How to find out the strength of a program?

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Nov 22, 2008
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I have browsed websites of many residency programs. Most of them claim that they are good at teaching, research and patient care. It seems that they are good in every aspects.
Any advice on how to find out what a program is really good at?
Thanks in advance!

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Talk to someone in that department at your school. I had a meeting with someone who went over my list and discussed which of them is good for what I want to ultimately do with life. She also had insights that you would not find on the site or what they would present on interview day (e.g. who has gone through difficult transitions, who is having financial issues, etc.).
I have browsed websites of many residency programs. Most of them claim that they are good at teaching, research and patient care. It seems that they are good in every aspects.
Any advice on how to find out what a program is really good at?
Thanks in advance!

Having a mentor in the specialty is a must. Each specialty in medicine is a small world, and the attendings at you school are going to know the attendings at various programs either personally or by reputation. They can help you parse out which programs are up and comers versus spiraling the wrong direction. Once you actually interview at places I would also suggest you tap into alumni from your school who are current or recent residents of those programs -- they can be a wealth of inside information.

There won't be any useful website or list. It's very much a word of mouth thing.
Hey you guys, I'm an American IMG, how would you guys recommend I get info on Residency programs since I really know no AMGs. Really appreciate you insight.
I would ignore US news -- this has zero bearing on residency, and it's hospital ranks tend to be derived based on factors unimportant to residents.

I'm not sure what you can get from Frieda that you won't get off a program's website -- the programs complete the forms for Frieda as well. And that's sort of like trying to gauge what visiting a foreign country would be like by reading a list of data like what their GDP is, and what the population is. It's just not a good way to get the flavor of the place.

Seriously, this is a word of mouth journey, and so you must seek out a mentor, former resident etc to get the real deal. What is published is rarely the story. No place are you going to find published that the PD at one place is a real SOB, or at another place that all the residents are unhappy and abused. And that is going to make or break you, not how many residency seats a program has or what their listed book fund amount is.
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Evaluating strength is a tough dilemma. One measure might be to consider if the program will enable you to accomplish your career goals. For example, I want to be a cardiologist, so I am looking at programs that place a lot of fellows in cardiology. However, this information isn't always readily available...

Some other resources for researching residency programs:

US News and World Report Hospital Rankings. Not really sure what to make of this. But since I'm interested in cardiology, I looked at which hospitals ranked well on USews in cardiovascular medicine. was initially promising, but most of the entries are old, and almost all the entries are positive, making it hard to discern which are truly good.

The residency program's website. I try to pay attention to the more objective information if possible since they all try to sell themselves. If you're interested in global health for example, finding out if they have a global health track would be helpful.

FREIDA. Most of the info here doesn't seem to tell you what it "feels like" to be a resident at a given program. However, it does give you some important info. For example, for the IM programs I am considering, I found out the number of lecture-hours per week (objective measure for emphasis on education), the % of time spent in an outpatient setting (important if you are a primary care guy), how often you take call at that program, and last but not least, how much vacation time off you get.

None of these really tell you what it's like to be a resident at a given program, however. Are there any resources I am missing?
This is also tough for us DO's. I want to do psych, and although I've done a couple of psych rotations, we don't have a "psych faculty" at our school, per se.

I have gotten some good tips from my psych preceptors, and from SDN, and from prior students.

US News is pretty much worthless. SDN is much better. Scutwork is good, but reviews are often old and out of date.

You can usually go to the departments' main page (not the residency page) and find out more about the department there, such as current research, etc that may give you an idea.

Talk to other people, read SDN incessantly, and google, google, google.
Look over the website, think about what you want in a program (location, speciality, etc) but these are things that will not always come through online or in Frieda. Some of the best programs look very average online and some of the worst look very slick. In the end, you may have to just shoot an arrow into the air and see where it lands.

Go on interviews and that is where you will learn alot. When you look at a program, listen to your instincts and remember it is a job like any other. Are the people nice to you? do the residents seem stressed or frightened? are your hosts nice to you and do you feel at ease or at least, that you could spend a few years with these people? If you pick up weird vibes or people are rude to you - try and understand that. Sometimes, that is just the tip of the iceberg. You must listen to your instincts and trust them.

Unfortunately, this is a process that you can only do going forward but - looking back you will see that you might have done things differently if you had only know. By January, you should have a good 'feel' for what you want in a program and if you listen to your gut you should make the right decision for you.
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