Guide to the (Radiology +and Other…) Matches
'APPS OF STEEL'
2022-2023 18th Edition:
The (almost) Post-COVID Match Season
DONNA MAGID, MD, M.Ed, FAUR*
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
DEDICATED TO ALL THE HOPKINS MATCHLORS AND MATCHLORETTES
From 2004 Through 2022...
WHO ALL MATCHED
*Opinions are those of the author alone; caveat emptor!
IN THE BEGINNING…….INTRODUCTION From the first edition, 2004:
The Faculty voice 2004:
Match 2004... my student/advisee/mentee/Matchlorette George had been hammering me to `write a book' with him, which I robustly repeatedly refused. His Match envelope had anointed him a Hopkins resident, and since his gravity-defying highly vocal response to this information made all major newscasts that evening, I suspect he was as thrilled as was I. Most students then vanish, spending the next few days partying, celebrating or nursing hangovers. Yet my email, less than 72 hours later, revealed that George apparently had manically `celebrated' by writing his part of what became the first version of this Guide-- and he expected me to follow suit. So if any one out there gets any tiny bit of help, comfort, or information from this document... thank George.
Donna Magid MD, M.Ed, FAUR
Hopkins Survivor: SOM, Radiology Residency, Fellowship, and Faculty
Professor, Radiology, Orthopaedic Surgery, and Functional Anatomy and Evolution
Director, JHU SOM Horizontal Strand in Diagnostic Imaging 2007-2019
Director, Medical Student Education in Radiology 2010-
Director, JHU SOM Elective in Radiology 1996-2019
Co-Director Residency Selection, Asst. Program Director Rads Residency, 2005-2010
Director, JHU SOM MSK Imaging Fellowship Education 2010-2015
Medscape Mentor of the Year 2017 (inaugural award)
WebMD Health Hero 2018
2022-2023: COVID Changed Things
Chance will favor the prepared. There will always be a wild-card element of luck no matter how obsessively you analyze the algorithm. We will approach the finish line in stages. And now, with COVID having imposed searing unpredictable changes on every aspect of personal and professional life, with Step 1 going Pass/Fail, the Supplemental ERAS application and Standardized LOR emerging — this process will only get more neurotic.
Let The Games begin!! Caution--by reading this far you have just agreed to join in the organic stream of constant feedback that will let us keep this document current for those behind you. And-views expressed here are opinions (mine, primarily, influenced annually by current applicants' Match Memoirs), and neither generated by nor officially endorsed by the Department, the Dean of Student Affairs, Johns Hopkins Medical School, the Medical Institution or the American Board of Radiology. Any errors or suboptimal advice are mine, and mine alone. Caveat Emptor.
DONNA MAGID, MD, MEd, FAUR
2022: SO! You (think you) want to be a Radiology (or Orthopaedic.. or any...) resident ... well, welcome to an admittedly verbose, opinionated, yet hopefully helpful, document. A more traditional, compact, bulleted and highly informative guide to the Radiology Match (should be updated by July 2022) is available from my talented colleagues in the Alliance of Medical Student Educators in Radiology (AMSER, a special interest group of the Association of University Radiologists) and no doubt you should ingest both approaches -- there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The tone and excruciating detail of this endeavor have evolved partially from responding to the slightly (and usually appropriately) OCD flavor of the applicants, and from the ever-growing examples or experiences of how Gen Y may inadvertently stumble, on even the most noble and deserved of pursuits.
Orthopaedic Matchlorettes, and Non-Radiologist Matchlorettes, there are many generic nuggets in here, from dress codes to the Personal Statement to Interview oddities; hope they help.
Radiology has ridden a roller-coaster last 15 years, from hopelessly over-subscribed and unduly competitive (much like Ortho’s current status) to a sudden (and temporary) drop in applicants as the economy bottomed and the job market contracted, and—listen up—back to the highly-competitive zone. 2022 application to Rads were up 12% over 2021, 21% since 2020, 35% over the last decade As of July 2021 there were over 1200 Radiology jobs listed on the ACR sites, still growing—Radiologists are in high demand!!
Orthopaedics has been excruciatingly competitive for several years with some excellent and worthy candidates sadly disappointed on Match Day. Weaker candidates, or those with a potential red flag, be aware.
