Monday, November 28, 2016

Finding Balance

This time of year, when the residency and medical school interview processes are in full swing, many of us feel overwhelmed. Here's a brief but thoughtful piece regarding balance. As you consider your future career, it's worth thinking about issues the author covers like clarifying what makes you happy and defining balance. In this day and age, one can choose a traditionally tough specialty but work in a practice setting that allows for some autonomy and flexibility. But you need to know what you want to guide yourself in the right direction.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Your Medical School or Residency Application: What is a Letter of Interest/Intent?

A letter of interest or intent (LOI) is a supplemental note applicants write to medical schools, residencies, and other medical programs to let faculty know of their enthusiasm for an institution and the distinctiveness of their candidacies. LOIs can be written early in an effort to obtain an interview, after the interview to show enthusiasm and to remind the faculty of the candidate's worthiness, or after a wait list notification (for medical and dental students who don't participate in the Match).

The letter should be written in a timely fashion. In other words, there's no reason for a residency applicant to write a letter of intent in late February. The letter should avoid restating the strengths of the institution. Instead the applicant should express his/her interest and then move onto his/her strengths. An LOI should be a page or less.

Please note that some schools and residency programs do not allow post-interview contact, in which case an LOI is not recommended.

For help writing a professional, expert LOI, hire me here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Your Residency or Medical School Application: More on the Squeaky Wheel

Please see my previous blog entry about contacting institutions regarding your status. When you call you can gently say, "I'm attempting to make some travel arrangements and was wondering if you could give me an update on my status." As long as you are polite, you won't hurt your candidacy. (Of course, if an institution specifically requests on their website or brochures that you not call, I would advise against it.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Your Residency or Medical School Application: Be the Squeaky Wheel

Several years ago I helped a strong applicant who had been rejected by a top medical school. He thought he was a very good fit for this particular institution, so he called the school to make his case. Surprisingly, after the applicant's phone call, the school granted him an interview, reversing their original rejection. 

It was at this time that I met the applicant; we conducted a mock interview so he would be well-prepared.

Ultimately, after being initially rejected, this applicant was admitted to that top school.

Of course, this is an exceedingly rare occurrence. But to me, the moral of this story is that it is worth being assertive (not aggressive!) in the residency or medical school application processes: Send an update letter, call institutions (politely) to inquire about your status (if they do not expressly prohibit phone calls), and be proactive during your interviews. If you haven't received an interview invitation, now is the time to make a phone call.

You need to advocate for yourself in order to be noticed.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Residency and Medical School Applications: Don't Make It Urgent

I'm writing this blog entry from the Compton, California Jurors' Waiting Room, having been called for duty today. We were to arrive at 7:45am. After hearing a long introduction from the orientation coordinator here, I noted a woman arriving at 8:50. She sat next to me and asked me to repeat everything the orientation coordinator had said for the last hour.

Her lack of judgment prompted this entry. When approaching your interviews, try to anticipate problem issues and ensure you complete tasks early:

Responding to interview invitations immediately helps you target a time frame you prefer. Also, since some programs do not have enough slots for all of the invitations they issue, it also assures you a slot.

Arriving at your interview early decreases stress, which allows you to perform optimally. At times it also gives you the opportunity to better acquaint yourself with the coordinator or even the residency director. (Several years ago a residency candidate told me he had a fifteen-minute one-on-one conversation with the residency director because the applicant had arrived early. He felt confident that the individualized time furthered his candidacy.)

Sending your thank you notes immediately increases the likelihood they could make a positive impact on your candidacy since faculty may speak about your candidacy earlier rather than later.

So, don't make it urgent. Plan in advance. If nothing else, the perception of control will help reduce anxiety and improve your interview days.

Monday, October 24, 2016

If You Think Your Medical School Application is Expensive...

According to an article in this month's Annals of Emergency Medicine, the median educational debt for surveyed emergency medicine residents was $212,000, a substantial amount that altered life and career priorities and caused significant stress.

Medical school is not only tough mentally and emotionally, but also it's a huge financial burden. And the low salary that residents take home only compounds the issue because of the opportunity costs of not having invested starting at a young age.

Although sobering, it's worth looking at the study and the conclusions drawn.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Residency and Medical School Interview Questions: How to Answer that Icky Decade One

"Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" the interviewer asks you, and you squirm...

An influential physician-administrator once complained to me that whenever he asked potential new faculty hires where they saw themselves in a decade they always said they were interested in global health or teaching. "They just say that because it's sexy," he remarked. "Many of them have nothing in their C.V.s to bolster their interest in either pursuit."

When asked where you see yourself in ten years, consider what your accomplishments thus far support to show a clear evolution. This doesn't mean you're stuck with what you've done even if you didn't like it. You could point out that having tried myocardial bench research, you realize that your real interest is in clinical investigations of new cardiac markers. Throwing out activities just because they sound appealing doesn't make you look professional or your candidacy seem well-synthesized. The idea is to have a trajectory that you can back up, defend, and easily justify.

Many medical school applicants say they don't know what field they want to go into. Of course not! And many residency applicants don't know if they want to do a fellowship. That's okay. Again, the point is to focus on your previous strengths and achievements and leverage them.

One more thing: If you are planning to seek mock interview help from me, please do it now. I am booking several weeks in advance.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Using Psychology to Further Your Residency or Medical School Application

In my last post, I spoke about the importance of knowing about a school or program in detail in order to show enthusiasm. This entry is a follow-up piece. Being genuinely complimentary (there's no need to sell yourself down the river being disingenuous) can readily further your candidacy:

There is a psychological principle that asserts that if someone likes you, you tend to like him/her more. So, if I say, "I was just talking to Mike, and he always says the nicest things about you," you now like Mike more (even though he's not a real person in this case).

Use this strategy to your advantage. It's hard to say, "I like you!" in an interview setting. But when speaking about a school or program during interview day, showcase what the institution's strengths are and specifically, how they apply to you. If the program has a focus on public policy, mention your work with AMSA's lobbying efforts. If the school is in Utah, note how much you like skiing. Demonstrating interest and zeal can go a long way to leverage simple psychology. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Your Residency Application: Know Before You Go

I distinctly remember a very strong candidate whom we considered as a potential emergency medicine resident many years ago. Although multiple faculty members raved about the medical student, one of my colleagues pointed out that the applicant made it clear he did not want to move to Boston. "He wants to stay in California. If he's not interested in us, why are we interested in him?"

Mathematically speaking, this strategy doesn't make a lot of sense. Programs should rank strong applicants highly no matter what they believe the candidates' desires are. (After all, the program may be wrong, and there is little disincentive to go for the gold.) But the point is that it's critical that you don't give off signals that you are not interested in the program at which you are interviewing. (If you would rather not Match than be at that residency, you shouldn't be interviewing there - not a tactic I would generally recommend, however.)

Know the program well and be enthusiastic about its strengths. Every program has something to offer, and you'll need to learn details of those positive qualities if you want to stay in the running for a spot.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Residency and Medical School Interviews: Don't Be the "Guy with the Tie"

Check out this brand-new Insider Medical Admissions Guru on the Go© under-one-minute, stop-motion video called, "Spiffy Tie for the Dull Guy." If you're heading to residency or medical school interviews this season, you'll want to learn about this effective way to protect your candidacy while you evade the fashion police.