How to transfer residency programs

Even though physicians do not talk about transferring residencies, it is more common than is often believed. According to the AAMC website, about 30 percent of residents do not finish the initial program they started. Quantifying that number further, the ACGME recently reported 1,044 residents transferring from their program.

There are a variety of reasons for transferring residencies: A spouse being accepted for a position in a different city. A family member requires additional care at home. Realizing that a program is not the right match for you. With sparse information about the process, here are five steps to use if you are thinking about transferring residencies.

1. Meet with your program director

This is essential and must be organized as soon as possible. After reaching out to potential programs, they will request permission to speak to your current program director. This ensures that you are in good standing and not transferring the program because of probation or policy violations. However, this step can often lead to unrelenting anxiety.

The fear of disappointing your program director by not demonstrating commitment. The fear of rumors spreading about your departure. The fear of not transferring and then working alongside colleagues that know you wanted to leave. These fears are legitimate; however, you will be pleasantly surprised by the program director’s response and their ability to alleviate these fears.

With the high rate of residents transferring, most program directors will have experience with the process. If they do not, they can connect you with faculty that can guide you. Ultimately, you are not the first or the last resident that will transfer.

2. Search

The program search may be geographically limited by the circumstances of the transfer. There are websites such as AMA , FindAResident and ResidentSwap that display available positions. However, directly emailing program directors or program coordinators is a must as they often have positions available that are not posted on these websites. Furthermore, program directors may have access to groups or forums with other program directors where they share available positions, which — again — underscores the importance of speaking with your program director.

3. Email

Be brief and to the point. Explain who you are, why you are emailing them, and the reason for your transfer. Attach your updated CV. Do not attach a personal statement or superfluous information — at this point, you are determining whether there is a position available. If you do not hear a reply within a couple of weeks, feel free to call the program and mention the same information. If there are no openings, ask to be considered in the future if a position becomes available. You will likely be the first person a program reaches out to if they have one of their own residents transfer.

4. Interview

After receiving an offer to interview, you will have an in-person or telephone interview with the program director or faculty member or both. The same rules apply as for residency interviews, but the main answers you will want to have prepared is for why are you transferring and why their program.

5. Paperwork

Respond quickly to emails and complete paperwork as soon as possible. The transfer process is more time consuming than the piles of forms you had to fill out before your intern year. If you are moving states, you will also have to apply for a different permit or license. Therefore, being prompt will complete the process as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

If you are accepted, celebrate! However, continue working hard with the remaining time in your program because all your hard work would be a waste if your current program notifies the future program of worsening performance or new professionalism concerns.

Transferring may seem overwhelming but with a step-by-step approach you can end up in a program where you are happier for personal or professional reasons. Ultimately, the happier you are, the lower the chances you will have of burnout, and the better care you will provide for your patients.

Michael Grzeskowiak is an internal medicine resident.

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