2022 saw yet another upswing in the record number of applications. That includes US med school seniors, US med school graduates, US citizens attending non-US medical schools, non-US citizens attending non-US medical schools, and DO students/graduates—a very complex and variegated cohort. 21% more US MD/DO compared to those entering the Match for 2021, 10.6% increase in IMGs.
Thinking Couples Match? While the Couples Match has been with us since 1984, the available charts on the NRMP website are far less detailed. In 2020, 1224 couples/2448 individuals applied. There were 2 Matches for 1128 couples, one of two Matched in 84 couples. This is not further broken down by subspecialties, nor by the nature of the couple’s bond (engaged, already married, same-sex, siblings/twins, both US citizens, not both US citizens, etc.). Remember a Couples Match may be driven by the weaker of the two applicants. the number of programs in any one city, and may be strongly modified if both applicants are going for the same subspecialty-- in Radiology there are programs whose size would make it challenging to give a couple appropriate vacation time, or to accommodate a couple's need to dovetail night , weekend, and call shifts, especially if there are child care concerns. Plus, there have been some unpleasant experiences with relationship failures, separation, divorce, even restraining orders... Not-yet committed couples, you have until the Feb. filing date to decide if the Couples Match is appropriate. One of my most frustrating experiences was watching one engaged couple break up in early March-- just before they Matched together for a program with 5 residents per year.
If one has infinite patience and excellent eyesight, there are reams of numbers and statistics, listed on 120 pages of tiny charts using microfonts, for the 2022 Match. For this discussion, the applicant of interest is a U.S. medical school senior who is a US citizen or permanent resident, applying in the Match for the first time, to the PGY2 Diagnostic Radiology, or the PGY1 Orthopaedic residency positions. (The website provides additional data about DO, US citizens graduating from international medical schools, already-graduated MDs-- which seems to refer to either those changing residencies, those not Matching first go-round, or those not applying right at graduation).
The Interventional Radiology (IR) Match is still so new, and the data further complicated by the variable or overlapping pathways into such programs; that the website provided only minimal well-hidden numbers and no real statistical dissection. IR/DR applicants did increase for 2022, 14% over 2021 in the US-grads-only group. 407 applied meaning a 47% increase since 2017.
Available slot increase did NOT match the increasing applicants: 27 slots added to IR/DR, 21 added to DR, 6 to IR.
DIAGNOSTIC RADIOLOGY: Average 2020 Step One/Two 240/247 (memorangapp.com did not list IR) Dx Rads remained in the top 5 most popular subspecialties. Only programs Matching for PGY 2 positions are discussed here; there continue to be a very few programs considered PGY 1 Matches but I have little experience with these.
March 2022: The SOAP was nonexistent—ZERO for IR/DR and ONE for DR… the absolute lowest in 12 years.
. IR: “I’m SO confused!”:
100% of 2020, ‘21 ‘22 IR slots filled. 407 applicants (a 14% increase) averaged 39 applications apiece.
IR-DR programs finally came to the marketplace in 2017. 36% of the 2017 IR applicants positioned IR-DR as ‘backup’, implying decreased commitment—or extreme caution in a novel situation, which can be a good thing in a physician). The IR/DR situation continues to be a bit fluid, fins an IR advisor. The number of applicants exceeds the number of openings; be thoughtful.
2022: IR/DR filled with 93% US grads. DR filled with 85% US grads. Both per centages are upwards trends.
THEN CAME COVID: Match 2021With the entire process going virtual, there were bound to be changes. Certainly this potentially favored the students—no longer obliged to cross the country endlessly, spending thousands of dollars and too many days off-service. As a result International applications per applicant rose 11%, to 64; US applicants saw a smaller bump, to 58 per Rads applicant. 1991 applications in Rads reflected just over 8% increase from 202; and with each applicant submitting more applications than 2020 (or ever), programs saw a nearly-17% increase in applicants (up 86% from the oddly-low year 2015; and meaning even smaller programs were often flooded with 600-plus applications to sift.) DR’s slight downward trend over the last 2-3 years ended, with an 8% increase for March 2021. IR/DR applicants rose over 18%, from 330 to 391, and averaged 36 applications per US applicant and 138 applications per program, many of which have just 1 or 2 slots—but still representing slight decline from the peak year of 2017, meaning, as the number of IR slots increased from about 124 several years ago to nearly 200 for 2021, slightly improved odds of Matching.
