Pursuing Ophthalmology residency with average step 1 score. Would research year help?

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soccerman23

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I'm a 3rd-year med student at a low to mid-tier MD school in the USA. I'm in a tough position because I've wanted to do Ophthalmology for the past 3 years however I am currently not competitive enough. I have an average step 1 score and am merely in the top half of my graduating class.

In order to keep my ophtho dreams alive, I've been seeking out research opportunities and found a great one at a hospital with a top 10 ranked ophthalmology department in the nation. The physician I would be working with is very respected in the field and a recommendation letter from him would be pretty powerful. I'm wondering if taking a research year after my MS3 year to work in his lab and get a ton of publications would be enough for residency programs to overlook my low step score. I would also have extra time to study for step 2 and would try to get a 250 but I'm not the greatest test-taker so that's no guarantee.

The rest of my application is average but nothing special. I have 1 research paper in a high-impact journal but in like 5th author, I have some leadership roles and some volunteer work. My backup plan would be to go into internal medicine and subspecialize but I'm struggling to find the same passion I have for ophtho in that field.

Any advice/insight is appreciated. I know that pursuing ophthalmology would be an uphill climb for me but I just want to know if there's any hope or if I should just stick to IM.
 
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stickgirl390

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Isn’t there a back door into optho with neuro + fellowship? It may not be as surgical iirc
 
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FindersFee5

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I'm a 3rd-year med student at a low to mid-tier MD school in the USA. I'm in a tough position because I've wanted to do Ophthalmology for the past 3 years however I am currently not competitive enough. I only scored 232 on Step 1 and am merely in the top half of my graduating class so I'm a pretty average student academically.

In order to keep my ophtho dreams alive, I've been seeking out research opportunities and found a great one at a hospital with a top 10 ranked ophthalmology department in the nation. The physician I would be working with is very respected in the field and a recommendation letter from him would be pretty powerful. I'm wondering if taking a research year after my MS3 year to work in his lab and get a ton of publications would be enough for residency programs to overlook my low step score. I would also have extra time to study for step 2 and would try to get a 250 but I'm not the greatest test-taker so that's no guarantee.

The rest of my application is average but nothing special. I have 1 research paper in a high-impact journal but in like 5th author, I have some leadership roles and some volunteer work. My backup plan would be to go into internal medicine and subspecialize but I'm struggling to find the same passion I have for ophtho in that field.

Any advice/insight is appreciated. I know that pursuing ophthalmology would be an uphill climb for me but I just want to know if there's any hope or if I should just stick to IM.
I think you've still got a shot, but you need to know that it is a risk - this isn't like the candidate with a 250+ and no research taking a research year, where it's a bit more of a guarantee.

There are a couple things to consider here. You mention getting a LOR from your research mentor - how confident are you in your research skills? Are you absolutely sure you're going to be able to impress him in your time there? In your situation, I might actually consider trying to work at a lower tier or your home program (if you have one), make yourself very well known to that department, and count on those connections to help you match at that place.
 
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frenchyn

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I'm a 3rd-year med student at a low to mid-tier MD school in the USA. I'm in a tough position because I've wanted to do Ophthalmology for the past 3 years however I am currently not competitive enough. I only scored 232 on Step 1 and am merely in the top half of my graduating class so I'm a pretty average student academically.

In order to keep my ophtho dreams alive, I've been seeking out research opportunities and found a great one at a hospital with a top 10 ranked ophthalmology department in the nation. The physician I would be working with is very respected in the field and a recommendation letter from him would be pretty powerful. I'm wondering if taking a research year after my MS3 year to work in his lab and get a ton of publications would be enough for residency programs to overlook my low step score. I would also have extra time to study for step 2 and would try to get a 250 but I'm not the greatest test-taker so that's no guarantee.

The rest of my application is average but nothing special. I have 1 research paper in a high-impact journal but in like 5th author, I have some leadership roles and some volunteer work. My backup plan would be to go into internal medicine and subspecialize but I'm struggling to find the same passion I have for ophtho in that field.

