All medical students start out as the best of the best: You had to be to get into medical school. So now that you’re in, what are some of the things you can do to attain the specialty you really want? How do you set yourself apart from your peers?
1. Get out of your head. Telling yourself you can’t achieve a competitive residency is your first barrier. If you can’t even convince yourself, why would a residency program want you?
2. Learn early. Achieving your goals does not begin in your third or fourth year. You should begin building your resume as a top candidate in your first year of medical school. After all, the break between your first and second year is the longest you’ll have. It’s a great opportunity to begin to shadow, do research, and network. There are programs that will assist you, sometimes including a stipend, to gain exposure to a specialty and build your resume. Additionally, participating in a variety of opportunities will help you narrow your selection for a future specialty and define where to focus your efforts.
3. Participate in clubs. Participating in specialty interest groups may sound trivial (like items to add to your high school resume to get into a good four-year college), but so much more can come out of a good interest club. They provide you with the opportunity to network with a plethora of potential mentors and to learn more about the specialty. Take advantage of what your school has to offer. Being the leader of such a club or organization while in medical school exhibits your ability to lead to prospective residency programs.
4. Engage in research. Research experience doesn’t have to be in a specific specialty. Obviously, maintaining experience in your desired specialty is beneficial, but any and all research experience places you in a favorable position. Research experience can help you narrow your interests, while also adding to your resume. Even more importantly, you can continue to increase your network and make the connections you will need to succeed.
5. Find a mentor and sponsor. So, this all sounds great, but how do I accomplish these goals? The answer is twofold, mentors and sponsors. Mentors are teachers. They inform you of potential opportunities, guide you in the right direction, and are your go-to resource. Choosing the right mentor involves asking questions and making connections. Sponsors, on the other hand, are your advocators. They are those who will pick up the phone and call your coveted residency program to scream your praises. Both are equally important to develop your application and will eventually help you achieve the residency you desire.
Scott P. Stringer is an otolaryngologist.
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