2021 = 1270 positions in DR plus IR/DR; 2015 saw 150 DR slots unMatched, vs 28 in 2020, vs 11 in 2021. IR/DR had 7 unfilled slots 2021 (programs do not list all candidates interviewed). Competitive? 2021 Matched DR candidates averaged Step One/Two scores of 241/249; IR/DR 247/255. More research and things like AOA helped.
Step One will go Pass/Fail Jan 2022—mercifully not impacting Match 2022, but will lead to a scramble in 2023 for an equivalent objective metric—very likely Step Two, since 100% of PDs surveyed used Step One for selection criteria in some form! The absence of Step 1 scores may also give unfair weight to more prominent med schools and will disadvantage highly-qualified international applicants..
The main take-home from 2021 Rads numbers: Yes it is competitive. Yes students are over-applying since being liberated from the time/money to interview widely. Programs cannot gauge your actual interest. Personalize your essays for programs of serious interest to you, show you have bothered to investigate the program, the Institution, the geographic area.. Do your homework—are you actually competitive for any given program? Do you approximate the credentials, interests, grades, accolades, of Matched/current residents??
Our Dean of Student Affairs now advises most students in Rads and Ortho to apply to far more programs than might have been suggested just a few years earlier. Meaning, the increasing number of applicants per program compared to a previous year does not necessary reflect increased desirability of said program, but rather increasingly OCD/cautious behavior on applicants’ parts. It is vicious—the mushrooming volume of applications each program now receives makes it harder to screen applications, increasingly pressuring programs to cut the volume with arbitrary Step One or other designated cut-offs; and means the Interview process costs far more (IF done in person), both for programs and applicants, as each side has to expand their nets to make the catch.
There are on-line figures for the number of applications associated with 95% Match rate-- but any time such data is accumulated, it can be misleading. Whatever happens to YOUR application is '100%". It is impossible to tell if these numbers are weighted by the Rock Star applicants who need fewer applications, or those already assured of a match by their home institutions, therefore narrowing their search.
IR-DR: What does it mean? Most of this section is derived from Drs. Emily Webb’s and LaBerge’s (both UCSF) and Dr. J. Bailey’s (UMich), excellent 2017 AUR session on same. And it seems to be morphing/changing as it emerges, so talk to IR PDs or residents/Fellows in the IR track for more input.
Here is the new lingo:
“Integrated” rolled out first, Matching for 2017. It is a five-year residency with 3 years DR, 2 years IR, with the end goal of taking the IR/DR ABR exam.
“ESIR” (Early Specialization in IR) involves modifying the content of Residency to include more IR weeks/months and to add at least 4 weeks of ICU rotation, and has had its first participants moving into this new track 2019 and 2020; ESIR programs are currently evolving/accrediting rapidly and will be very competitive. Check their website, www.sirweb.org/esir, for updates and definitions.
“DR” (Diagnostic Radiology) is the traditional 4-year path; current applicants could likely still decide later to pursue a traditional 2-yr IR Fellowship, but as the Integrated and ESIR pathways grow more stable in the next few years this door may narrow; ask about this at Interviews if a real concern.
The details and patterns have changed so constantly and quickly—find an IR advisor for best current information. IR and DR officially are not supposed to ask if you are applying to both, and IR and DR file different Match lists. Either PD can veto discordant applicants; you must be desired by both the IR and DR factions. Programs have the option to revert unfilled IR slots (6 slots went to SOAP in 2017, although 500 people applied for 120 positions) to DR rather than dip to lower-ranked IR applicants. An IR residency will provide a 6-year focus on curriculum, starting with a Surgery internship; and hopes to eventually set the national standard for patient management and care, both in- and out-patient.
If this info seems confusing—it is. Not even all IR PDs know exactly how this will all play out. Eventually there will be an IR path and uniform highly specialized IR training—not necessarily comforting to those being snagged on the rough spots of transition years. Those of you not yet sure what Imaging sub-specialty is your future destiny—stick with DR; there will still be chances to add IR if it beckons you down the road.
Super advice from a Star Matchlorette: “ If you love an Institution prioritize that—apply to DR and IR-DR; Fellowships will still be around for current rising Matchlorettes”. He also noted receiving some nerve-wracking texts and calls 5 hrs before the lists closed, which is not necessarily illegal but can be awkward if the call is not from a top-choice program—perhaps duck calls with ‘wrong’ area codes.
