10 Things I Learned From a Residency Director

A resident director recently met with students of a club that I belong to. It was fantastic! I love being able to learn things from people who really know what’s what, especially in a field like medicine, which is often saturated by a lot of information from too many (not always reliable)sources. Getting straight answers from someone truly in the know is simply invaluable.

So I’ll share something I heard straight from one horse’s mouth. Maybe you’ve heard or experienced different things – that’s great; please share! We can all benefit from each other! I wrote this to share, but also in for myself. It’s a great way to record the thing that could help as i move further in my medical career. I’m just a wee M1, so my experience and knowledge on residencies is somewhat limited, but I do hope it helps!

Also, I won’t waste time talking about board scores and academics. You know what you have to do there.

1. Your Picture

I’ll start with the one people tend to not think about. In your application, you must provide a picture of yourself so admissions committee can get a good look at your mug. The resident director said that out of maybe 500 applications he will immediately throw out 20-30 applicants based on their pictures alone. Now don’t cry discrimination just yet. He went on to explain that these pictures were so ridiculous, so far-fetched or just plain crazy that he could not rationalize looking through these candidates’ apps. He said he has seen everything from a guy with wild, untamed lion-mane locks to a girl spilling so far out of her shirt it was almost taboo to look at to a Facebook party picture. It’s easy to get your picture taken in which you are wearing nice attire that appeases the older generation. Be smart. Do it.

2. An Attention Grabbing Statement

Personal statement that is. From what I understand, most personal statements are not read until the interviewee has been offered an interview.  Unless the first sentence grabs your face and makes you read it, makes you want to know what happens next or why this person wrote that sentence. Not everyone is an accomplished writer and, honestly, that’s fine. Even statements written with perfect Victorian prose will be skimmed and shrugged off. So what do you do? Just go for it. Use your experiences, the things that open the window to who you are. Also, the director said writing about how much you love medicine and all of your volunteer work for, say, habitat for humanity does not cut it anymore. In his words, “It’s expected that everyone does it! I don’t care!” A little harsh in my opinion, but the sentiment is there.

3. Activities that Show your Potential

You cannot rate a person’s hand-eye coordination, patience, or ability to improvise by reading about it on a piece of paper (Although I did try to do this in the research I did!). All specialties have certain skill sets which are essential to being successful in that field. Those skills can come from anywhere! Played piano, a master at paint-by-numbers, an accomplished athlete? All useful and relevant to certain specialties. These can be both learned and acquired, but you need to be able to prove that you have the steadiest hands in a 100-mile radius or that your attention to detail would make closet organizers swoon. It’s all about your activities. Your experiences in medical school build your skills. Residency programs need to know about these skills and  great abilities you have because you never know –  maybe that “useless skill” is really a golden ticket to the spot you want most.

4. Exaggeration Trip 

Sometimes it can’t be helped that we want to put a few more sparkles on our projects. However, a few sparkles can quickly turn into a glitter wave, and then we’re just totally out of control and there’s little left of the substance beneath all that glitter. Residency interviewers have been around the block before. If something on your application looks too good to be true or far more impressive than expected, then they are going to go after you about it. They know a bull shitter when they see one. So, claiming you speak French when really your extent of speaking the language consists of the one time you had half of a conversation during a  trip to France won’t fly. You will be find out. It’s medicine people. Half-truths and glossy words don’t help anyone.

5. Know your Audience

Many of us are aware of the stereotypes that follow residencies and specialties. While you should never make assumptions about anyone you work with, you can use the traits associated with each specialty to make the right impression in the right places. Different cities and hospitals have their own cultures. This is why auditions and interview dinners are important; they give you a chance to get to know the culture of a hospital. If you can’t swing a rotation at one of the hospitals on your list, then doing some in-depth research can be a great way to rub the faculty the right way right off the bat. This does not mean you need to act like someone you aren’t at all. Rather, it means know how to highlight your characteristics to suit your desired environment.

6. Lead with answers 

The art of conversation is lost on many. Like many art forms, there is a way to manipulate it to accomplish what you want. This is why interviews should be practiced. When you become adept at answering questions, you are able to direct questions in your favor based on your answers. This gives you control over the interview. Think about it like a pick-your-own-adventure book. If you read the book once, you can generally pick the answers that don’t lead to your death. That means practice (in case my analogy wasn’t as great as I thought). The director said that once you get them interested and invested in a conversation you’re usually on the right track.

7. Confident – not cocky

Confidence is how you prove your competence without actually preforming. Confidence makes potential seem worth investing in. Confidence is key. But there is a fine line between being strong and being a know-it-all. You would think that after a certain point professional students would learn how to act so as to not come off as a cocky narcissist.  And yet, we all know this is not true. You need to be aware of how you come off in any situation, specifically while interacting with residency directors. The residency director said that there is always time to pull back if you feel yourself getting too comfortable during a rotation or interview. This is important as getting too comfortable tends to cause interviewing students to become complacent and possibly arrogant, even if they have never been a showboater for one day in their lives. For those of you who do believe that you are God’s gift to medicine…hey, that’s up to you.

8. Modest – not reserved

For every boisterous personality, there’s an introvert counterpart. Both parties need to find the line, in their own ways, that brings them to that perfect point in-between assertive, understanding and compassionate. Especially in an interview, you have to prove your ability to assert authority without being overbearing or boorish. You also need to show modesty and appreciation for yourself. These are all qualities that a future physician must have. The director said, “Know your strengths, don’t hide them. But don’t throw them in our faces. Be proud, but not vain.” Pretty solid I think.

9. Memorable in all the right ways

I was told that out of the 25 people seen by this residency director on every interview day, he remembers around 10 of them off the top of his head. 3 or 4 of them are really great candidates, a couple that have interesting potential, and 4 or 5 of them are horrible. Those are some good or terrible odds, depending on how you look at it. Using the techniques you learned over time, become one of the really great candidates. At the end of the day, you want your interviewers to say to their colleagues, “Hey check out this one I interviewed today, he was fantastic”. While I wasn’t told how exactly to do this (except be super interesting??) so I’m hoping as school goes on, I’ll be able to learn more about being a prime candidate. Is it possible to do this at every interview you acquire? Maybe. Is it possible for you to be memorable no matter who you are? Definitely.

10. Follow the Feeling

No matter where you are or what you chose to do, it should feel right. I was told that while rotating and interviewing the one thing that is more important than anything else is the feeling you get inside. “You’re all smart. That’s why you’re here. But are you smart enough to trust your gut? That’s great for us, but even better for you.” Even though a place might seem great on paper, if its doesn’t feel right its not for you. The match doesn’t allow for a ton of a freedom, but for the bit it does has, do everything you can so that you can be happy.

I hope this was helpful! Good luck to everyone going through the match! Add helpful things because i’m still a wee baby!

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