Medical students are quickly familiarized with which specialties are most competitive when they finish their first year. The prior year’s Match statistics can make the process seem daunting. As if the enormous amount of material to be learned is not enough, students also face the anxiety of adequately preparing for a coveted residency position. There might be additional stressors for a medical student in a small city or rural area due to perceived challenges matching from a less academic or widely known institution. Students may find themselves asking, “How will I find research? How will I get experience and exposure? Did I pick the right school?” Here are some tips based on personal experience and advice from my mentors.
1. Upperclassmen’s advice. You are probably not the only student working to match your desired specialty. Find out if there are other medical students working towards the same specialty in your medical program. Ask how they are making themselves competitive, where they are receiving exposure, and who their mentors are in order for you to also reach out for guidance. These interactions could also be beneficial in the future when the medical students become residents in your desired field.
2. Dean of students. The dean of students usually focuses on providing the best learning experience and opportunities for the medical school. Even if there are not traditionally a lot of resources for your desired specialty, the dean may be able to provide additional support. Benefits could include connections to alumni, precepting opportunities, or faculty members who could be of more assistance in helping you towards your goals.
3. Creating your opportunities. Sometimes, there may not be existing opportunities in a given field at your institution. In this scenario, consider creating your own opportunities. This can be as simple as creating a new interest group, hosting a weekend suture clinic, or setting up a simulation lab event for students to gain optional practice. The initiative to create something can say a lot about your character to persevere.
4. Connecting with alumni. Reach out to faculty members and ask if they know any physicians or alumni who would help you. Even if the alumni are not geographically close, you can set up virtual meetings. These connections could be invaluable as your start the interview process by giving insight into other programs.
5. Traveling to precept. Consider traveling to areas where there are opportunities or mentors if there are none locally. This might be possible on weekends during the first two years of medical school or during the week if classes are recorded. You could also use some of your vacation time.
6. Research should not be specialty restricted. Some medical programs, especially in rural and small cities, might not have a diverse research portfolio for student involvement. Residency programs are looking to see if applicants know the scientific method, basic research techniques, and the art of paper writing. You do not necessarily have to do research in your desired field. The fact that you have research experience is what matters most. However, if you are interested in a disease or case, it might be worth asking a physician if they would be willing to help you conduct a case report or study.
7. Conferences. National conferences are a great way to gain experience with research presentations. Regardless of the award outcome, you obtain public speaking experience. The conferences do not have to be on a national level. You can also reach out to your school or local hospital to see their conference schedule and attend morbidity and mortality (M&M) conferences.
8. Away rotations. Away rotations provide an opportunity to see medicine in a different environment. They are important if you are from a rural area or a smaller city, as other institutions might not be as familiar with your program. They also allow you to get letters of recommendation from physicians in your field. Be mindful of where you rotate geographically, as this may indicate your openness or reluctance to move outside of a specific location.
9. Volunteer at rural medicine events. Take pride in the community of your medical school. There is always a need for physicians in rural areas. Be present with everyone you encounter through volunteer events, as there is always something that can be learned from the people around you.
Diego Razura is a medical student.
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