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What can I do to be more competitive?

Discussion in 'Radiation Oncology' started by drwasabi, Dec 14, 2005.

  1. drwasabi

    drwasabi New Member
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    Hello, I am interested in Radiation Oncology, but I am not the most competitive student. My grades are average, however my Step 1 was decent (99). I was wondering if my grades make me a very long shot to get into a rad onc residency, or if my board score might buffer them a little and there are other things I can do to make me more competitive. I am currently a third year student. Thank you very much for any advice.
     
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  3. stephew

    stephew SDN Super Moderator
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    it depends. basic sci grades? No biggie really. Clinical grades? that's a bigger deal. check out the faq.
     
  4. radonc

    radonc Senior Member
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    if you call a 99 step 1 score decent, i would like to know what average is...an A minus?
     
  5. drwasabi

    drwasabi New Member
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    sorry didn't mean to sound like that, it just seems like that score IS average on this board.
    i am currently in my 3rd year, working hard to do well. trying to get a publication in by next month (not in rad onc though). i really do like this field a lot; if i wasn't in medicine i think i would have pursued physics. thank you for your advice, i appreciate it.
     
  6. radonc

    radonc Senior Member
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    dont worry about your grades, they are in the past.

    do away clinical rotations, work hard, pump out some research, and impress the folks at your home institution. just keep going full speed ahead. dont let things keep you down...and stay focused. oh, and do forget to keep your fingers crossed.
     
  7. SimulD

    SimulD Senior Member
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    Research will take you the next level. One publication brought me from 7 to 17 interviews (with a 30% reduction in the number of applications sent). Don't let anyone fool you - that's what's separates candidates. Almost everyone has 95+ on Step 1, maybe half are AOA, maybe 1/4 are PhD. If you want to get interviews, you'll need a pub or two. Good away rotations may help, but they don't guarantee anything. Good letters will help, too. But, applying without research is like trying to go bowling in street shoes. They're just going to send you home, man.

    -S
     
  8. RLMD

    RLMD blah
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    were these publications in rad onc related research? what if youre published in an area completely unrelated to oncology?
     
  9. SimulD

    SimulD Senior Member
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    I did a clinical rad-onc project, basically a chart review. I don't think it matters so much what field it is in, as long as you seem genuine interested in it. Any research shows initiative and interest in the advancement of knowledge. My best guess is that programs want to train academic radiation oncologists (save for a few that will admit to wanting to produce clinicians), and that research is a proxy for an interest in an academic career. I may be wrong - it just might be a way for programs to come up with some defensible reason to pick one person over another for an interview.

    Interestingly, a program director made it clear to me that there was a fair amount of randomness in selecting whom to interview, and that just because I had made the cut didn't mean there wasn't 10 more equally strong applicants. The applicants are far and away the best medical students in the country (by numbers, at least), save for dermatology.

    -S
     
  10. Zap

    Zap Junior Member
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    I hate to nitpick, but most of the academic radiation oncologist I know are world-class clinicians. Patient care comes first for them, and research is a distant second. That said, I agree that at least the top programs are very interested in training the next generation of academic clinicians. Radiation-specific research questions are generally only asked by Radiation Oncologists, and our field needs as much research as possible if we don't want to be left behind by our medical and surgical colleagues.

    I'm not sure that the Derm applicants are any stronger than the Rad Onc applicants. The fields attract different kinds of medical students (with some overlap), but many applicants to both are the cream of the crop. Both attract their share of duds as well, but in the current climate these often don't match.
     
  11. stephew

    stephew SDN Super Moderator
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    never mind.
     
  12. SimulD

    SimulD Senior Member
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    I didn't say the current faculty weren't great clinicians. I have no idea about that - usually at interview day, they just ask about your reasons for choosing this field, about what kind of career I envision, and maybe about research. I never see them in clinical action with a patient. What I'm saying is that has got to be one of the major reasons I have had an increase in my interviews. Why else would that matter so much? Enough faculty have told me that they are interested in training academic physicians, and I believe them.

    As far as the derm applicants, I'm going by the data set provided by our med school dean. He sorts the applicants in all the fields by grades and test scores, and over the last 3-4 years, the derm/rads/rad-onc applicants are always highest numerically. What are you using?

    You can't change your grades, your scores, your letters ... but you can change your research. And it will help you. I'm proof.