Any advice/insight is appreciated. I know that pursuing ophthalmology would be an uphill climb for me but I just want to know if there's any hope or if I should just stick to IM.
If you have no research and with a 232 you definitely need research year. I disagree with the above poster. I took a research year at top institution from a ****ty home program...n guess what? I got 30+ interviews and when it came down to why? It is because of where I did research at and the letter. You don’t want to go into research year afraid you won’t impress someone. You just work hard and you get 1. More publications and 2. Well known well connected person letter. If your home come from ****ty home programs and do research year, you won’t get to be productive and as many pubs and the letter may not also weight as much. Don’t go into research year thinking you can’t impress someone. Bad advice!!!
 
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soccerman23

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I think you've still got a shot, but you need to know that it is a risk - this isn't like the candidate with a 250+ and no research taking a research year, where it's a bit more of a guarantee.

There are a couple things to consider here. You mention getting a LOR from your research mentor - how confident are you in your research skills? Are you absolutely sure you're going to be able to impress him in your time there? In your situation, I might actually consider trying to work at a lower tier or your home program (if you have one), make yourself very well known to that department, and count on those connections to help you match at that place.
Thanks for the feedback. To answer your question, I'm confident I would be able to impress him because I would work my butt off for him. I may not be the greatest at first, but I would have a year to show growth and typically have been able to make a good impression on people (like on my 3rd yr clerkships). I also would have a year to study ophthalmology so when I do my 4th yr audition rotation in that department I should be more knowledgeable and skilled about the field than most other 4th years med students who rotate through there. One other thing is research would be at a home program and is the only good option I have nearby.
 
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soccerman23

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If you have no research and with a 232 you definitely need research year. I disagree with the above poster. I took a research year at top institution from a ****ty home program...n guess what? I got 30+ interviews and when it came down to why? It is because of where I did research at and the letter. You don’t want to go into research year afraid you won’t impress someone. You just work hard and you get 1. More publications and 2. Well known well connected person letter. If your home come from ****ty home programs and do research year, you won’t get to be productive and as many pubs and the letter may not also weight as much. Don’t go into research year thinking you can’t impress someone. Bad advice!!!
Yeah I agree I need a research year. I wouldn't apply to the field without it based on my current application. My main concern is if the vast majority of programs are going to filter out my application because I don't meet their step 1 cutoff without even looking at any of my LORs, research, or possibly improved Step 2 score. I'm worried that even after taking a research year I won't get any interviews. That's why I'm on the fence about committing to it even though I got a great research offer.

You mention that you also did a research year at a top institution and a ton of interviews. Do you mind sharing what your step 1 score was? I'm just curious to know if there's people out there that scored similarly to me but were still able to be considered a competitive applicant due to great research and letters.
 

soccerman23

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Isn’t there a back door into optho with neuro + fellowship? It may not be as surgical iirc
Thanks for the input as I hadn't even thought of that. It's definitely an option worth weighing but I do think I would much rather go straight into ophtho or IM instead of Neuro.
 

frenchyn

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Yeah I agree I need a research year. I wouldn't apply to the field without it based on my current application. My main concern is if the vast majority of programs are going to filter out my application because I don't meet their step 1 cutoff without even looking at any of my LORs, research, or possibly improved Step 2 score. I'm worried that even after taking a research year I won't get any interviews. That's why I'm on the fence about committing to it even though I got a great research offer.

You mention that you also did a research year at a top institution and a ton of interviews. Do you mind sharing what your step 1 score was? I'm just curious to know if there's people out there that scored similarly to me but were still able to be considered a competitive applicant due to great research and letters.
My step score is better tho. As far as I know, usually top programs use step 1 cutoff...even so sometimes people can still get interviews if they exceed at different area. Obviously you can’t change your step 1 score. I would focus on improving your app based on something else you can such as research.
 

linevasel

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Research year = more interviews, better letter

Avg step1, okay undergrad, *hitty Med school, no pubs, and no Research year = Russian roulette with the match

No Brainer. What an I missing here ?

