It usually is around June that the ERAS panic sets in: “CRAP. I have 3 months to figure out how I’m going to sell myself during interview season!” While there are many wonderfully involved medical students that have spent the past 3 years cultivating a winning Residency application, some of us have spent the last 3 years just trying to stay afloat and get through these exams.
If you are a Caribbean medical student, you probably have had extra pressure during this time to perform well scholastically with little to no emphasis on extracurricular activities or well-rounded life experiences. Regardless of where you fall in your readiness to submit your application, I can’t underscore enough how important it is that your Residency Application is ON POINT.
Considering the climate of Residency applications, and the growing emphasis on test scores for IMGs, it wasn’t necessarily wrong to only focus on your studies. But now you have a few months to get your application together and you are drawing a blank: “Hmmm… I could put my paper route on my CV….” Don’t worry: you are not alone.
The bad news: Residency Programs can see right through your weak CV fluffing attempts (nobody cares that you were Class President in High School).
The good news: There is still time to bulk up your application.
Here are 6 ways you can improve your ERAS before September:
Residency Programs love research because scholarly activity is now a requirement for ACGME certification, and they want residents who have experience. I know everyone says "do research, do research" but they don’t usually give any direction as to how to get involved. Here’s the thing: you might be thinking, “Isn’t it a little late to get involved?” Nope. NEVER.
On the ERAS application, there are two separate sections that feature research: Activities and Publications. Getting involved crunching numbers or doing chart review for an attending or resident doing research allows you to put that on your CV as an activity, even if it doesn’t result in a publication. But make sure you know everything about what you are researching, specifically: what the clinical question is, why this is important, and how you are involved.
No matter how small of role you have, it is still very important to have on your CV! You can also get involved with a few projects at once to have multiple “research activities” on your CV. Want to get a quick publication? Do a Case Report! These take no IRB approval, relatively little effort on your part, and can be published very quickly. Poster presentations count too!
This recommendation may sound just as trite as research, but there is a reason for that: it looks great on your CV! One of the biggest concerns students have is that “I only volunteered there once or twice”: that’s ok! That’s what makes volunteering one of the easiest last minute ways to add to your CV. While it of course is better to do more consistent volunteering, it is better to spend a small amount of time being philanthropic than NO amount of time.
So what kinds of things can you do? One of the best “2 birds with one stone” ways to volunteer is to find events related to your specialty. For example, if you are interested in Dermatology, get involved in the “Play Safe in the Sun” campaign and hand out sunscreen to people at different events. Often times you will have physician leaders in the field attending these events and working the booth’s along side you: volunteering AND networking!
3. Join a valuable organization
For example: Is there a surgical society in your area that you can join/get involved in? Joining societies in your specialty can help in a multitude of ways. First of all, if you attend events sponsored by the society, often times you will learn about the most cutting edge technologies and issues in the field (great fodder for interviews and can really make you stand out as an IMG). Secondly, joining these groups provides incredible networking opportunities; you never know who you are going to bump into at a meeting (program director, maybe?)! And lastly, while it doesn’t earn MAJOR brownie points, membership to a society in your specialty of interest does demonstrate some level of commitment to the specialty.
4. Step 2 CK
I know that this one seems obvious, but it can’t be underscored enough. If you are planning to take your Step 2 CK sometime between May and July, there is STILL TIME to kill it. Dedicating time to studying has enormous payoffs for the Step 2 CK (Check out some of our other blogs on how to ace this exam). No matter how mediocre your GPA or your Step 1 score, a SOLID improvement or excellent score on Step 2 CK says a lot about your work ethic.
5. Get an amazing LOR
We know how awkward it can be to ask for letters of recommendations. If you are a Caribbean student, chances are you didn’t have the 1:1 attending experience, and you may have a few “generic” letters of recommendation. I recommend starting as soon as possible in securing an audition elective, or an elective with a very reputable institution in your field of interest…and knock their socks off. What’s best is if you have a connection with a physician that you know would write you a fantastic, personalized letter: go for that opportunity.
One of the main concerns I encountered in the interviews was that US medical schools were concerned with the variability of an IMG’s clinical experience. A great letter from a well-respected attending will almost certainly help squash any reservation the interviewer has about your clinical experience. If you get 1 per month rotation, you still have time to get at least 3 before September!
6. Personal Statement
This portion of the application is often times the most dreaded—and most misunderstood. It must be said, however, that while a personal statement may not make or break a candidate, a strong personal statement can really leave a lasting impression on those who read it. Start early, and start simple. Always ask for input from attendings and mentors, and even friends who are English teachers! Try to make it as powerful as possible without being trite. And don’t be afraid to tell your story of how you ended up at a Caribbean medical school (but give it a positive spin). You have plenty of time to make this statement amazing. Don’t put this one off!
What have we learned?
While all of these things are pretty obvious components of an amazing ERAS application, it may be surprising to consider that these are ALL things that can be improved upon in the final months of third year before your application rolls out! When it comes to medical school, finishing strong is KEY. Nobody in the Olympics slows down just as the finish line is in sight! If anything, now is the time to hustle. All of these components are still in your control, so make the most of them. It may seem like a lot, but in a few short months you will NOT regret these decisions when you are rolling in the interviews. Now, let's get to it! And if you need assistance, our team of residency consultants are standing by to help your application shine (and reduce your stress levels in the process).