Fall? Cool, crisp evenings. Leaves changing color, cascading to the ground. Pumpkin-flavored everything. Not quite. Loma Linda is still staying stubbornly in the 90s, and I’m pretty sure we are still in the middle of summer. While fall may have arrived for the rest of the nation, I am referring to something else.
All of the fourth year medical students have now entered “the most wonderful time of the year”––otherwise known as Interview Season. ERAS (the medical school way of applying for jobs) was submitted on September 15, and with it we sent our future hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Attached are 3-4 letters of recommendation, hopefully from the best in your chosen field; a personal statement where you state what you want in a program, and why YOU are the best fit; a glamorous photograph, generously provided for free by the Alumni Association; your transcript, CV and all your accomplishments; your board scores; absolutely everything is laid out for residency programs to pick over.
And then comes the wait. Many programs wait until the Dean’s letter comes out on October 1 before rolling out invites. This is a document that describes how you performed against the class and how you ranked nationally among other medical students in terms of standardized exams and clinical performance. It also includes many, many quotes from residents & attending physicians you worked with during 3rd year––quotes regarding how amazing of a student you are (and LLU produces a multitude of pretty amazing students). LLU faculty spend all of their summer working on these letters, and I truly appreciate the time they put into mine. I actually started crying while reading mine (tears of joy) because there it was: 4 years of hard work reduced to a 4 page PDF file. Many of the comments about me were so kind. Oftentimes during 3rd year, you are tired/cranky/exhausted. And to see such nice comments about me, really boosted my spirit, and gave me that confidence boost for the rest of 4th year.
I have found myself checking my e-mail every hour, or every time my phone dings, alerting me of new messages. I then scour my inbox for the word ERAS in the title. I have found programs like to send “teaser” e-mails out, stating that they received your application but they don’t send out invites until late October or early November. I still get the adrenaline rush from these, because at least it isn’t a rejection letter! I also realized just how much junk e-mail I receive.
Applying to residency is like applying to medical school all over again, except this time the stakes are much higher. Instead of fighting to get in to a graduate school, now we are fighting to “get out.” All fourth years across the country are competing to see who can get a job, and who can get into their first choice. Many will end up moving out of state, often to the other end of the country. And, unfortunately, there will be a few from each medical school who do not end up with a residency position. 4 years of hard work, for nothing?
But let’s not be negative! As interview invites are trickling in, I’ve found myself day-dreaming “what would it be like to live there?” I’ve lived in California my entire life, and even if I don’t match into a CA program, it’s OK! Why not experience life in a different state? It’s only 5 years of residency (for General Surgery). One can always move back later in life. Or perhaps you will find that you really love the state you have moved to.
Interview season officially kicks off November 1, and continues until the end of January. It is technically the worst time of the year for travel, in terms of flight costs and nasty weather; but it is also the time of year that 4th years have free. The school makes you take a mandatory 3 weeks off in Dec-Jan, where you are not allowed to schedule any electives. They want to guarantee you as much time as possible to hit the interview trail.
Now is the time to prep answers for interview questions. Every program, regardless of what specialty you are going into, will ask the same questions:
- Why do you want to come to our program?
- What makes you the best candidate for our program?
- How did you decide on this specialty? (If you can’t answer this one, you may want to reconsider careers)
- If you were an animal, what animal would you be, and why?
OK, maybe not that last one. Though I will probably think of an answer just in case. Programs also really just want to get to know you as a person. They have all your numbers & accomplishments in front of them, but what is your personality like? It’s fairly impossible to convey personality through your ERAS application. Which is why the interview is your time to shine, and let that sparkling personality through.
So the best of luck to my classmates, and I hope to run into many of you across the country. Now, I need to check my e-mail again for the 100th time today.
This is the the fall centerpiece I put together to distract me from obsessively checking my e-mail.