Dr. Amin Azzam shares four tips to help medical students find the right residency program for them. This article originally appeared on the Osmosis blog.
So you’ve figured out what kind of doctor you want to be? Congrats! That’s a major milestone worth celebrating. Soon enough you’ll need to start the process of applying to a residency program in your chosen field. I matched in the NRMP® Residency Match way back in 1999, and I still remember that challenging roller coaster. More recently, I served as a confidential student advisor to UCSF School of Medicine students embarking on their own rides toward residency. Based on those experiences, here are my suggestions and tips so you can fulfill this next milestone in your medical journey.
1. Know what drives your passion in medicine
Perhaps more important than which specialty you've chosen is knowing just what sparks your passion(s) in medicine. You were a human before you went to medical school, and it’s important to maintain that humanity after you get degree letters following your name.
2. Decide what factors are most important to you
Is it important that you be close to extended family and loved ones? Do you care about the cost of living? The prestige of a program? The size? Is it better for you to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? If one of your extracurricular passions includes surfing, then don’t be afraid to let that be a factor in where you decide to apply for a residency position. Life is too short for you to not love where you work.
3. Make your personal statement...personal
It’s called a personal statement for several reasons. And it’s been my experience that far too many applicants fill theirs with empty platitudes. (Who doesn’t love the specialty they’re applying in? Who hasn’t had meaningful experiences with patients?) The key to making your personal statement stand out is to make it personal. Say who you truly are, then be sure to run drafts by several different people who know you well for proofing.
4. Seek mentors in your chosen specialty
There isn’t only one right residency for anyone, and there isn’t only one way to apply. Different medical specialties have different cultural norms and expectations. Is experience conducting research or scholarship important to your field? Is it better to expand your clinical experiences through volunteer or away rotations? Is it vital to get honors grades in rotations, and if so which one(s)?
The only way you’ll get informed (and relevant) answers to these questions is to seek out specialty-specific mentorship. And remember, this can take many forms: faculty and near-peers above you at your school, online student forums, and affiliation and engagement with specialty-specific regional, national, and international organizations.
When I was applying to my residency, I was advised to limit the number and types of programs I applied to. One of my faculty mentors said, “Why spend so much money when psychiatry isn’t fiercely competitive and you’re a qualified candidate?” But then I talked to an intern in an entirely different field, and he said, “Amin, it’s your life—if applying to that many programs helps you decide what you want, then who is that faculty member to prevent you from doing it?” Ultimately, it’s your future, and I sincerely hope it is amazing for each and every one of you.