Applying to Residency Programs? Reflections on the Match Process

Applying to residency program

The upcoming Match cycle for residency programs is in full swing. Thousands of fourth-year medical students are diligently putting together their personal statements and letters of recommendation in preparation for submission through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS).

Having applied and gone through the application process for residency programs myself, I wanted to share some words of wisdom. Residency applications come at a time of change in one’s life. The Match process will dictate – in significant ways – where and how you practice medicine in the future. 

1. First, Congratulations on Your Achievement 

Getting here is not an easy road. The countless nights studying, and the bedside patient care experience during the clinical rotations have all given you the experience and knowledge necessary to become a practicing physician. I hope that you will take the time to rest and reflect on the journey that you’ve made to this point. No one achieves these goals in a vacuum. Family, friends and mentors have all spent time, energy, and effort to help you get here. I hope that you will take the time to thank those close to you and acknowledge their sacrifices, in additional to your own. 

More importantly, this is also perhaps one of the best times in your career to take some time for your own enjoyment. As a fourth-year medical student, you have the stature of being the senior student on campus and yet there are few time-consuming responsibilities to be demanded of you. When you move into residency training and beyond, you may find that time commitments will be an ever-increasing presence in your life. Patients will ask for your time, research (if you so choose to participate) will ask for your time, and certainly your family and future relationships will ask for more of your time. 

2. Choose your Residency Program Match Decisions Carefully

The specialty and application choices you make now will have significant impacts on your physician career. 

Clinical rotations are helpful to sample the wide variety of practice settings that you can choose to enter. By now, some students will have made a clear decision as to which specialty to pursue. 

However, I want to speak to those who have yet to make up their mind.I want to acknowledge that this is not an easy decision to make. I can see the fear and trepidation that many feel during this process. Racing through one’s mind may be questions such as: Will I be happy with my choice? Will I live and work in my desired part of the country? Will this specialty let me achieve the right career/family balance? Will my financial aspirations be achievable? I have no doubt that you will take the time to exam the facts and weigh the pros and cons on a spreadsheet, just like any dutiful medical student would dictate. 

I would caution though, that not all decisions are made on a purely “rational” basis. Take the time to reflect on what really motivates you about your specialty choice. If need be, go back and sit down with some of the mentors you met along the way and really pick their brains about their specialty. Enlist the help of your family and friends who know you and know what you want, to give you more feedback. Avoid the temptation to pick just an “adequate” or “good enough” choice. Remember, you may never have this chance again in the future to determine your scope of practice and practice setting.   

3. You’re Interviewing Them As Much As They’re Interviewing You 

When you submit your application, you are voluntarily turning over a treasure trove of personal data for your residency program. Through the ERAS application, the residency program director will see objective measures such as standardized test scores, in addition to subjective evaluations from your clinical clerkships as well as the letters of recommendation submitted by faculty mentors who have observed and worked with you. On your personal statement, you may reveal very personal motivations for what drives you as an individual. A residency program armed with so many data points can systematically evaluate each candidate, picking and choosing the best candidates suited to join their program. 

I encourage you to consider a similar systematic approach in considering your choice of residency program. The burden falls upon you to do your due diligence to understand the ins and outs of each program. Just like each individual applicant is unique, all residency programs are unique. Careful consideration and attention is needed to find the best fit possible when putting together your final rank list.

By Frank Xing, MD
Private Practice Neurologist, Truong Neuroscience Institute

Published November 1, 2021

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