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Miriam A. Knoll, MD: Tips for Applying for Residency in Any Specialty

Article by Miriam A. Knoll, MD | “Doctor’s Orders” curated by editor Sasha Yakhkind

This year, the Match list was due Feb. 26, and thousands of fourth-year medical students found out their fate on Match Day: March 17, 2014. It’s an exciting time for everyone in medical school, even for MS-I’s, MS-II’s, and MS-III’s. Everybody wants to know who matched and where. The next thought that comes to a medical student’s mind is inevitably: “What residency will I apply to, and how will I make sure that I match?” For more competitive residencies, getting a spot necessitates a different set of rules.  Here are some ideas I want to share.

  1. Believe in yourself: The most important thing is to believe in yourself. It may sound cliché, but it’s true. Putting yourself out there and taking a risk of not matching (which does unfortunately happen) isn’t easy. It’s only possible to do your best to put your best foot forward, and to really believe you can get to where you want to go.
  2. Realize that it’s difficult: Be prepared to work hard. Depending on when you decide to apply, you may have more or less time to hustle to get towards your goals. If you decide as an MS-I that you want to apply for plastic surgery, you need to commit right away, starting with your summer research project. If you decide later on in medical school, you may have to do a few electives back-to-back to catch up (while your friends may be enjoying their free time!). Some people choose to take a year off. Either way, it’s a commitment. Which brings me to my next point:
  3. Don’t just take a year off: Don’t take a year off to do research and assume you will get the residency you want. You may or may not match; there’s never a guarantee. If you take a research year, you really must get things done, like getting published. Otherwise, people will wonder what you did that whole year. So don’t take a research year unless you really want to.
  4. Do away rotations: Because there are few spots and most of the applicants are great applicants, it’s hard to get interviews. If you do a good job at an away rotation, you will likely get an interview. Programs are more likely to rank people who they know are great above people who may be great but are unknown. During your aways, work hard and be enthusiastic about why you love the field that you’re applying for.
  5. Be normal, be enthusiastic: During your interviews, act normal. If you’ve gotten the interview, that means you’ve passed ‘the bar.’ At this point, you’re competing with fellow applicants for which one of you will be the best resident. Your interviewers are wondering: “Is this person easy to work with? Is this person likable? Is this person hardworking?” This is actually the most important reason to do your away electives (see above).
  6. Plan your letters of recommendation: Don’t push it off. You need good letters, preferably one or two from people in the field that you’re applying to. If you impress someone you’ve worked with, ask for a letter of recommendation right away, even if applications are due in a few months.
  7. Choose wisely: Choose wisely when creating your Match list, but don’t make yourself crazy. Many people are surprised on Match Day, as they are supposed to be; the higher-ups created the Match to be that way. No matter what a program director tells you, they can change their mind up to the last second they submit their rank list. Unless you’ve accepted an offer outside the Match, there is no guarantee. Don’t minimize the important of ‘safety programs.’ If there’s a program you’ve interviewed at, but you don’t love, you should still consider ranking the program. You never know.
  8. Back-up plans: Consider having a back-up plan in case you don’t match in the specialty you want. Consider this as a real possibility, because every year people don’t match. So unless you’re sure that no match is better than a safety program, or another field of medicine, do rank a back-up plan.
  9. Don’t worry too much: If you try your best, and have realistic goals, you will get to where you need to go. The Match season is difficult and stressful, so accept it for what it is. And, don’t ever forget what going through this feels like – remember it, and have compassion for the upcoming MS-IV’s applying for residencies!
  10. Good Luck!: There truly is a component of luck, so take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Here’s to wishing all medical students success and good luck in their matches.

Miriam Knoll profileDr. Miriam Knoll, MD (“Mimi”) graduated from NYU Medical School in 2011 and is currently a radiation oncology resident at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. She has three children with her husband, Abe, who is a radiology resident. Her interests include medical education, oncology, social media in medicine, and work-life balance. She can be found on Twitter @MKnoll_MD.


Sasha Yakhkind Sasha Yakhkind (16 Posts)

Editor Emeritus: Former Medical Student Editor (2013-2015)

Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida

Sasha is thrilled for the opportunity to combine her interests in writing and medicine. She has been writing since she got her first journal in second grade, and editing since she ran her high school newspaper. Her interest in medicine evolved through travel, studying the brain through the lens of social science as undergraduate at Boston University, and together with her interest in yoga and dance. Sasha gets inspired on long runs and looks forward to few things more than hiking with her mom.