Learn important lessons from those who applied to medical school!
What Advice do you have regarding the ERAS Application Cycle?
The ERAS application is daunting and can be overwhelming, here are some points as a non-traditional student coming from an international school:
Start early: get ahead by gathering all of your documents and paperwork ahead of time to mitigate unforeseen delays
Complete Step 1 and Step 2 prior to application: as someone who applied with Step 1 and failed Step 2 mid cycle, then passing prior to my interviews in January, it is imperative to have not be behind on your licensing exams.
Do your research: if you do not see residents from international schools or the demographics are heavily weighed to one side, try not to waste money applying to those residences. It’s not to discourage, but if you target residences that have cultural diversity and international students, you will set yourself up for success.
Interview practice and personal statement: this is where you tell the world who you are and it makes a difference. As a Naval Special Operations Veteran, I was able to show talk about different things that I bring to the table. Your past is important. Practice speaking proudly about yourself and experiences.
Start early! Start updating your CV early on and keep it updated as you progress through medical school.
Don't overthink your personal statement. It is a place to tell other parts of your story and highlight who you are and why that field, but it often is not the most important part of the application.
The process is very nerve wrecking with a lot of time where you are just waiting. Find people to talk to and spend time with to pass the time while you are waiting.
The ERAS application cycle can be daunting. My biggest advice is to find mentors who can guide you through it from the beginning. It is important for one of these mentors to have knowledge of the residency programs you will be applying into, my mentor was the program director of the general surgery program from my home institution. This mentor should be able to answer questions such as: What programs align with my residency program goals and I should be applying to? Could you get me connected with a residency program before applications are sent? Which programs are malignant?
My second advice would be to be proactive. For general surgery interviews are sent out during a two-week period. Prior to that, I recommend emailing the programs you are interested in about a week before this time frame and expressing your interest. Do this for programs that you know you would be upset if you weren't offered an interview especially if they are not in your geographic area. You can also ask your attendings to make calls for you.
Good luck on the application cycle :)
Filling out that ERAS application can be both physically and emotionally draining. It is OK and actually very important to take care of yourself during this time. Do not cram it all into one day, or even one week. Take whatever time you have to reflect on your accomplishments up to this point, and how you can best reflect those in the words that you choose for your personal statement and descriptions of activities. Just as you have sought out mentors for other parts of your medical education, this is an important time to have as many eyes as possible review your work. Use a grammar editing tool if you need. Overall, remember that you deserve to represent yourself as positively as possible.
One huge piece of advice: be aware of where you are applying/interviewing. I noticed during my interview cycle that programs generally fall into two categories: diversity loving and diversity neutral (no one is going to be blatantly against diversity because that's racist). Be aware of the program you are interviewing at. Try to talk to previous students who interviewed there or are currently at the program.
-Be very intentional with the signaling of programs if you have the option. Talk to mentors in the field you are applying to and career advisors to decide how many "reach" programs you should be signaling
-Use Residency explorer/Frieda/Texas STAR to guide you on which programs are "reach" but don't be discouraged, these are all patterns and averages. Reach for the stars!
-Attend as many open houses and events as you can for the programs that you are interested in
-Have many people review your ERAS and personal statement for errors
-Have a deadline for yourself to get everything completed/submitted that is before the day submission opens
-Don't apply to >70 programs, you won't need it even if you think you will!
-Recommend attending specialty specific conference prior to submitting app in Sept (ACOG in June)
-Recommend sending letters of interest to programs prior to interview release date (OBGYN has scheduled interview release date).
- Recommend using signals for highly competitive, mid tier and lower tier programs
- If you want to attend residency away from your medical school location (USE A SIGNAL), programs interview based on med school location not based on your hometown or where you went to undergrad
- Send letters of intent BEFORE programs meet to discuss the applicants they interviewed
- reach out to attendings/residents at the programs you are interested in BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER interview season to express interest
-Take your advisors advice with a grain of salt, they want you to MATCH SOMEWHERE, not necessarily in your specialty of choice, or in the region you want to match.
- Do away rotations! They are invaluable. UNLESS you aren't a people person, then they may hurt you.
-If there are lots of Kaiser residencies in your specialty, try to get a LOR from a kaiser physician on Kaiser letterhead.
- Apply to Away rotations early, start looking in January of year you are applying, the most competitive programs open in February and require background checks (sometimes) and also LOR. You can use a letter writer from a scholarship or from a doc not in your field, you just need to submit something.
- Don't be afraid to turn down aways for better opportunities, do it early and thank them for the opportunity.
I am a foreign grad and I applied with my (at the time boyfriend) in a couples match. I now regret doing that the but residency match knew our true fate. If you plan to be with this person, either get married or apply to same programs separately. Our chances were low at the time for matching and couples matching makes it even tougher. I applied to 93 programs with first time passing USMLEs with pretty good scores. I only got 7 interviews. Make your couples decisions very wisely!
Do you have any advice for balancing extracurriculars/ research with school/ clinical rotations?
Exercise, sleep, and eat well. Avoid excessive partying or late nights. Try not to overstudy and worry about what everyone else is doing. Take care of your mental health.
School and especially clinical rotations should come before extracurriculars/research, always remember that when you are considering taking on a project or a leadership role. You need to be honest with yourself regarding your limitations, strengths, and areas of growth. We are not all going to be the one in million student that does everything and we shouldn't strive to be that, be yourself and know your limits and thrive in that space.
Your school work/clinical rotations should be priority. There will be times when you are feeling unmotivated or too tired and it's important to have extracurriculars that brings you joy as well as reaffirms your passion for medicine. For research, try to get started on projects early and work on them slowly when you have down time on pre-clerkship or rotations. Often times I had multiple projects going on, but they were at different stages such as one being in IRB approving process, data collection phase and writing.
It wouldn't be fair to call this a balancing act. There will be time periods where you do not balance multiple activities, you simply prioritize the most important ones. For me, wellness was a very important part of my medical education. I picked extracurricular activities that both fulfilled me and also gave me leadership opportunities that I could include on my ERAS application.
During your path towards and during medical school, did you experience any failure or setback? How did you address it?
My daughter was born in my second year of medical school. I took a year off to be with her and came back to finish. A gap year may or may not be seen as a red flag depending on how you present it. I did not regret taking time to bond with my daughter knowing that once I start residency, I am on someone else’s time.
Step 2 attempt. I failed by 1 point in September right as applications were being submitted. I had 2 options, give up, or define my weak areas and take it again. I meandered for about a week and then assessed my weak areas, took better care of myself and passed it December. Do not lie about your failure. Everyone fails, it’s how you deal with it that defines you. I had 2 other colleagues from different schools, one Caribbean and the other Ivy League. They both went through the same thing and attained residency. Despite what anyone says, the impossible is possible.
One unexpected challenge going through medical school in an area without a large Latine population was feeling more different than I had before. In my large class, I am one of the few Latine students and one of the only LGBTQ+ Latine students. It was a challenge feeling so different from everyone else. What helped me was finding my people both locally and around the country. I met some great LGBTQ+ Latine students at LMSA conferences who brought me so much joy and comfort. Looking back, navigating identity was challenging but it also made me realize the importance of owning and celebrating the intersections of my identity.