Medical Make the Most of Your Experiences for ERAS

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The 2024 ERAS (Electronic Residency Application Service) application has some big changes for residency and fellowship candidates. Some of the most significant are a limit on the number of experiences one can list, a new section for one’s most meaningful experiences, and a chance to explain “impactful experiences” that have affected one’s career path. This might remind some applicants of the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) primary application, but there are some important differences. Here, we break down the ERAS Experience section to help you make the greatest impact with your application.

Ten Primary Experiences​

Experience Type (required)Work
Volunteer, service, and advocacy
Education and training
Military service
Other extracurricular activity, club, or hobby
Professional organization
Teaching and mentoring

Primary Focus Area (optional)
Basic science
Clinical/translational science
Community involvement/outreach
Customer service
Healthcare administration
Improving access to health care
Medical education
Music, athletics, art
Promoting wellness
Public health
Quality improvement
Social justice and advocacy
Key Characteristics (optional)Communication
Critical thinking and problem solving
Cultural humility and awareness
Empathy and compassion
Ethical responsibility
Ingenuity and innovation
Reliability and dependability
Resilience and adaptability
Self-reflection and improvement
– Teamwork and leadership
An experience might have multiple focus areas or key characteristics, but you’ll have to choose the one that best reflects each experience. You may leave these last two sections blank if no key characteristic or primary focus area fits your experience.

Categorizing each description might feel tedious, and you might be tempted to skip this step. However, ERAS notes that in its surveys of program directors, approximately 80% found this information useful in evaluating applicant experiences.

More importantly, providing key information here will free up space in your description. This is great, because you have only 1,020 characters with which to briefly describe your major activities and responsibilities and any other important context. Ideally, you will also include your motivations and achievements.

That’s a lot to accomplish, so rather than offering a straightforward, CV-style description of the position, focus on what you specifically brought to the role – how you made it your own – and (implicitly, if not explicitly) explain what this experience means for you in your chosen specialty.

Which experiences should you include?​

  • Focus on experiences that demonstrate your interest in whatever field you’ve chosen. One way to approach this is to include an experience for each of the ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) core competencies in your field: Patient Care, Medical Knowledge, Practice-Based Learning and Improvement, Systems-Based Practice, Professionalism, and Interpersonal Skills Communication. For instance, if you’re applying to pediatrics, include at least one experience that demonstrates your engagement in Patient Care, one that showcases your Medical Knowledge, another that highlights your commitment to Practice-Based Learning and Improvement, and so on.
  • Strike a balance between recent events – those that occurred during med school, if possible – and continuity. If you’re choosing between a one-day screening event in med school versus an extended volunteer undergrad experience, the undergrad experience will carry more weight.
  • If you were involved in multiple one-day events, such as health fairs or screenings, try to combine them into one entry under an umbrella organization (e.g., your med school’s outreach office) to show a deeper connection/impact.
  • Choose experiences that will complement your personal statement and the Noteworthy Characteristics section of the MSPE (Medical Student Performance Evaluation). There will undoubtedly be some overlap in the experiences themselves, but craft your descriptions from different angles to provide new insights into you and your journey to residency.
  • Show your individuality through your passions and pastimes. Program directors aren’t looking for a solely focused individual but someone who will complement their team and residency program. Interests outside of medicine signal a more balanced lifestyle and even more opportunities to contribute to your training.

Three Most Meaningful Experiences​

Of the ten experiences you’ve selected, three can be highlighted as the most meaningful. This isn’t the place to reiterate or add to your responsibilities in the role. Instead, you’re asked to take the next step and build on the responsibilities outlined in the initial description.

In approaching this section, think about your personal values, especially those that mesh with ones related to your specialty. Participating in a rural community-needs assessment might embody the kind of advocacy you believe in; sacrificing countless chicken breasts to practice laparoscopic techniques might exemplify your dedication to continued improvement. If you do this, then each 300-character meaningful experience description will show how you’ve understood and reflected on the impact of your work in the context of your specialty.

Impactful Experiences​

This optional question allows applicants to share any major obstacles they have faced before or during medical school. Many candidates will not need to answer this question. If your answer is flippant or shallow, it could do you more harm than good. On the other hand, the obstacles in your life might not be something you want to share. If this is the case, don’t feel obligated to write anything.

If you do answer this question, you will need to write a short, 750-character essay describing your experiences. Do not repeat what you’ve already written about in your personal statement and activities. Instead, think of this as a separate but related piece of the puzzle, one that will provide a fuller understanding of who you are. You will need to reflect on your experiences to determine how life circumstances beyond your control – at any point in your life – have affected and/or limited you and your opportunities. These can relate to your family situation or financial background, the community in which you were raised, the educational opportunities you had (or didn’t have), the impact of your religion on your life, or other life experiences.

In writing this essay, lay out the objective facts – without blame or bitterness – and keep your tone positive. The best essays celebrate what has gone right or what an applicant has been able to accomplish despite the difficulties they have faced. Did you grow up in a restrictive community where you were expected to marry young, but you followed your dream of studying instead? Did you successfully balance college with raising a child with special needs? Did you experience a health issue that interrupted your medical studies but used your leave of absence to pursue research? Sharing how you’ve advocated for yourself and found ways to be successful despite obstacles reveals your resilience.

Using the ERAS Experience section wisely will help you demonstrate your multifaceted qualifications and the varied experiences you will bring to a well-rounded team.

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