    -S
     
  13. Pewl

    Pewl The Dude Abides
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    Is publication really necessary? I did some research in radiation oncology (stereotactic radiosurgery stuff) as a grad student in medical physics and I graduated with a master's in it. I really like rad onc but do I really need a publication?? It's really not easy to get your name on a publication.
     
  14. Thaiger75

    Thaiger75 Senior Member
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    Simul, what kind of research did you do again?
     
  15. Thaiger75

    Thaiger75 Senior Member
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    I don't know about essential, but it definitely ups your competitiveness by alot. There are plenty of applicants who match who don't have a name on a publication, but I would say that a majority of them have an abstract either accepted, being in the process of submitted, being written, or involved somehow...which all it says is that you are expressing your sincere interest in the field and that you show potential for academics.
     
  16. cdql

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    Is that 99th percentile? Or a 99 score overall? I'm guessing it's the former?
     
  17. Pewl

    Pewl The Dude Abides
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    Wouldn't going to grad school and getting a degree in biomedical physics/rad onc be considered "showing potential for academics?" I don't understand why it has to be an abstract or something publication related. Doing some research and having a couple years of clinical experience doing actual teletherapy and brachytherapy treatment planning in a real radiation oncology clinic has gotta count for something! It isn't easy to pick up physics on a graduate level and finish a master's coming from a bio background, and I hope it means something to program directors!
     
  18. CNphair

    CNphair Senior Member
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    It certainly does count for something. But unfortunately, the application process right now is one based on screening systems. You get listed in the "No research" category if you don't have your name on something. Its not fair...I did an entire year in a lab, my project director got indicted, and the post-doc took off with the research. No publications for me. And no one wanted to talk about the project at interviews.
     
  19. TheMightyAngus

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    Be it self-selection or the perceived need of the field, my impression from readings these threads is that applicants with substantial bench research (MD/PhD, research year, HHMI, etc) are more competitive than those with clinical research. Yet, very few radiation oncologists actually run labs or have enough protected time to be productive in basic science. Most seem to divide their time into a 80/20 split. Therefore, wouldn't clinical researchers be more productive researchwise and, consequently, be highly valued in the field? Isn't clinical research more logistically feasible if these docs are spending 80% of their time in the clinic? If so, then why the inglut of basic science MD/PhD's and physician scientists? Why are they preferred over clinical researchers?

    Instead of doing relevant chart review studies am I better off grinding away in the lab and publishing in the field so that I can be competitive, even though I probably won't have enough time to conduct funded basic science research as a radiation oncologist?
     
  20. Gfunk6

    Gfunk6 And to think . . . I hesitated
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    There is definitely a certain level of hypocrisy in the field re: basic research (check out the "research in radonc" thread). Many programs prefer basic research but fail to give their residents adequate opportunities to conduct it. Also, it is tough to swing a 80/20 research job in a radonc department unless you come with grants. Particularly tough if you demand a clinical salary . . .

    Research w/o publications is not useful in the radonc application process. I've had one PD tell me, "You have a lot of publications, that's good. I've met some PhD candidates with only one or two pubs, hardly seems like anything for four or more years of work." An MD-only with a significant pub is big advantage. Basic research > clinical research > physics, IMO. Of course, if you have all three . . . :)

    Yes, you are better off. But only if you have a publication -- otherwise go for the chart review which should have a much higher success rate.
     
  21. Pewl

    Pewl The Dude Abides
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    Heh, I'm sorry but that just sound absolutely ridiculous.In fact, it's the exact opposite of what the PD at ucla told me. He told me flat out that having a graduate degree in medical physics is one of the best things that one can add to the application when it comes to radiation oncology. He explained that this is simply because radiation oncology is such an interdisciplinary field and showing that you can handle both the medical and technological aspect of the field is a great asset.
     
  22. stephew

    stephew SDN Super Moderator
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    well i wouldnt put so firm a formula on things however pewl, i would agree that medical physics is not goign to rank the highest if you must. In theory it sounds like it should be a hot thing, but i believe the mind set is that docs are more appealing if looking to advance the medical/biological side of things. We can all partake in the developm,ent of technology and what we'd like to see done. And the physicists take care of the technological end of things. you wont be doing anything with the physics on a day to day basis. its hard to explain but when youre in the field you'll see waht i mean. dont get me wrong, its a great thing to have, but perhaps not as appealing as you might think to begin with.
     
  23. JTradonc

    JTradonc Member
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    A brief comment...