And comments from a couple of Rock Star Matchlorettes:
- The number of applicants continues to go down (I don't remember the exact number, but about 250 from 350 the previous cycle). There are still more applicants than spots (150?). This could mean a couple of things, eg. applicants are more self-selecting, decreased interest in the integrated programs, people realizing that it is still relatively straightforward to go from DR to IR whilst not closing any door, etc. However, it is still competitive.
- I recommend applying to both IR and DR programs if it is affordable. While it is more expensive, most programs have integrated the interview days so that you can interview for both IR and DR on the same day. Some have not (eg BWH).
- On a couple of IR-only interview days, I felt that I didn't receive as much information on/insights into the DR years, which to me is equally important.
- Depending on your priorities, you will end up ranking many DR programs higher than IR programs. I thoroughly enjoyed many of my DR interviews and they are an important factor in my rank list.”
- The number of applicants continues to go down (I don't remember the exact number, but about 250 from 350 the previous cycle). There are still more applicants than spots (150?). This could mean a couple of things, eg. applicants are more self-selecting, decreased interest in the integrated programs, people realizing that it is still relatively straightforward to go from DR to IR whilst not closing any door, etc. However, it is still competitive.
- I recommend applying to both IR and DR programs if it is affordable. While it is more expensive, most programs have integrated the interview days so that you can interview for both IR and DR on the same day. Some have not (eg BWH).
- On a couple of IR-only interview days, I felt that I didn't receive as much information on/insights into the DR years, which to me is equally important.
- Depending on your priorities, you will end up ranking many DR programs higher than IR programs. I thoroughly enjoyed many of my DR interviews and they are an important factor in my rank list.”
THAT PGY 1 YEAR….. do not overlook the importance of this detail!! One CANNOT start Rads as a PGY 2 if one did not secure that PGY 1 position (a few years ago about 50 people got crushed that way). This unexpected new beast to battle emerged in the 2016 Rads Match and continued to be a vexing obstacle: the ACGME-approved (and mandated) PGY 1 year. There was a bit of SOAP for these slots in 2018, but chance favors the diligent. (Magid 10 Commandment Number One: Trust No One Believe No One the Saboteurs are Everywhere)
Brief opinions derived off the NRMP site suggests that Rads must bite the bullet and apply to upwards of 80 programs—absurd, expensive (Zoom interviews at least reduces that pain), exhausting, and…80 =s ‘average’, possibly even an underestimate.. This has rapidly expanded from 59 apps per student average in 2001, 64 in 2012 and now tops the apps-per-applicant of ANY sub-specialty in the Match. The number of slots offered has not changed significantly; the number of applications per slot has. Both programs and applicants must expend far more time, energy, and money chasing the goal. .Applications-per-applicant have soared, up 35% over 10 years, 12% since 2021,and averaged 66-per-student. This is partially due to competitiveness but the massive deflations of cost and time needed to Interview in the Zoom era also liberated applicants to go wild. Programs are crushed—770 applicants on average, per program!! Hence ever tiny detail of your ERAS application and Interview, Zoom or IRL, will count disproportionately as programs struggle to find ways to discriminate between crowds of well-qualified similar-appearing candidates. .
HOW COMPETITIVE IS THE RADIOLOGY MATCH? “Past performance does not predict the future”
In 2008 the economy crashed and by 2010 the job market contracted as older radiologists hung on to their positions trying to recoup their losses. This interrupted the usual organic flow of older docs going part-time or retiring, hence constantly opening jobs for newly-minted Radiologists. Recent economic recovery allowed these DinoRads (a favorite term bantered about at the Skeletal Society breakfast tables, mostly by those who qualify as same) to make their delayed exits, and suddenly the last few years there are wonderful positions everywhere (1200 jobs listed on the ACR website as of July 2021..) for Fellowship grads seeking their First Real Job.
Dr. Ed Bluth surveyed the employment market for the 2017 AUR. He found over 33,500 Radiologists in the US in 2017, up from 31,000 in 2012. 22% were over 55, 6% over 65, most were 36-55 yrs. Old. Of the approximately 700 Radiologists retiring in 2015, 26% were part-, 74% full-time at retirement and not all were over 55 yrs. old. Another ~500 went from full- to part-time in 2015. The fastest-growing fields were night-hawks and body imagers; and IR, breast and neuro. There was a projected hiring increase of 16% (2200 job openings predicted for 2016) from 2015 ; 55% of new hires were post-training (vs 45% from earlier job). The most job openings were across the South and Midwest, the fewest New England and West Coast.
