The various pieces of the medical residency application puzzle are more than the sum of their parts. Sure, the whole package is what matters in the end. But as your application makes its way through the various selection channels, each component has to stand on its own.
To find out more about the residency application process, MomMD consulted experts for advice on how to make these pieces of the puzzle shine for selection committees at the nation's top medical training programs. What follows is an interview with Washington University School of Medicine's Assistant Dean for Career Counseling, Dr. Kathryn M. Diemer. Aside from her role advising medical students, she is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Clinical Director of the Bone Health Program.
Read more: For advice on nailing the residency interview process, we reached out to a Thomas Jefferson University Chairman of the Residency Selection Committee.
MomMD: What key piece of advice do you offer medical students as they consider their applications and where they should apply?
Dr. Diemer: For their applications, I encourage students to talk to their program directors and other physicians who are involved in the application process at their school to get insight on programs. Former graduates at other programs can also give insight on their experiences. I also think that students need to ask themselves: "Where do I want to live? Where don't I want to live." Students have to remember that where they do their residency is also where they will be living for the next three to eight years, so choose somewhere that's right both personally and professionally.
Consider mock interviews or interview coaching. For some students, just some practice before the real thing gives confidence.
MomMD: The personal statement is crucial in helping med students stand out from the crowd. But how does one strike the right balance in tone and information shared?
Dr. Diemer: That's the tough part with personal statements, you don't want to be memorable for the wrong reasons. Ask your student affairs office to see examples of good statements. Have someone involved in the selection process review the statement. Students are their worst critics, and sometimes students feel they need to explain every grade or test score they've had. Sometimes explanations are required, but that should be decided between the student and their faculty advisor.
MomMD: Strong letters of recommendation are crucial. What are the best ways of ensuring that letters are informative and compelling?
Dr. Diemer: Applicants should have someone write the letter who knows them well and can write a supportive letter. We usually recommend assistant professor or above in terms of academic rank, but that is not set in stone. We do recommend that it be someone who has experience with medical students. So when they say, "This is the best medical student I ever had," they have worked with enough medical students to make it sound credible. Also I do not recommend having non-physicians write letters unless is it for a specific reason: a student who worked for a year in a clinic in a third-world country. Those more longterm relationships can be addressed by a non-physician, but there always should be clinical letters.
MomMD: Submitting a photo: Smile or no smile? Casual or business attire? Fun and big personality? Or studious and trust-worthy?
Dr. Diemer: Photos should be tasteful. So a smile is fine, but not overboard. No "glamour shots" and no cleavage. The program directors do not see the photos until after they offer you an interview, so they are not used for selecting who they will interview but to be sure you are they person they ranked and accepted.
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