Medical residency programs become more competitive each year, with medical school enrollment rising while residency openings remain static. To give yourself the best chance at matching to your desired residency, avoid these 5 common pitfalls:
1) Choosing the wrong specialty. Medical students may choose the wrong specialty for all sorts of reasons, be it money, status, or misperceptions of what a specialty truly entails. With student loans weighing on your conscience, it’s easy to gravitate toward more lucrative careers that you may or may not enjoy. Money, hours, and other lifestyle factors should certainly be taken into account when making your decision, but they should not be sole deciding factors. Remember, the specialty you choose will determine how you spend the majority of your days.
It’s also easy to judge a specialty based off of one really fantastic or horrible experience. Step back and ask yourself why you did or did not like each particular rotation. Did you enjoy the types of patients you worked with? Did you happen to not get along with residents and interns on that rotation? And keep in mind that medical practice in an academic setting, where the majority of your rotations will likely take place, is different from medical practice in a community setting. Any specialty can offer a broad range of experiences and sub-specialties, so be sure to explore these different options.
Students must also realistically gauge their own competitiveness for a particular specialty; for example, scoring at the low end on your USMLE may well take you out of the running for a dermatology program. Check out StudentDoc’s USMLE Scores Tool to see how your score stacks up by specialty.
2) Being negative. About yourself, your medical school, or other residency programs. Applicants who readily criticize their school or other programs give off a generally negative impression. And while it isn’t a bad idea to address red flags in your application (i.e. gaps in time), try to stay focused on projecting your most positive self. Remember to play nice, and not just when applying to medical training programs.
3) A sloppy personal statement. Spelling and grammar errors are an immediate turn-off, and give review committees sufficient reason to gloss over your application. Attention to detail is crucial for any future physician, so don’t let these minor mistakes slip through the cracks. Review your own statement several times with fresh eyes, and have other people take a look at it before sending it off. Or try a professional essay editing service.
4) Submitting applications late in the game. The early bird truly gets the worm – many residency programs review applicants immediately and fill their interview slots quickly. This is especially true for more competitive programs and specialties. Even a week’s delay can determine whether or not you get that interview invitation.
5) Being too generic. Remember: specifics sell. By the time you are applying to residency programs, you should have a good handle on your reasons for wanting to pursue a particular specialty. Your personal statement should highlight these very reasons, complementing (rather than replicating) the rest of your application. A vague interest in emergency medicine won’t mean as much as the paths you have taken to pursue that interest and the experiences you’ve had in emergency medicine that led to this decision.
More on medical residency applications
Residency interview advice: Find out the dos and don’ts of interviewing for medical training programs
It’s important that your personal statement sounds professional
The most important factor in the NRMP Match process is timing and preparation
How competitive your USMLE scores make your residency application