The main reason I’ve been a bad blogger lately is because I’ve been spending a lot of time on The Interview Trail. In the last month I’ve gone to five interviews (you do the maths, I been busy), and per usual, I had pretty much no idea what I was walking into. Thus, I have learned some important (I think) lessons in the process. Occasionally The Hard Way, per usual. In the continued spirit of cooperation and good Karma, I’d like to share a few of my hind sights, and hopefully save some other poor, unsuspecting med fools a modicum of angst. Feel free to partake or leave them as you will. Per usual.
Lesson #1: Planning. It’s all about Planning.
Planning for your fourth year rotations, residency application, Steps, and interviews takes a lot of time, foresight, and organizational skillz in order to have maximal experiences with minimal stresses. Which I know now. Oops. Seriously though, if you’re at all like me, i.e. not much of a secretary, you need to get cracking on this stuff for realsies halfway through third year.
1. Scheduling, Schmeduling….
* Make sure you schedule your testing periods for the Steps so you can take the tests in time for scores to reach residency programs. I would advise scheduling them as soon as you feel reasonably prepared, and getting them over with. The good news is they are not nearly as difficult as Step 1, and you will not need (nearly) as much prep time. Bite the bullet and get them out of the way because you are going to have a lot of other stuff to do later in fourth year.
* I think it’s also a good idea to schedule a rotation with a lot of downtime, or a week off at the beginning of fourth year to get your residency app done. Completing the app, filling out your CV, writing your Personal Statement(s), and gathering Letters of Recommendation can be time consuming. You are going to need four or five LORs, at least two from attendings in your specialty of choice, and one from your school’s Chair of the Department of your specialty of choice, as many programs will require it. From the Duh Department, try to get letters from people you have actually worked with, who will write glowing reviews of your performance in medical school and as a human being in general, or just, you know, nice stuff. And give them plenty of lead time to get letters done. Some Docs are champion procrastinators, be prepared to bribe and/or (nicely) nag if necessary. I’m just saying. Point being, sit down and hammer it out ASAP so you can get on with the good(er) stuff.
* You also need to schedule enough time off or flexible rotations in November, December, and January of your fourth year so you have enough time to make it to all the interviews you want. You are going to need a lot of time to prep for interviews and travel, in addition to time for the actual interviews, which are usually two day affairs. These three months (especially November and December) are not the time to be stuck in rotations with strict attendance policies.
2. The Rest of Your Life. No pressure.
* Get busy figuring out what specialty you want to go into, how competitive you are, and what programs you like. Information about how competitive you are and the current residency programs in your specialty should be available online. Try Googling “How many programs should I rank in [enter specialty of choice here]” or “[Specialty of choice] residency programs.” Using this high-tech approach for OB/GYN, I found these very helpful sites:
* Depending on how competitive you are, in order to give yourself the best chance of matching, you need to apply to an appropriate number of programs, plan on scheduling an adequate number of interviews, and if necessary, start setting up away rotations for fourth year at programs you are interested in. For example, I am applying in OB/GYN and with my board scores I needed to apply to about 20 programs, plan on about 8 interviews, and rank 7-8 programs. (Note: On the away rotations, I say if necessary, because they give you an edge if you are less competitive, you want a really competitive program, or you are set on a certain program.)
* After you start receiving interview offers you have to act quickly. Spots fill up fast (I’m talking 24 hours) and in my experience many programs offer interviews on the same five or so days, so be prepared to prioritize and take interviews at the programs where you are most likely to actually want to do your residency.
3. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.
* Lastly, the Step 2 tests, and interviews are freaking expensive. I am currently spending about $300 – 500 per interview. Your loans are probably (most likely) not going to cover all these expenses. Especially if you plan to continue eating, having a roof over your head, gas in your car and, you know, other piddly stuff like that. So plan accordingly. Start sucking up to the parents, taking out a(nother) credit card or a personal loan, donating plasma, getting a job (ha ha), etc. Do what you gotta do. Preferably, before the middle of interview season when you are faced with the prospect of living in your car and eating ramen noodles prepared ala radiator.
4. Last, and most important, Don’t Freak Out.
Take time to process peeps. More Lessons from The Interview Trail coming soon!