6 tips for medical students to get the perfect match

It’s that time of year again, the dreaded, yet exciting, residency application season. Year after year, we have learned that securing a residency position extends beyond competitive scores. It involves planning, networking and putting your best foot forward to prove you are the perfect “match” for a program. To avoid having shock and stress of an unexpected scramble, we wanted to share five tips, which extend beyond some of the traditional reasons medical students fail to match.

1. Be honest. An honest and accountable residency applicant will make a trustworthy resident. Trust is important and slowly built. If a working relationship begins with mistrust, it will be hard to rebuild rapport and future trust. This trust can be broken when an applicant doesn’t disclose a blemish on their application, particularly criminal histories and conduct violations. Withholding this information can result in the loss of a residency spot and an NRMP match violation.

Similarly, students are asked to disclose any history of conduct violations. Be honest about these incidents, take responsibility and demonstrate humility, avoiding blame. Use the experience as a learning opportunity and share how the situation fueled your personal and professional growth. We understand the immense pressure applicants are under to make their application absolute perfection, but do not withhold information or add false information.

2. Have a parallel plan. Many students are familiar with the term “backup plan.” However, a parallel plan encourages students to apply for both specialties in September. This is critically important for students applying to highly competitive specialties or students who have less than competitive scores for their primary specialty of interest. The parallel plan includes planning fourth-year electives to support both specialties, two sets of letters of recommendation and networking in both specialties. Students are hesitant to pursue a parallel plan because they worry programs will be unsure of their commitment to their specialty. However, a parallel choice is easier to explain in an interview than a backup plan. If asked about a parallel plan during an interview, be honest. Explain your commitment and interest in both specialties. This will bode better than explaining that you applied to their program because you weren’t getting any interviews in your first specialty of choice.

3. Be cognizant of your image. Be aware of the way you present yourself. This specifically applies to your social media footprint. Residency programs, like any employer, research applicants. This includes looking up an applicant’s social media presence. Be aware of your posted photos and views (e.g., blog and Twitter comments).

Being critical of medicine, medical school, health care, peers, and politics are all potentially harmful on the interview trail. Remember, the interviewers have no foundation for your character other than what they find in the application, on social media and through word of mouth. An extremely impassioned blog as the first introduction to an applicant may not set the right tone. Many students decide to delete or change their name on their social media account. If a program director finds an applicant has changed or hidden their social media presence for the interview season, this may be a red flag. Finally, In addition to social media postings, use a professional photo with business attire and a professional email address for your application.

4. Communicate effectively. Written, verbal and non-verbal communications are imperative to a successful match season. Your interactions with every individual during your medical school career, residency application process, and interviews can have a positive or negative impact on your residency match outcomes.

Your third and fourth years of medical school are not the time to fly under the radar; instead, network and build rapport for mentorships and contacts, even on the rotations that are not of interest. Engage during clinical rotations, introduce yourself to everyone, network and be polite and courteous to everyone. Everyone you encounter in a hospital setting nurses, coordinators, patient care technicians, may have a say in the selection process. Finally, transfer politeness and formality to emails. Use a salutation, complete sentences and don’t ever address someone by their first name.

5. Be on time. Timeliness is a good indicator of professionalism and work ethic. Being late to rotations, dinners, or interviews can leave a bad impression. Similarly, timeliness is equally important when submitting your ERAS application to programs. Submit a completed application to programs by September 15th. This includes USMLE Steps 1 and 2 CS/CK, letters of recommendation and personal statement. Program director surveys have shown many programs do not wait for MSPEs to be released on October 1st. Instead, programs start reviewing applications in September. Therefore, time is of the essence.

6. Ace the interview. Competitive students can end up unmatched if they struggled during interviews. The goal of a competitive application is to help a student get the interview. Once the student has the interview, it is up to their interpersonal skills to help them get on the rank list. In the interview, it’s important to demonstrate interest in the program and somehow impress upon program staff a feeling of good fit for their team; therefore, do your research. Knowing what is important to the program will allow applicants to mirror their language, which gives a familiar feeling akin to fit. Remember, every interview is an opportunity to network and leave a positive impression.

Throughout the match journey, consider the concept of a rearview and side view mirror. The rear view mirror serves to check progress and development throughout travel. In this line of site are accolades, setbacks, and academic performance. Simultaneously, a student should consider their side view mirror. This view allows the student flexibility, moving from lane to lane. It is important to be pliable, fluid and open-minded. In paying special attention to both rear and side views, students will be well prepared to begin the match season as they prepare an honest application, describe their parallel plan, manage their professional image, communicate effectively, demonstrate professionalism by being on time, and, finally, ace that interview!

Bobbie Ann Adair White is an adjunct assistant professor, Department of Humanities in Medicine, Texas A&M College of Medicine, Temple, TX. Vijay Rajput is a professor and chair of medicine, and Monica M. Garcia is associate director, Office of Student and Professional Development, both at Ross University School of Medicine, Miramar, FL.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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