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ERAS & Match Application Advice

19 Sep

ERAS Application and Curriculum Vitae:

  • Be Punctual! Upload all of your information on ERAS, the national Electronic Residency Application Service, as early as possible so all you have to do is push submit on the earliest day possible after the application window officially opens. Note: these dates are different for the MD & DO match.  ERAS isn’t the easiest system to navigate so I recommend reading the FAQs early.  The earlier you can get your application in the better.  Some residencies fill interview spots on a first come, first serve basis as long as the applicant meets their set criteria.  Don’t miss an interview opportunity by procrastinating.
  • Be prepared! Filling out the ERAS application is easiest if you have been keeping track of your memberships/work history/service/research/leadership experiences in a CV document ready with all of the dates and contact person for each experience ready to go.  Check out AAFP’s page on CV writing and their sample CV.   ERAS asks for a blurb about every experience you enter so be ready for this too.  Make sure all of the paragraphs are written in the same tense, don’t use acronyms and explain your roles in detail to people like they have no clue what you’re talking.  Do not assume that they understand what something like volunteering for the YMCA entails, or even what YMCA stands for- spell it out and proof read it!
  • Be mindful! Your CV and application may list items from your undergrad, or in between undergrad and medical school, but I would restrict these activities to teaching, research and work in the medical field.  Listing that you worked at McDonalds for 4 years of your life really doesn’t contribute to your goal of becoming a neurosurgeon.  Listing that you worked in a neurosurgery research lab dissecting mice brains for 4 years is a huge contribution and I would never leave that off even if it happened in undergrad 8 years ago.
  • Be consistent! Make sure to be consistent in all of your contact information during the application process, use professional language and professional contact information as well.  This may include your email address, email signature and voice mail message.
  • Be creative! Use the hobbies/interests section to highlight things about you that you love.  Many residencies and resident interviewers like to ask about these questions and see if your interests match the local area’s offerings.  This helps them gauge how well of a match you would be.  For instance, instead of just listing cooking, list cooking mediterranean food for friends and family. Or instead of just saying running, say running mountain trails and half marathons, etc.  Give them something to talk to you about, there’s nothing worse than a hobbies/interest section that says “none.” This also goes for when they ask you these questions during interviews, they’re asking about you to get to know you!

Letters of recommendation (LOR):

  • Be early! Get these submitted as soon as possible, you most likely need 3 or more so be thinking about who you will ask throughout 3rd year and think about having them submitted by July.  There is always risk with asking others to write you letters in a timely fashion, I recommend asking 4-5 writers and hope that 3 get them in on time.
  • Be mindful! Keep in mind the type of residency you are seeking, i.e. ask the chair of a larger hospital if that is the type of residency you are seeking, where if you are seeking a smaller program you may not need a letter from a chair.  Program directors and department chairs are great people to ask for a letter – some residencies may list that you need a letter from a department chair from your school, you may need to set up a meeting with this person for this letter.  If you have not interacted/rotated with anyone of this nature do not seek them out for a letter, this will not be personalized and will not shine.
  • Make it simple & be polite! Make this process as easy as you can for your letter writer.
    • Make sure to ask your letter writer with at least 1 months advance notice before you would actually like it to be submitted.
    • Once they agree to writing you a letter, submit a completed packet to them with a cover letter, see: New England Journal of Medicine’s Article, Writing Compelling Physician Cover Letters for a rough idea, or if you have an account with the American Medical Association (AMA) they have a great page about LORs and Cover letters also.  Include instructions clearly written out with an explanation of why you chose them to write a letter for you and when you need the letter submitted by.  Include any forms your school requires to submit (pre-filled out for your preceptor), your up-to-date CV, and an addressed and stamped envelope to the school for the ease of their return.
    • Don’t forget to send a thank you note to your letter writers and keep them updated when you match!
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has a great document on LORs.

Personal Statement:

  • Start early! Definitely start writing your personal statement as soon as you can. It seems early but try for at least a draft by Feb/March to get the process started and creative juices flowing.
  • Take this seriously! Here’s an article I found helpful written by the AAFP.  There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there on the internet about the content and importance of a personal statement but in the end it’s just another chance to explain to a residency who you truly are and why you are an excellent candidate for your career choice and their residency.
  • Proof read! read and re-read your statement and have friends/family edit it, there’s nothing like going back and reading something after you’ve submitted it to find a million errors.  I’ve always found having a science/medicine minded and also liberal arts minded people giving feedback to be really helpful as one can help you be direct and the other can find things for you to clarify that they may or may not understand.
  • Be succinct! Try to keep your statement to a page, page and a half in length.  Remember that with so many applications you need to be concise and keep your reader’s attention.  If your mom gets bored reading your statement the residency program reviewers are really going to get bored.
  • On the sensitive side: be mindful to what you write in this statement. You CAN do this while remaining true to yourself.  If you think what you’re writing may offend someone or just come off too strong, don’t write it.  Now is the time to show off how well you can work with others, not the time to one-up or create conflict.

Medical School Performance Evaluation (MSPE):

  • Take it seriously! This is also known as the “Dean’s Letter” and serves as a recommendation from your College’s Dean or Chief Academic Officer to the residency in which you are applying.  The MSPE has details about your childhood through medical school, with the heaviest details involving what you did in medical school.  If you get the chance to meet with your dean to contribute to this letter and/or review this letter, take this opportunity seriously and don’t turn it down!  This is just another opportunity that you can take to shine and get yet another stamp of approval in your file.
  • Double check! With the Dean writing so many letters for so many students at the same time (same goes for LOR writers), I’ve heard a few stories about students finding out their letters contained another classmate’s information instead of their own or used he instead of she, or perhaps even listed the student in the incorrect grade percentile.  Do everything you can to make sure this information is correct.

Most Important Step!

  • Be Diligent! Go back and make sure your LORs, transcripts, COMLEX/USMLE scores, MSPE (dean’s letter) get submitted and finalize their submission to your residency choices in a timely fashion.  There’s a link on the ERAS application where you can visualize what documents have been downloaded by each residency that I thought was very helpful.  It’s always a good idea to call a residency program and/or medical school and just verify that your application is indeed complete.

Match Service and Rank List:

  • Get registered! Make sure to register and PAY for the the match service.  There is an early bird rate and a late rate so it’s good to do this early on.  Unlike ERAS which is combined for MD and DO services, the match is split into the AOA match, serviced by National Matching Services, Inc. and the ACGME match, serviced by the National Resident Matching Program. You must register and pay for both if you plan to enter both.  There is also the military match and San Francisco match which have their own registration systems also.
  • Watch deadlines! Be sure to pay close attention to the deadlines for ranking and submitting your match list, I’ve heard the pages can have a lot of traffic the night before the match so don’t wait until last minute and don’t rely on technology to work in your favor.
    • Make sure you are available (in country) for the match date if there is a chance of having to scramble as this takes a lot of phone and email communication and possible Skype or in-person interviews.
  • Breathe! You will hear over and over again that the match is designed to work in the student’s favor, this is completely true, but I, like every other medical student, doubted it during the entire process.  Please listen to your gut and rank your programs in the order that you would like to go to them rather than the order that you think the programs would take you in.  You will not regret this! Residency is NOT easy and you might as well know that you did your best to be where you wanted to be during this time.
  • Good luck matching, hopefully to one of your top choices!