- Do well on your USMLE, steps 1 and 2.
Residencies look at your USMLE scores to make sure you are up to the task. In the NRMP Program Director Survey, 91% of residency program directors cited USMLE Step 1 as a highly important factor, while 83% cited Step 2 scores as highly important. Some programs have cut-off scores (below which they will not invite a candidate to interview). Focus on doing well and make sure your scores are on par with successfully matched candidates. If not, you may need to apply to a wider range of programs.
- Make interview day count.
Your behavior speaks louder than words, so make sure you show that you are humble and grateful for the opportunity to be there. Along the same lines, if you don’t know an answer to a question, say so. Show them you can handle being in a stressful situation (an interview) and still be friendly, respectful, and open to advice. To evaluate this skill, some residencies will ask difficult questions on interview day, to see how you respond under pressure. As one program director told me, “We don’t expect interns to know everything. If an applicant seems to know everything, that’s a bad sign. We want residents who are ready to learn, ready to work hard, and are able to accept criticism.”
- Show them you are a team player.
Things can be slow on L&D, then suddenly, ten patients show up in active labor. It’s not uncommon for residents on other rotations to run over to L&D to help out. Make sure your statement of purpose shows you are the kind of person who is willing to pitch in when needed. As a resident, I often found myself mopping the O.R. floor and taking out the trash to get it ready for the next patient. While not all programs expect you to do janitorial jobs, they like to know that nothing is beneath you. Describe a time when you contributed in an unexpected way, not just for credit, but because that’s who you are. Remember that the nurses and support staff are a vital part of the medical team, and helping them out when things get busy can be highly appreciated. If you respect the roles of everyone caring for the patient, your sense of teamwork will shine through.
- Demonstrate your ability to communicate.
One residency director said, “You can be smart and know your stuff, but if you can’t convey it to others, your knowledge doesn’t help us much.” Programs want residents who are comfortable having difficult conversations with patients and colleagues. In many programs, it is the intern’s job to consent patients for cesarean sections. This sometimes has to be done in an emergency, while the patient is being wheeled to the O.R. Explaining the risks of surgery to someone under enormous stress requires you to stay calm and use precise language. Your interview can demonstrate your ability to communicate your thoughts in a clear way. Find out if your school offers mock interviews and take advantage of it. If you think you are at risk of becoming tongue-tied, consider getting extra practice. At Accepted, we help you by offering video mock interviews.
- Get a great letter of recommendation.
Ob-Gyn residencies rely heavily on letters of recommendation. As one residency director stated, “I can tell a really great letter from all the average ones, and that’s the applicant I’m most interested in.” Another director told me, “When a department chair goes to extra lengths to write a special letter, I know they’re doing it for a reason. That person is a special applicant in my mind.” To get an outstanding letter, you can connect with a faculty member in your chosen specialty. Let them know about your interest in their field and offer to help with a research project or spend time shadowing them on a difficult case. However, it’s not just the faculty member that you need to impress. Letters also reflect your interns’ and residents’ impressions of your work ethic. If you were not working as hard as you could have on your rotation, the letter will show that.
- If you do a sub-internship, work hard.
If you don’t think your letters of recommendation are as good as they could be, you can do a sub-internship and get a better one. The key is, be willing to work as hard as your interns (or maybe even harder). One program director said, “Doing a sub-I can either help you or hurt you. If it doesn’t go well, we don’t know if you were just having a bad week, or if that’s who you are.” In my own experience, I did a sub-I and landed a spot at that program for residency. If there is a program you really want to go to, doing a sub-I can help. It has the additional benefit of showing you what a hospital is really like and how they treat residents. You might decide that you want to go there after a sub-I, or that it’s not the program for you, which is a good thing to find out now. And that leads us to the last tip…
- Be yourself.
Each residency is different. You might be a great fit at one program, but a poor fit at another. Learn as much as you can about their program and be honest in your essay and interviews. You don’t want to change who you are to fit their needs, but if you share the same goals, express that. They will feel more comfortable bringing you on their team if you have similar values and preferences. One director said, “An applicant who sounds great on paper, but does not gel with our residents on interview day, will probably not be selected. With such a small group of residents, interpersonal differences can make everyone miserable.”
Another told me, “Your residency is like a second family. You are going to spend more time with us in the next four years than with anyone else in your life, so we want to make sure you will be happy here.” On interview day, have lunch with and hang out with residents. After the interviews, the faculty and residents discuss candidates and the residents’ opinions are strongly considered. One senior resident had this to say: “Spend as much time as you can with the residents. If they invite you to look at their call room, go see it. Make sure you plan extra time on interview day, in case opportunities come up.” A program director half-jokingly likened interview day to speed dating. “You should go there with the assumption that you are both checking each other out.” Just like in dating, the best advice for meeting someone new is to just relax and be yourself.
Applying to residencies can sometimes feel like a full-time job. Here at Accepted, we have expert advisors who can help you with any aspect of your applications. For help with your personal statement, we have Hourly Editing or Essay Packages. For practice with video mock interviews, check out our Mock Interview Packages. If you would like an expert pair of eyes on your entire ERAS application, in addition to one mock interview, we have a Residency Application Package. For questions about how we work and a free phone call with a consultant, please contact us at [email protected]. We are excited to help you become the physician you want to be!
Dr. Suzi Schweikert has served on the UCSD School of Medicine’s admissions committee, and has mentored students in healthcare programs for over 20 years. She holds a BA in English Lit from UCLA, an MD from UCSD, and an MPH from SDSU. Want Suzi to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch with Dr. Suzi Schweikert.
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This article was originally posted on blog.accepted.com.
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