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Tuesday Nov 28, 2017

Know Yourself, Do Your Homework to Make Perfect Match

In medical school, there's a right or wrong answer to everything -- until you're faced with the Match. The process of interviewing at residency programs and ranking your options can be intimidating even for those with the most detailed plans. There is simply no single correct way to prepare for life as a family physician. You have to throw away the flash cards, seek advice from those who have been through it, and then trust that the rest is magic.

[person knocking on opportunity door]

This is especially true of the interview process. Although every fourth-year student's experience is different, I've learned there are a few things that will set you up to be successful each step of the way.

Preparation

Most of the work required to succeed in an interview takes place long before the actual interview date. Start researching the residency programs you are interested in as soon as you can. The AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, which offers the largest family medicine residency program expo in the country, is a great place to gather information. If you're a first-year student, the expo hall can be the perfect place to build networking skills and meet people you want to work with down the road.

The other way to prepare is to review program websites and speak with mentors and others who have matched in family medicine.

Family medicine is so diverse that making a list of programs to which you will apply can be overwhelming. Consider narrowing your search by geography first, and rule out places in which you would not want to live. Consider whether you want to be in a rural, suburban or urban practice; an academic center, health maintenance organization or community health center; a solo program or one in a setting with multiple residencies. Think about fellowship opportunities and the cost of living in different areas.

The AAFP's residency program search tool can help you build -- and narrow -- your list. Although it is important to have your preferences in mind to keep yourself focused, it also is important to keep an open mind about factors you may not have considered. As you go through the interview process, you may discover that something that once seemed important is less so, and vice-versa.

In family medicine, the interview and personal statement are important components of the interview process. Excelling academically is a given -- it's expected. Therefore, what distinguishes one applicant from another is his or her vision, motivation for choosing family medicine and interpersonal skills.

Invest a lot of time in creating your personal statement. Start working on a draft as soon as you commit to family medicine -- even if you are a first-year medical student. Over time, your reasons for choosing family medicine may change, and you may want to highlight various experiences in your personal statement. When the time gets closer to your actual application cycle, have at least one family medicine mentor and one other mentor (not necessarily in the same field) review your personal statement. You want to make sure it is honest and showcases who you are and why you love family medicine.

Professionalism

Overall, the way to give yourself the greatest advantage in the interview process is to maintain your professionalism at all times. Be yourself, but also remember that the interview process is a marathon -- not a sprint -- and you have to put your best foot forward throughout.

Network at National Conference, and stay in touch with the contacts you make. Whenever you send correspondence to a program or program director, use a formal approach, with a proper salutation, punctuation, professional signature and no emojis. On interview day, dress appropriately. Don't get intoxicated at the interview dinner. Send thank you notes (electronic or hand-written) after each interview day, unless the residency program requests otherwise.

Although some of this may seem obvious, applicants make mistakes. We're all human.

People

Interviewing is all about the people. Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the residents outside of a formal setting and attend the interview dinners. Some dinners take place at restaurants, others are at residents' homes. The dinner often gives you the flavor of a residency program. It provides an opportunity to see whether you would fit in with the group should you match there.

Even on the actual interview day, pay close attention to how the residents interact with one another, with the faculty and staff members, and with patients (if possible). It seems obvious that being in a comfortable, supportive environment will enhance your success in residency. However, until you begin residency, it is hard to imagine just how important your co-residents may be.

Residency is a time in which you will learn an immense amount of clinical information, be drained physically and emotionally, and feel the pressure of caring for others' lives. But it will also be an exciting time in which you have a clear and distinct role in helping others care for themselves, and you will grow close with those learning alongside you. Therefore, it is important that your colleagues be like-minded and supportive, there to share with you both the good times and the bad. Pay close attention to the people you meet throughout the process, and have fun.

Alexa Mieses, M.D., M.P.H., is the resident member of the AAFP Board of Directors.
 

Posted at 09:54AM Nov 28, 2017 by Alexa Mieses, M.D., M.P.H.

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