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- Don’t eliminate a program because you think or assume that you are not a strong enough candidate. You really don’t know that until you’ve gotten through the first stages of the applications process, so don’t let anyone discourage you.
- Keep an open mind about the quality of each program. Even though you may have never heard of St. Someone’s Hospital, it might have an excellent program. There are too many residency programs in each specialty for anyone to keep a running tab on which is the best program.
A few specialty societies (American Academy of Family Physicians and American Psychiatry Association, for example) have developed their own residency directories, which frequently are accessible on the Web. These directories include information on frequency of call, number of graduates from the program, number of residents in each training year, number of faculty, salary and benefits, etc. If you are interested in these specialties, look for these directories in your medical library or contact the respective specialty societies.
Your medical library or the department chair in your medical school may keep files on residency program information. The chair and other faculty members in the department may have firsthand information about some programs and can give you guidance about the amount of variance among different programs in their specialty. You may want to ask them which programs they consider to be the “best” and why. Ask them why they chose their own training programs.
Finally, many medical schools are willing to provide the names and residency locations of previous graduates. Consider contacting those physicians who are doing their residencies in your chosen field and ask them why they chose their programs and what other programs they considered.
If you are satisfied with the amount of information you have, you are ready to return to a period of self-analysis to determine which programs are most likely to meet your needs and are therefore worth applying to. Again, there is no penalty for making an initial application to as many programs as you want, but consider whether it is worth the cost for both you and the programs if you already know you’re not interested.
Based on what you know about yourself, your career goals, and about each program, what factors are important or even crucial to your choice of a residency program? Could you definitely include or exclude a program on the basis of a single criterion? What is the relative importance of the following factors?
- Geographic location
- Type of institution
- Age and stability of program
- Academic reputation
- Frequency of call
- Faculty to resident ratio
- Number and type of conferences
- Structure and flexibility of curriculum
- Provisions for maternity/paternity leave
- Availability of shared or part-time residency positions
- Physical characteristics of the hospital — age, atmosphere, etc.
- Presence of other training programs in hospital
- Patient population racial, gender-based and socioeconomic mix
- Community —housing, employment opportunities for spouse/significant other, recreational activities, etc.
- Opportunities for further postgraduate training in same hospital.
You may have as few as three or as many as two dozen or more programs where you plan to interview. You may have doubts about your list and at the last minute reinsert a few programs. In any case, accept the margin of doubt and have confidence in your ability to think rationally. After all, you’ve pared down an endless variety of options into a manageable group of choices.