As ERAS season quickly approaches, it can be daunting to think about how to approach putting the application together. Taking steps now to prepare for submission of your residency application will stave off stress down the road, and this suggested timeline will help you stay on track to be ready to submit on September 15.
What is the recommended Residency/ERAS Preparation Timeline?
February-March: Choosing a residency
The first step in applying to residency is identifying your speciality of interest. This decision is of course not one to be taken lightly; the choice will map out your lifelong career and changing residencies after matching is not impossible but certainly not an easy process. However, that statement is intended to spark contemplation and not fear. You should think about your rotations, try to imagine what your day-to-day job satisfaction would be as an attending, and consider when you had your most rewarding experiences in the hospital and clinic.
Since this decision is an important one, it is best to provide yourself plenty of time to think for yourself, discuss your considerations with family and friends, and complete additional electives and rotations to aid in your thought process.
March-May: Identifying recommendation letter writers
Over the course of your rotations, you may have identified individuals whom you would believe would write you strong letters of recommendation, but even if you have not yet, it is still fine. The first step in this process is to think about those with whom you have worked for long enough that they are able to accurately communicate your skills and work ethic. ERAS allows an applicant to send up to four letters of recommendation and most programs require at least three. However, you can upload more than four letters to the application interface and then decide which three or four you want to send to each program to which you are applying.
It is important to recognize that all of your letters do not have to--and probably should not--come from attendings in the speciality into which you are applying. While it is advisable to include at least two letters from your sub-internship and audition rotations, having letter writers from other specialities that may be tangentially related to your specialty (e.g., internal medicine for a neurology applicant or general surgery for a plastic surgery applicant) can make your application more well-rounded. Most importantly though, by getting the process started early, you give your prospective letter writers plenty of time to write you a stellar review and pull your application to the top of a pile.
May-July: The personal statement
As the freeform platform for you to communicate who you are as a person and why you are interested in said speciality, the personal statement is an important component of the application and represents an opportunity for you to stand out in a crowd. That said, staring down a blank page and blinking cursor can be daunting; for that reason, it is best to afford yourself plenty of time to consider what you want to communicate and how you want to communicate that.
The best way to get started is just to put to paper any and all of the ideas. By getting started early, you can come back to it periodically and think about how to put these pieces together. You also are able to give your advisors and mentors whom you trust time to provide feedback and to incorporate revisions. It is not uncommon to have to abandon earlier drafts to take the document in a different direction, so you do not want to wait until the last minute to begin.
July: Deciding on programs
Choosing the list of programs to which you will send your application should incorporate many metrics. Many resources, including FRIEDA and the Doximity residency navigator, are available to help you winnow through and organize the data points about the programs in your chosen specialty.
To maximize odds of matching, you should include programs where you believe you would comfortably be able to match as well as more competitive “reach” programs. It is important to be realistic about your competitiveness and recommended to review your list with a trusted mentor who is familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of different programs. Another important consideration in selecting programs is to recall matching will entail staying in or moving to a city where you will spend the next three to seven years of your life. Having geographic ties to a specific part of the country is perfectly acceptable and even relatively common among applicants.
By beginning to consider where you want to end up and thinking about the programs where you would be a good fit early on, you can research your list, discuss it with advisors, and save yourself time and money by not having to send your application to more places than necessary.
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