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The 10 Commandments for Contacting Medical Residency Programs After Interview Season

Finally, residency interview season has come to a close. Your suit can get packed away in that garment bag for another 18 months, as scrubs (and the dress clothes that you don’t mind getting blood- and sputum-covered) move back to the front of your wardrobe. You can relax, put your feet up, and hopefully cruise through the rest of fourth-year while you rack your brain trying to get your rank list in order.

During this post-interview pre-rank list window, many students wonder, “Should I reach out to the programs that I really liked?” We hear so much conventional wisdom about the “right” thing to do when it comes to contacting programs after interviews, but how does this “strategy” fit into your game plan? Will a simple email propel you up the rank list? Will further bombardment of the program director’s inbox make him or her frustrated or burnt out on your application?

Since Match Day itself falls somewhat close to Easter-time (I know it’s a stretch), I’ve developed these TEN COMMANDMENTS for contacting programs after interview season. As a disclaimer, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to what you should do. And in fact, these contacts likely do little to move you very much, if at all, on your desired programs rank list for incoming residents. The “right” thing to do depends entirely on your circumstance. If you are ever uncertain, or want an assessment of your particular situation, never hesitate to reach out. Or leave a comment/question below!

The 10 Commandments for Contacting Residency Programs After Interviews:

1. If they don’t want thank you letters, don’t write thank you letters.

“But I just have to write something! I can’t be graceless! I’ll keep it short.” Realize that your interviewers are dealing with an insane amount of emails before interview season started. If a program explicitly tells you not to write a thank you, doing so will do you no favors. There’s a reason they have given you this instruction, so abide by it. Plain and simple.

2. If something relatively significant on your application changed, let them know.

If your cat got their wisdom teeth out, no need to tell the program director at your top few choices. However, if your submitted paper got published in a top-notch journal, if your Step 2 CK score came in and was off the charts, or if a medical mission so affirmed your desire to be a trauma surgeon that you absolutely had to tell the program, then send an email, short and to the point, that you wanted to share this update to your application. Use your judgement when it comes to deciding if the accolade is worth mentioning.

3. Be 150% honest; if you say are ranking #1, only do that once.

Honesty is the best policy. If you get caught lying on your application, or even being surreptitious or misleading, this can scar your reputation throughout your career. No matter how large your chosen field might seem, program directors interact fairly often, and if you tell multiple programs that you are ranking them number one, you could put yourself in a potentially catastrophic bind. Strive to be honest and transparent; shoot straight the whole way through.

4. Use strong language to indicate your actions, not your intentions.

I’ve seen a lot of “letters of intent” that students write to their number one choice program, where they say something like “I plan to rank Medical University number one on my rank list.” What does this really mean? Are you going to actually rank them number one? Or is it a plan for the time being. Will you follow through with your plan? I plan to go to the gym tonight, but life gets in the way quite often in this thing we call medical education. If you are undoubtedly going to rank a program as your number one, your best bet is to complete your rank list, submit and certify it, and then tell that program with confidence that “I ranked Medical University number one on my certified and submitted rank list.” That goes much farther than a simple plan.

5. Voraciously proofread.

This one should really go without saying, but there are too many applications and emails that I see with misspellings that just needed a slow, dedicated proofread. Worse yet are the cookie-cutter template emails that are copy/pasted from previous emails and have the wrong name in the salutation, or the wrong program in the body. Check, double check, triple check, and then have someone else lay eyes on all of your work before it goes out.

6. Don’t write a long-winded email about things you like about a program; instead focus on fit.

It’s natural to want to put a program on a pedestal when you are dead set on getting into their residency. What you don’t need to do is write the program director an email regurgitating everything that you heard on interview day, saying how wonderful it all is. Too many emails are full of these platitudes, lacking substance and a reason for being. “I love Medical University’s emphasis on curriculum, and the didactic program is so intriguing. I was fascinated by the array of research opportunities and really appreciated the focus on resident wellness.” You and everyone else. This could literally refer to any residency program. Sure, include something special that you liked about the program; it’s a gracious thing to do. But as you write your email, think about what things make the program a great fit for you, and you a great fit for the program, instead of just listing the vanilla aspects of it.

7. There are “rules” and “etiquette,” but sometimes bucking the trend will result in success.

Doing as you’re told is the safe thing to do. It’s low-risk, and will ensure you don’t burn any bridges with unexpected behavior. But what if you need something more? In the event that you really need to reach or do something over the top to get recognized, taking action that exceeds expectation could be the difference maker. For instance, attending a lecture or grand rounds given by a faculty member or program director, and speaking with them afterwards might be a way to strike a chord. You can always pick up the phone and call the program director instead of just being another email in their inbox, but you better have something worthwhile to say. Maybe the friendship bracelet that you crafted for the chief resident after your nostalgic talk about friendship bracelets will be the token that gets you remembered.

8. Put the email address in last.

We currently live in a fire-it-off yesterday fast-paced world of communication. Messages get sent all the time, and it’s not uncommon to send these before we have proofread them, or even thought them through 100%. What you want to avoid here is sending an email that is incomplete, contains errors, or is addressed to the wrong person. Your safest bet is to enter the email address in after you have proofread, edited, and thought deeply about the text.

9. Don’t send an email if you’ve got nothing to say.

If you don’t have anything to add to your application, and no plan to declare that you are 100% going to rank a program number one, there’s no need to send an email. It is useless, and a waste of your interviewers’ time, to reach out for no reason. Have a particular message that you are trying to convey and build your email around this message.

10. Don’t rely on this email to be a difference maker; do that with your application & interview.

The importance of interview day cannot be stressed enough. Your interaction with faculty, residents, and support staff will be the most important aspects of your application as a whole. Being your wonderful, intriguing self is infinitely more important than your post-interview email. Your application is a sum of your life experiences, and interview day allows interviewers to meet and understand the real you, assessing how well you will mesh into their program. A couple of sentences in an inbox of thousands of messages pales in comparison to face-to-face contact. Do what it takes to shine on the big day.

That does it! Any particular questions about your post-interview email? Post them in the comments below!