Barbara Burton, Class of 2017
Letters of Recommendation:
I think it’s important to talk about this first because it’s the first thing you need to start thinking about before you even start writing your CV. So, ERAS gets submitted in September of each cycle. I started asking for letters of recommendation in May, and had them uploaded JUST in time (one of them the day after I submitted!). So you really need to give yourself a lot of extra time for faculty to come through, because some of them will take forever to write your letter, and they are the ones who have to upload it to your ERAS account.
Make sure you check with your specialty advisor about what kinds of letters your specialty of interest is expecting. Most programs require that one or all of your letters be from faculty in a specific department. You can also get an idea of this by perusing some residency program websites, where they always have their application requirements listed.
In terms of how to ask for letters, you can do it in person or you can send a formal email. It is good to assume that an attending will want to meet with you to discuss your application before they agree to write you a letter. This isn’t always the case, but it’s good to phrase your request like:
“I’m beginning to put my application together to apply to X specialty this fall. I had a wonderful experience on X rotation working with you and the rest of the team, and felt I learned…(something idk). Would you feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation for X residency on my behalf? I would be happy to meet with you to discuss whenever you are available.”
When the time comes to meet with your letter writer, it is expected that you will have your CV and personal statement completed and printed out for them to review.
Start as early as humanly possible (I started the February before I applied) so that you will have enough time to write something genuine and deeply thoughtful. An excellent personal statement will make your application memorable and make you stand out amongst other applicants. They love it when you tell a story about a specific experience and then elaborate on why that reinforced your passion for their specialty. It doesn’t have to be a revelation “I’m meant to do X” moment. Simple things can have deep meanings, and it’s ok to use an experience as an example of something you love about the specialty (then launch into why that field is awesome). It doesn’t have to be an orchestra of sentiment.
#1: If your specialty advisor says it’s okay to cancel interviews, it is okay to cancel interviews. Pushing the button for the first time is hard, but once you do trust me it feels so, so good.
When it comes to scheduling, just do the best you can. Programs know the stupid number of places we have to apply and interview, and they will work with you if you need to reschedule. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes things happen that are out of anybody’s control. Try and go with the flow.
Traveling is neat at first, but then it’s exhausting. Do yourself a favor and splurge a little on an extra night in your hotel, or a flight that doesn’t leave at 6:00 am. You need sleep. On that same note, while clustering your interviews geographically is definitely a great idea to save time and money, I do not recommend doing all of them in one long trip. I left home on November 12th and did not return until December 15th, doing nine interviews in a row across the country and I hated myself. Do be frugal, but give yourself at least one break to go back home for a few days in the middle.
Residency interviews are totally different from medical school interviews, in a good way. To be honest, most of my medical school interviews were pretty antagonistic (except at UTSW). My residency interviews were much more business-like and cordial. The program would not have invited you if they didn’t already want you. Just be prepared to articulate your passions (easier said than done), and approach every program with an open mind and genuine interest.
If you’re interviewing for something competitive, don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t deserve what you’ve worked for. And when they ask you why they should rank you over other applicants, remember what you’ve sacrificed to get where you are and keep it in the back of your head while you’re selling yourself. It will make you totally fierce.
Ranking and Matching:
When the time comes to prioritize your programs and make your rank list, it’s going to feel like a lot of the programs are pretty equal, and that’s because they are. Rest assured, you will likely get solid training at any of them. At this point it really becomes less about the programs and more about you. I personally realized by the time I was ranking that it was very important to me to train in a place where I knew somebody, whether it was friends or family. This took precedence over some of the academic opportunities at a program in a couple of instances.
So fortunately or unfortunately, nobody can really give you advice about how to rank, because it’s literally all about how you feel. Just do what feels right. If your instinct is telling you something, listen.