Victor Kondray, Amit Suneja, and Roshun Sangani contributed to this post.
Each year, as the residency interview season comes to an end, many medical students focus their attention toward ... “The Match.”
Like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter, this nebulous computer swallows up the rank lists that we fire off into the void of cyberspace, somehow reads the cosmos, and spits out our fate for the next three to seven years of training.
Being the scientists we are in medicine, we don’t tend to trust the enigmatic magic of such a process. Without any button, knob, or switch of control, this process can cause significant anxiety for many medical students who have preconceived career dreams and goals.
As a resident who is years removed from “The Match,” and who has developed a few gray hairs of wisdom (actually not there yet thank God, but figuratively speaking), there are some things I wish I had known before applying to residency.
The top 11 things we wish we knew before applying to residency:
1. Life still happens during residency. If you decide to change specialties, that's okay.
Perhaps one of the biggest weights on my chest during fourth year was the idea that I was picking a career for “the rest of my life.”
For those who are unsure or have expectations of going into competitive fields or specific locations in the country, The Match is not the end-all-be-all of your life.
First of all, I implore you to do your due diligence in career research and preparation prior to applying to save yourself the headache later.
With that in mind, however, residency is not as permanent of a stop as many people make it out to be (whether you’re thinking of short-term or long-term goals).
I have countless friends who have started out in the field that they matched in, only to switch one or two years into starting residency all over again.
Many friends found out that they still loved the field they originally applied for and found opportunities elsewhere. Others found out that the field that they matched into was not for them anymore, and some just wanted some better scenery!
Life still happens in residency, and by definition change is a part of life. If you don’t like the Sorting Hat’s decision for you, do not be convinced that you cannot take life by the horns and change it.
2. Fully understand your field of choice.
It's very important when choosing a specialty and applying to residency that you have a full grasp of what the field/your training entails.
As a student, it's very easy to visualize what it would be like to be an attending in your field. However, I also think it's important to understand the necessary steps to reach that point and ask important questions:
How long does it take to reach this point?
Are there different paths to practice the type of medicine I'm interested in?
What is the training like?
Ultimately, most of the time, if someone is interested in a field, their choice won't waver, but at the very least by asking these questions and being aware of the answers, you'll be all the more prepared for residency.
3. Ask others for advice.
Another wonderful thing about medicine is that there are so many people who are more than happy to offer help. It may not be as a formal mentor, but people are always willing to offer you their perspective if you are genuine and curious.
It really doesn't hurt to reach out to residents in a field or at a program you're interested in and get their insights. I've had many people reach out to me whom I've never met before or have only met once or twice, and I like to think my conversations with them were helpful and insightful in some way.
Similarly, I recall asking a few people in my field for advice, but only felt comfortable asking people I personally knew. Looking back, I realize it definitely wouldn't have hurt to get some additional perspectives.
4. Understand the importance of your learning environment.
Think about what type of training environment you will do best in. Are you someone who really learns through hands-on experience and would benefit from a high-volume training center?
Or are you someone who likes learning as much as they possibly can from each patient and consequently learn by studying and reviewing concepts?
Everyone has different learning styles, much like there are many different types of residencies in terms of clinic/ward/OR structure and volume so try to keep that in mind when you're making your rank list.
5. Consider where you'd be happy living.
It's very easy to focus on concrete, tangible measures such as program rankings. While those rankings can definitely be extremely helpful, it's important not to fixate on them.
Ultimately, your training will be a minimum of three years, and therefore you want to make sure you're happy in the environment that you live in.
While you will definitely be extremely busy during training, you will invariably have free time as well.
Personally, I think being close to friends and family was my main priority followed by living close to an urban environment.
Everybody has their own preferences but these factors are important to take into account in addition to a program's ranking/prestige.
6. Consider who your colleagues will be.
It's important to get an idea of what type of residents a program generally selects. While this bit of advice applies a bit more to smaller fields, it's still applicable to almost every residency. Thus far, I have really enjoyed the people whom I have met in residency (prelim and main residency) and it has made my training experience all the more enjoyable.
Since many long hours will be spent in the hospital, I can honestly say that the experience is definitely better if you are surrounded with people whose company you enjoy.
I personally think I got lucky since it wasn't something that was on my mind when ranking, but I think the "feel" you get from the residents you meet during your interview process can definitely be a great tiebreaker.