    I don't think it is helpful (in terms of getting into the field) to have "done research" if no publication resulted. Why?

    Publishing shows that something can be started and finished.

    In addition, the philosophic ideal of research is to share the findings so that the rest of the world can benefit, and so that others don't repeat the work.

    Sadly, a lot of young researchers are victims of circumstance, such as the person whose PI was indicted (ouch). In addition, a lot of Junior faculty may steal rightful authorships from young researchers, a painful lesson most of us involved in research learn early on. Unfortunately, this falls into the "life isn't fair" category and nobody wants to hear reasons or excuses on the interview trail why something didn't get published, even though those reasons may be very valid.

    The truth is, the majority of people getting interviewed these days have at least 1 published paper, or a few published abstracts. I think that medical students who want to get into radiation oncology should have a very frank discussion with their research mentors early-on. They should state that they are seeking "doable" projects that can result in published work in a time frame compatible with the application process (this usually means making connections early in the 2nd year of medical school). Potential authorship has to be hammered out at the initiation of the project. Discussing potential authorship may feel awkward and disingenuous (to the newbie) before any work has been done, but after having and observing these conversations multiple times, I can tell you that they are really no big deal and greatly clarify things.

    If you have the luxury and time to do radiation oncology research, the more senior residents are very good at counselling med students which faculty members can give students "doable" projects, and who is generally supportive. They are an excellent information resource that should be tapped by students who find themselves saying "Crap, here I am a second [or third] year medical student, and I just realized I want to be a radiation oncologist I know I need some research, where do I start?"

    But make no mistake about it, the publication matters.
     
  24. Pewl

    Pewl The Dude Abides
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    JTRadonc

    Since publication is so important, when do you recommend trying to get the reserach done during med school? i understand that it's incredibly busy during med school. When do most students get it done and for how long of a commitment do they typically do it for? Also, I will likely be attending SLU which doesn't have a radiation oncology residency program. What would you recommend as the best route to go?

    Thanks
     
  25. Thaiger75

    Thaiger75 Senior Member
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    The ideal times to do it are obviously when you have time...which would be the summers after your 1st and 2nd years. If those times have already passed, then I would set up a rad onc rotation ASAP at the end of your 3rd year or beginning of your 4th and get things going.

    If that's not possible for whatever reason, then at least meet with one of the rad onc faculty and see if you can get started on some project, telling them you're very interested in rad onc and in a research project. This would of course mean doing research doing your 3rd and/or 4th year electives. If that's the case, I suggest scheduling something light during this period so you can be productive as possible....unless you're a machine and can juggle multiple things at once.
     
  26. clintpark

    clintpark Member
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    At my medical school, many (approximately half, in all specialties) would take a year off to do research between 3rd and 4th year. You can start setting up a project earlier (mid to late 3rd year) so your research year will be spent more efficiently. If you have no clue what to do at the beginning of research year, you may not have time to finish your project, submit your manuscript, get it reviewed (this takes inexplicably long from my experience) and accepted in time for the interview season the following year. Getting accepted for publication is as good as having it published in flesh and blood.

    Since you will be in St Louis (that's what SLU stands for, right?) the obvious choice to do research at would be Wash U (aka Mallinckrodt) They have one of the most prestigious rad onc departments in the country with really well known attendings.

    You are correct that it's hard to publish something during medical school. It is even harder to do something that'll make a difference (and frankly, you are not expected to). In my opinion, it takes a lot of drive (and admittedly some luck) to publish something at a reputable journal, especially as a first author. In fact, I think this fact alone justifies why many PDs use research publication as one of their "screening" criteria. Obviously, it's not impossible as you see many non-PhDs on this board who have published. Also, as many talked about in a separate thread, be very selective who you do your research with; it really makes a difference. (e.g. Would your PI let you be the first author if you do the majority of the work? Would your PI give you a project that can be accomplished in time?)
     
  27. TheMightyAngus

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    Will a soft Master's degree (MPH, Master's of Clinical Epidemiology, MS in a Biological Science) help bolster an application? Or is time better spent devoted to rad onc-related research specifically?
     
  28. Gfunk6

    Gfunk6 And to think . . . I hesitated
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    It will be an advantage to be sure. However publications w/o an MS/MPH are probably worth more than an MS/MPH w/o publications. So if your choice is to (a) go for a Master's or (b) do specific rad onc research, I would go with (b) if indeed you are sure you want to try for RadOnc.
     

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