(MedEd)itorial: Applying to Residency with a Hope and a Prayer

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Professionally, I feel very drawn to radiology, and I can’t picture myself feeling fulfilled in any other specialty. That said, I recognize that diagnostic radiology easily lends itself to depersonalization. The images have no faces: no fear, no joy, no sadness.

    I came to radiology as a last hope. During my third year I sampled just about every specialty and never felt fulfilled. It was not until I arrived at radiology that my heart finally stopped yearning and I realized (despite my hesitations), that it was my vocation.

    There is a tough decision that most religious people are required to make when they submit their residency application: Should they mention their faith or not, and to what extent. Most advise to leave it out entirely, since there’s no telling what characteristics committees will view favorably or unfavorably. Why risk someone discriminating based on faith? By contrast, I advise the complete opposite: If your faith is an important driving force in your life, plaster it across your application. I received residency applications from prestigious secular and Catholic institutions across the country based on the competitive level of my application. I could not spot a speck of discrimination. Besides, I wouldn’t want to work at an institution that didn’t respect my beliefs.  I wanted my faith to be welcome wherever I planned to spend the next 4-6 years of my life. 

    I always brought up my Catholic faith during my interviews, and I almost never faced any resistance. At almost all of my interviews there was at least one Catholic interviewer waiting eagerly for me to utter something vaguely religious, lifting the interview rules and letting us talk freely about faith. I had interviewers tell me their stories, ask me questions on medical ethics, and chat about how faith influences their practice. In these conversations, my intuition that radiology could move past the austerity of the computer screen was confirmed. It was powerful to see practicing radiologists enthusiastically agree about the importance of and challenges related to retaining the dignity of each patient behind the image, and I don’t think I would have had any of those conversations unless my application was so blatantly Catholic.

    We will never be able to relate to our patients if they remain faceless. We must look deep into each patient we are trusted with and see them for the complete person they are. If your religion helps you stay true to yourself and see your patients as unique people with precious lives, why not embrace it and explain your relationship with it in your application?

    So I leave you with this: whatever field you are applying to, see the faces of your patients and be unwavering in your faith.