Do the research year. It will add to your resume, you’ll have an ally and more impressive app for fellowship. No one is truly outside of the reach of ophtho match if they haven’t paid a research year “tax”

You didn’t excel the way you wanted to. No biggy. Pay the tax, apply to ophtho. See you at ARVO
 
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hikeman544

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I matched into ophthalmology with a 227 on Step 1 and only 1 Honors after taking a research year. It will make all the difference.
 
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Is it better to take the research year between 3 and 4th year or after graduating?

I'm in a similar position for ortho (Step 1 243, no ortho research) and would not be opposed to taking a year to increase my chances of matching into a good program, just don't know how best to go about it
 

slowthai

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Is it better to take the research year between 3 and 4th year or after graduating?

I'm in a similar position for ortho (Step 1 243, no ortho research) and would not be opposed to taking a year to increase my chances of matching into a good program, just don't know how best to go about it

Between 3 and 4. Applying to the match as a graduate is generally a red flag.
 
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Redpancreas

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I'm a 3rd-year med student at a low to mid-tier MD school in the USA. I'm in a tough position because I've wanted to do Ophthalmology for the past 3 years however I am currently not competitive enough. I have an average step 1 score and am merely in the top half of my graduating class.

In order to keep my ophtho dreams alive, I've been seeking out research opportunities and found a great one at a hospital with a top 10 ranked ophthalmology department in the nation. The physician I would be working with is very respected in the field and a recommendation letter from him would be pretty powerful. I'm wondering if taking a research year after my MS3 year to work in his lab and get a ton of publications would be enough for residency programs to overlook my low step score. I would also have extra time to study for step 2 and would try to get a 250 but I'm not the greatest test-taker so that's no guarantee.

The rest of my application is average but nothing special. I have 1 research paper in a high-impact journal but in like 5th author, I have some leadership roles and some volunteer work. My backup plan would be to go into internal medicine and subspecialize but I'm struggling to find the same passion I have for ophtho in that field.

Any advice/insight is appreciated. I know that pursuing ophthalmology would be an uphill climb for me but I just want to know if there's any hope or if I should just stick to IM.

23X Step 1, Upper Half of the Class, and Minimal Research. Your profile's not terrible, but you'd definitely be a fringe candidate if you applied this year even if your Step 2 CK bumped up. It also sounds like you just like Optho better and would lose a lot of interest if you just went for IM. I think you're better served taking the year to try to build a resume for Ophtho and if it doesn't succeed, you have IM and it's a year which in the grand scheme of things is not a big price to pay for giving it your best shot.

1.) You're wise to not assume a higher Step 2CK. If you end up doing the research year, I suppose you do have the luxury of having more time to have Step 1-esque dedicated period, but I wouldn't extend it past 2 months dedicated. Doing nothing but UWorld atrophies your brain and your scores will suffer if you just spend 3+ months sitting at a computer doing UWorld. I suggest supplementing with OnlineMedEd (free, more approach based) or MedQuest ($$$, but more detail). Also, Ophtho PDs would know you took longer partially mitigating any benefit of the period anyways.

2.) With the research year, immerse yourself in Ophtho. Obviously not all day will be dedicated to clinical research so try to find Opthalmologists to work with clininically who can also vouch for you. You also get that added experience when you come back for 4th year aways.

3.) I also agree with @frenchyn in this case. Going to the bigger place will give you options while pigeon-holing yourself to one place expecting something in return hardly works. It's how the world works.
 
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Redpancreas

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Between 3 and 4. Applying to the match as a graduate is generally a red flag.

I agree. I don't know if selection committees consider a graduate application as a "red flag" but you're definitely put in a separate pile which is strange given that in OPs case it's really a difference in the order you do things. Also, it sounds cynical but medical schools really DGAF once you're graduated and are less likely to even lift a finger for you. If you're an M4, your profs, administrators etc. will at least engage with you regularly whereas if you've already graduated you're not gonna get much interest and your new place (which isn't even a residency program) would be the ones to sing your praises.
 
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