not auditions or Sub-I’s in your desired field. Remember, for audition rotations/Sub-I’s, you always want to be professional, reliable, on time, and present.

    4. Obtain letters of recommendation.

    Once you receive your ERAS token, attendings may begin uploading letters of recommendation (LORs). Most programs require a minimum of three LORs, but you should aim for at least four with a minimum of two letters from an attending in the specialty you are applying to.

    Please make sure all of your LORs are from academic attendings (i.e attendings who work directly with residents and medical students at a teaching hospital). Do not use LORs from private physicians (i.e attendings who work with students at their own private practice) because these letters are not considered “strong” and may weaken your application. Never upload LORs from family friends or physicians you’ve never directly worked with during clinicals.

    Here are my tips on how to get a great residency letter of recommendation from your attendings!

    5. Start working on your personal statement.

    Start working on your personal statement early! Writing a great personal statement takes a lot of time, patience, and multiple drafts.

    Send your drafts to friends to look over for tips and corrections. Seek out friends who you know write well or write for a living (i.e journalists, attorneys, teachers).

    Make sure your personal statement addresses why you are applying for the specialty, what makes you a great fit for the field and program, and what qualities you possess that will make you a great resident. Keep it interesting. This is the most creative part of your application and is where you can discuss your unique experiences and persuade program directors that you are a good fit for their program.

    6. Access ERAS and start early.

    Start working on your ERAS application now. Working on your application for a few hours a week is better than waiting until September. This will not only lower your stress levels, but will ensure that you have read through your application multiple times checking for any errors before the final submission.

    After you’ve submitted your application, you can begin preparing for interviews by purchasing an interview suit and practicing interview questions. Practice interviewing with a friend and always be professional and on time for every interview. Schedule flights at appropriate times so that you never have to leave an interview early.

    Phew! That was a lot of information, but now you are ready for a successful application season. Wishing you all the best in the 2020 match!

    Here are some additional resources to help you prepare a great residency application:

    Choosing a Medical Specialty: Science v.s. Everyday Work

    The Pitfalls of Choosing a Medical Specialty

    How to Plan the Perfect Residency Letter of Recommendation

    The Write Stuff: Who and How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

    Top 4 Mistakes Residency Applicants Make on ERAS

    Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash