On networking, research and improvement [preparing for MS4]

Today’s inane images of the day:

BBQ Chicken pizza is a personal comfort food favorite. I had this one while exploring a new city while on the interview trail.
BBQ Chicken pizza is a personal comfort food favorite. I had this one while exploring a new city while on the interview trail.


The perks of being a Delta Medallion member! [It was a short flight... but I'll take it!]
The perks of being a Delta Medallion member! [It was a short flight… but I’ll take it!]
The view from one of my hotel rooms. Heh.
The view from one of my hotel rooms. Heh.

There are a number of current 3rd year medical students whom I’ve counseled in the last couple months about planning for 4th year – to all of you, this will probably be redundant information. But for those of you who are interested in how I prepared for my 4th year, this entry may contain a couple pearls to consider.

My number 1 piece of advice: plan, plan, plan but be flexible. One of the most frustrating things about the last year of medical school is that you might have every single thing laid out and ready, but you never know what else might pop up. Last minute interview at a top-choice program? Opportunity to do a cool away rotation? This is the reality of the last – albeit, best – year of medical school.

In the winter of my MS3 year, I had a pretty good feeling about which speciality I wanted to pursue. I knew that I was a pretty average applicant, so I wanted to give myself the best possible chance at securing interviews. There were a couple of ways to achieve this: networking, research and improvement.

On networking

Beaumont Hospital is a well-known institution across the country. I knew that when I picked OUWB and knew that the name would help me as I embarked on my residency application journey. It definitely helps that the program director of the specialty I applied in is well-connected. However, this being said, I’m a part of the inaugural class, so there were no alumni networks to use [lucky for all of you in the following classes that we’re here to help you navigate the maze that is residency applications/interviews and rank order lists!]. This meant that I had to go out there and expand my network through conferences and away rotations.

I ended up having the opportunity to attend my speciality’s major conference last October, where there was a residency program mixer. This allowed MS4s to meet program directors and residents from just about every residency program in the specialty. I definitely used the event as a chance to express interest in certain programs that I hadn’t received an interview invitation from. I also dropped by a couple programs I was very interested in [and already had an invite at] for a courtesy “hello.” I don’t think this particular event helped me much in securing additional interviews, but it was still a great experience that expanded my network.

Since OUWB only allows up to 2 rotations [for credit] in the same specialty area [except internal medicine subspecialties] and I had done a rotation in my speciality already, I only did one away rotation that was actually in my desired specialty at a program I was interested in. It was a phenomenal experience, but definitely hard on the bank account. My total cost for the month including application fees, housing and travel was probably ~$3,000. I saw the cost as an investment in my future and I do not regret it one bit. While I did not end up getting an interview at that particular institution, I did expand my network and ended up securing an interview at another phenomenal program. Would I have gotten that interview had I not done the away? Hard to say. But I do know that when an alumnus of a program makes a phone call on your behalf, it speaks volumes. I have a feeling that this personalized recommendation helped my application substantially.

One of my other two away rotations was at another program I was very interested in, but since I did not do a rotation in my specialty, I had to “cold call” the program director and chair to setup a meeting. I thought the meeting was helpful for both parties – I had a chance to ask questions about the program and the program had a chance to meet an applicant that is clearly interested in training there. Either way, I received an interview there.

On research

It’s never too late to pick up research in the area you are planning on applying to. Whether it’s a case report or a full-fledged research project, something is better than nothing. My Capstone project was on a broad topic because I wasn’t sure which specialty I wanted to pursue. Once I decided, I actively searched for specialty-specific projects. I ended up doing an oral presentation at a local meeting, assisting with a resident’s retrospective chart review and starting my own project after receiving funding.

On improvement

My USMLE Step 1 score was average, so I knew that I needed to score above average on Step 2 CK to get the attention of selection committees. I had the luxury of completing my Internal Medicine rotation toward the end of the year, so a good 80% of Step 2 material was still fresh in my mind. Because I did well on shelf exams, I knew I didn’t need as much time to study. I ended up taking ~10 days total and saw a substantial improvement in my score. I also found that a lot of institutions actually wait to see Step 2 scores before extending interviews – however, this is specialty-specific, so make sure to ask around in the field you’re interested in.

Also – take Step 2 CS early. The longer you wait, the more painful it becomes.

To all of you MS3s – I hope you have an idea of how you want your schedule to look next year and what areas you need to may need to work on to make yourself the best possible applicant come September 2016 when ERAS submission begins. Time flies even faster from here on out – make sure you’re ready for it.

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