Yesterday marked the first day programs can download applicant information from ERAS, the Electronic Residency Application Service. As I am applying to residency (or for residency, or however the hell one should phrase it) this year, this will likely be the first in a series on “shit I discovered through the process of applying to residency.”
Check individual program requirements
While it seems obvious, many people don’t have the time or inclination to visit every program’s website, figure out where they hide the information about application requirements, and determine what their requirements are. This is largely because the requirements are generally standardized and fulfilled just by virtue of completing the ERAS application. The couple places where programs seem to vary are in the minimum step score they will accept, and letters of recommendation.
Some programs have specific cut-off step scores below which they will not offer interviews, while many programs will (claim to) require only passing scores. Adhering to these guidelines is more for your benefit, to avoid spending money on programs that you know ahead of time aren’t going to acknowledge your application.
Where many programs vary is with regards to letters of recommendation. While different specialities have different requirements, the vast majority of programs in internal medicine require a minimum of three letters. The maximum number of letters you can assign to any given program on ERAS, is four. The issue arises when programs require the chair letter. By and large, chair letters are useless unless programs specifically ask for them because they are usually impersonal, trite, and not written by people who know you well or have seen you perform in a clinical setting. However, it’s important to adhere to program requirements and recognize that some programs require a chair letter and two additional letters, whereas other programs will permit you to submit a chair letter and three additional letters, and as aforementioned, there are many programs that do not explicitly require a chair letter at all. A quick fix is to submit a chair letter and three letters of recommendation to all programs you are applying to. I think, however, in a situation such as applying to residencies, it’s best to avoid such shortcuts, and do your due diligence and truly investigate programs before you apply to them. Programs are looking for every reason possible to shorten their short list; flouting their requirements out of sheer laziness makes their lives easier.
Make and maintain a spreadsheet
It’s important to keep all the programs you’re applying to straight, and to achieve this, it’s advisable to keep a spreadsheet with some of the more salient features of the program. Within this spreadsheet, you can create ranking systems based on categories such as location, and other features that are important to you in a program. You can also use it to track your interviews.
The next post in this series will specifically address applying to residency in California, and will be directed towards the many Californians who were displaced by the fact that there aren’t enough medical schools in California.