• Students, You’re Better Prepared Than You Think

    How to Mentally Prepare to Create Your Rank List During a Pandemic

    February 2, 2021, 3:40 pm Roshni Kakaiya, D.O.; Juan Carlos Lozano, M.D.; Eden Perez, M.D.; Ana Ordaz, M.D.; Lesley Lara, M.D., M.P.H. — Let us tell you something: If applying to residency in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t dissuade you from becoming a doctor, then you’ve chosen the right profession. This is a tough field, global pandemic notwithstanding. We’re certainly not the first people to tell you this, but now more than ever, it’s important to establish healthy practices that will carry on during your residency. And you can start by making it through the biggest hurdle of your professional career so far — creating your rank list.


    We, as family medicine residents, understand that each of you has your own systematic way of ranking your residency program needs and what your dream programs need to have. What we also understand is that during this pandemic, that rulebook has changed. The program that was once at the perfect location or had the best fit of clinical exposure for you may no longer be the one. Maybe now you need to go somewhere near your family or friends, or a certain activity, and those considerations are valid.

    This is the time to evaluate what particular clinical experience, patient exposure or community outreach you need to get energized and stay sane. Your passion in medicine will still thrive and you will carve out your path, regardless of how you decide to rank your list. We would like to share some advice about three crucial practices that may help you feel confident as you navigate the murky waters of creating a residency rank list after a completely virtual interview experience.  

    Go ahead and cry. Emote. Rant. Scream. Jump up and down in excitement. Feel all the feelings, even if those feelings are overwhelming. This process is one of a kind, and you are making an incredibly difficult decision. Know that you are not alone, and many of your peers are feeling similarly. Your reaction is no better or no worse than those of others around you; it is simply yours. Take ownership and give your feelings the time and space you need to process this decision. Your body, mind and soul will thank you for it when you finally come to your decision and press submit.

    Find support. Identify all the facets of your support system, both interpersonal and tangible. Who are your people, and does it matter to you whether you can connect in person or virtually? What activities have you discovered or have always known to bring you joy, and in what capacity would you like to continue those in residency? As you are making your rank list, reach out to those people or research those places so you know what kind of mental health toolbox you will start with. This is the opportunity to take the information that you’ve learned about how you handle both personal and societal stress (AKA being a medical student in the middle of a pandemic) and apply it to your future workplace so you can set yourself up for success.

    Ask for help. Learn how to ask for help and practice doing it often. Reach out to residents, faculty or alumni from the programs that you still have questions or doubts about. Be direct in your questions because ultimately your rank list is your choice and you deserve to have all of the information. We know that asking for help in medical school can be perceived as a sign of weakness or lack of knowledge. During residency, asking for help is a skill we foster and identify as a strength. It could be as simple as asking how to place an admission order or as difficult as to how to communicate with the family of a patient who has an end-of-life condition. If you are able to advocate for your patients — and we know that’s why you are in this field — you should develop those skills to be able to advocate for yourself. That starts here.

    As we’re sure you’ve already figured out, these three key pieces of advice to confidently creating your rank list — feel the feelings, identify and reach out to your support system, and ask for help — are also key strategies to building resilience during residency. Surprise! As medical students, you may feel insecure because your rotations and medical school experience may have changed drastically due to COVID-19. It is true that the pandemic is forcing us to remodel how we teach, how we learn and as you know, how you rank your residency list.

    Regardless of where you match, you will still advance into residency, and this is where you will develop the clinical skills you have been yearning for. It may be hard not to wallow in the “Zoomification” of your clinical years, but we promise you that the gap of experience will be filled in residency. Residency programs are adapting their curriculum to ensure that you will graduate with a full range of clinical skills, no matter what your medical school experiences bring.

    You’ve spent many years and much energy — and endured sleepless nights — to get to where you are now. You’ve taken day-long board exams and many other tests, and you will overcome and thrive through these difficult times, which will make you a better and more rounded clinician. Trust yourself and your support system to help you make the right choice for you. Don’t be discouraged by what lies ahead. We’re all in this together.

    Roshni Kakaiya, D.O.; Juan Carlos Lozano, M.D.; Eden Perez, M.D.; Ana Ordaz, M.D.; and Lesley Lara, M.D., M.P.H., are family medicine residents at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, Calif.

    Stay on Track. Stay Well.

    Rank orders can be submitted until the verification deadline of 8 p.m. CT on March 3.

    For advice on how to rank programs and navigate Match Day and beyond, download the AAFP’s free, essential Match guidebook, Strolling Through the Match.

    In addition, join a discussion with experts on medical student wellness and well-being at 7 p.m. CT on Feb. 16. This free webinar will prepare you to overcome the hurdles you’ll face during your training and in practice, as well as offer strategies to help you prioritize your well-being and stay passionate about your purpose.