Wednesday Oct 08, 2014
Asking Right Questions Critical to Making Right Match
It may seem like the academic year just started, but for fourth-year medical students, the decision about where to spend the next three or more years is just around the corner. And the fall and winter, also known as "interview season," is when it gets really interesting.
Fall is the time for fourth-years to prepare for the National Resident Matching Program -- better known as the Match -- by visiting and interviewing with potential residency programs. The AAFP offers a tremendous free resource -- Strolling Through the Match -- that can be helpful to students regardless of year or specialty interest. The 80-page PDF covers a wide range of topics:
- residency application timeline and checklist;
- introduction to the Electronic Residency Application Service and the specialties that participate;
- a residency program evaluation guide;
- residency selection steps and interviewing tips;
- examples of how the Match works for applicants;
- new tips on post-interview etiquette; and
- tips on writing a curriculum vitae and a personal statement.
We used Strolling Through the Match widely at the University of Alabama when I was a student, and the information is practical and thorough. Still, some of the most valuable advice I received when preparing for interview season came from those who had been through the process and got their desired Match results, So, I thought it might be helpful to share the tips and takeaways from my experience just last year.
The most important thing to evaluate at each interview is how well you fit in with the faculty and, most importantly, the residents, because you will be working closely with them for the next three years (or more). If you can't get along with them, your life will be miserable.
After that, you have to prioritize the features you desire in a program, such as teaching exposure and the amount and extent of care you will provide to pediatric, obstetric and adult patients, as well as the amount of time you will spend working in inpatient versus outpatient settings. Your residency experiences form the bulk of your medical training, and if you aren't trained on something during residency, it's far more arduous to make that happen after residency.
If you have a spouse or significant other, involve that person in the decision-making process, especially if you are moving somewhere new. You will be extremely busy during residency, and he or she will have to spend a lot of time without you. Your loved one needs to be happy where you are going.
Realize that you aren't likely to find a perfect program, but you will have a gut feeling about where you belong, and that is more important than anything else.
You may already have interviews scheduled, but do you know what questions to ask? Here are some things to consider asking at each of your visits:
- What are the program's board passage rates? This will give you an idea of how good the clinical experience is.
- Where do the program's graduates get jobs? This will tell you whether the graduates are respected and perceived to be well-trained by the local community.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program?
- What kind of interaction do residents and faculty have outside of work?
While you are evaluating the programs you visit, keep in mind that you also are being evaluated at every moment, not just during the formal interviews. Residents will scrutinize you for your "fit" at any moment they interact with you, including meals and tours, so treat every moment seriously and always be on your toes.
Residency representatives will want to know why you are interested in their program and what specific aspects drew you there, so show you have done your research and be prepared to name something about that program other than just its name or reputation.
While fourth-year medical students are planning for the long term, it's not too early for first- through third-year students to start building CVs, learning as much as they can about each specialty, and seeking experiences that can help prepare them to choose their future. Here are some possible scenarios to consider:
- First-year students, you can use your only summer off during medical school to experience family medicine. Find international service opportunities for students, or find a family physician to shadow. Your faculty or state chapter can help you with this.
- Second-year students, build your CV by pursuing leadership opportunities on your campus -- for example, with your school's family medicine interest group.
- Third-year students, get out of the academic health center during your elective rotations and experience primary care where it occurs most often -- in the community. Use the AAFP's clerkship directory to find an elective rotation.
Tate Hinkle, M.D., is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.
Posted at 09:42PM Oct 08, 2014 by Tate Hinkle, M.D.