You can feel it in the air. We are in the thick of ERAS season. Opening day was way back on June 6th this year...you’ve started your application, right? Or maybe you were waiting for us to publish this guide and let you know the 4 mistakes that students make on their ERAS application. Avoid these pitfalls like Yesinia pestis, and watch your application float to the top of the pile.
ERAS Mistake #1: Watering down your application with activities that lack meaning
Somewhere along the way, an idea was planted in the collective med student psyche: the notion that white space (unfilled slots that could be filled by activities/clubs/extracurriculars) can and will be held against you by the admissions committee. The corollary became a new foundation for appearing superhuman: participate in everything and get involved with as many different activities as possible! Show the world how well-rounded and amazing and involved you are! Isn’t that the shortcut to the top of the rank list?
Showing genuine and passionate devotion to one (or a select few) activities can help to get you to the top, and will outweigh the mere “membership” in 15 clubs. Do your application a favor, and show how deeply you became involved in projects that you loved. Did you show up to student council meetings and stay silent? Or are you ultra-proud of the legislation you introduced that objectively improved medical student morale and interdependence between class years? Were you a member of the ophthalmology interest group, or did you champion free eye screenings for the underserved in your spare time, find 6 patients with undiagnosed open-angle glaucoma, and prevented disease from stealing their sight?
Admissions committees have read enough applications to sniff out experiences without meaning, so why water down your truly meaningful experiences with idle text? In the end, the experiences that look good on an application are the ones that make meaningful change in people’s lives, and are the most rewarding to you. Don’t spread yourself too thin in order to fill every blank on the application. Depth beats breadth, hands down.
ERAS Mistake #2: Waiting till the last minute
When it comes to completing your ERAS application, time is on your side. There is a solid 3 month window to produce, tinker, and edit the application. When the opportunity presents itself to submit your application to residency programs on that fateful mid-September day, you want to be sure that you can disseminate your ERAS to all of the programs you want to apply to on the first day possible. There are many reasons for aiming to submit as early as possible. If your application arrives to a program late, they might have filled up all of their interview spots. Having everything complete and compiled on time shows that you are organized and have control over the situation, qualities that programs look for in their residents. Also, the beginning of 4th year is full of other huge obligations. It is during this time that you will be participating in your sub-internship, accruing letters of recommendation, studying for Step 2 CK and CS, and planning a glorious vacation for the end of the year. Get ERAS out of your queue as early as possible so that you can sit back and watch the interviews roll in.
ERAS Mistake #3: A personal statement that violates the laws of personal statements
We’ve discussed the personal statement at length in other posts. This is basically your chance to, without getting too kooky or avant-garde, become an individual, and differentiate yourself from the other people who look like you both on paper and in real life. While even the best personal statement won’t land you an interview on its own, an off-color one can easily sink your application. Keep it simple, direct, clean, proofread, and agreeable. Find a way to make yourself into the [insert individual experience here] guy or girl. Maybe you are the big-wave surfer girl, or former professional chef guy. Turn yourself into an applicant that reviewers can remember and refer to.
ERAS Mistake 4: Failing to decide what you want to convey about yourself
By the time 3rd year is winding down, you will have worked with all types of residents. Some will be eager to dodge work and copy-paste yesterday’s progress note, putting themselves and their free time before patients’ needs. Thankfully, this is the minority. Many will be hard-working and apt, but otherwise forgettable. But some residents, and you will definitely know who they are, will go far above and beyond what is expected. You will see them take amazing care of their patients, be academically sound and up-to-date with research, have a passion for teaching and advancing medical student knowledge, and be excellent communicators with attendings, students, and nurses alike. They’ve got it all figured out. Your job as an applicant is to identify these residents, and think about what qualities make them amazing. Now the hard part is for you to emulate these qualities, make them a part of your daily practice, and most importantly, through your application, show the residency admissions committee that you exude these qualities, too. If you can cohesively demonstrate that you are compassionate, hard-working, trustworthy, selfless, etc., you will be viewed in much greater regard than someone who “did lots of activities.” Ensure that your application tells the story of you, the medical student who is going to make a terrific resident at his or her dream program.