The problem with trying to predict the 2028 economy and the future job market for a 2022 Radiology Matchlorette is the time frame: you need an 8-year crystal ball. No one applying to Radiology September 2007 could have predicted the professional impact of the 2008 Recession, Obama-care, Super Storm Sandy, Fukushima, Justin Bieber, Ebola, 3D printing of bio-parts, or Caitlyn Jenner, all of which lay in the near-future and some of which impacted those who finished Fellowship June 2016, signed job contracts for July 2016 and contemplated options for 2017. Imagine the changes COVID may wrought.
And practice itself is changing: as the traditional independent private practice groups merge into larger mega-conglomerates, or are bought by huge care systems, and as the economics of medicine weaves increasingly complex webs, concepts like ‘partnership’ or ‘ownership’ are rapidly fading. Like the new licensing exam process, the new job market is not yet well-defined nor can those 4 or 5 years ahead of you give you advice guaranteed to be applicable when your time comes. The good news is that the economic improvement last few years let those who initially deferred retirement after the 2008 crisis reconsider; the bad news is that between the unpredictable national fluctuations since the 2016 elections, and now the general economic void and massive changes in all aspects of medical business and practice likely to follow in COVID’s wake, no one can predict a thing. The general trend since 2016 has been increased. robust interest in Radiology as a field, sharp increase in competitiveness, expanding job market. and marked decrease in unmatched slots.
“Back-Up Specialty”: For the 2 years (2015,16) that Rads applications dropped and there were suddenly SOAP slots, US seniors gaming the system dual-applied and made up about 3% of the Rads applicant pool, ie 97% truly wanted Rads as unequivocal 1stchoice. In 2017 9% were apparently ‘second choicers’, which may reflect the problem with using any previous year’s info to ‘game’ the next year’s Match—we were already wildly rebounding from the 2015 Match and had 98% fill rate. If you are considering Rads as a ‘back-up’--- sorry, those days are GONE. And speaking of applying in two fields-- while only about 12% of applicants applied in two fields in 2012, that number rose to 40% by 2018. Your track record in research, Interest Groups, etc tends to suggest which field is your true love-- and many programs are less engaged by a less dedicated applicant.
RECENT HISTORY: The ERAS-run Radiology Match is now over 2 decades old. Match 2010: 166 programs offered 949 Rads slots, an increase of 5 and 18 slots over Matchs ‘09 and ’08; with ‘scrambles’ of 4 slots in 2010, 7 in 2009. But suddenly in 2011 and 2012 things shifted. For multi-factorial reasons, there were, astonishingly, over 80 unfilled Radiology Residency slots in play in the new SOAP process following 2012’s, and 65 slots following 2013’s, Black Monday. In some cases—a program failing to fill most, or even all, of its slots—one may assume something seems off, be it a city’s economic implosion, financial or other woes at a host Institution, or issues—real, misperceived, imaginary, or just ill-timed—in a Department. But an enormous cross-country swath of excellent and desirable Radiology programs in great Institutions and in great cities, across all ‘tiers’, also had one or two unmatched slots, in many cases for absolutely no fathomable reason. 2015 magnified that trend: many superb programs used to shooing off overflow applicants found themselves, shockingly, with a hole or two on Black Monday.
STEP ONE SCORES GO AWAY in 2023. Historically Rad and Ortho (and other) Step scores drift up over time although often not easily extracted from the data. The average 2008 Step Ones were 235 Rads, 240 Derm, 243 Plastics. A USMLE Forum says ‘237’ for 2010 Radiology Match; for 2011 the mean score was 240. 2012 NRMP postings said the mean Step One was 240, Step Two (increasingly requested) 245, confirming the impression of upward drift. 2015 average Step One: 241. 2017 not yet officially released, guesstimated by many to be in the low 140s. And once one focuses on the mythologic ‘top tier’, beware—actual averages here MUCH higher. Careful webwork can extract the average Step scores for some programs for 2020 (for example Mallinckrodt is reported, on radiology.matchapplicants.com, to have had an average 253 Step One score in the 2011 interviewed pool.) In screening 650 applications to interview about 100 people for the 2010 Match ,Hopkins unofficially seemed to find 240s to low 250s about average, started raising eyebrows at most 230s (although unlike many programs had not been using any official cut-off point); and saw an impressively increased number of applicants sporting scores in the 270s and even, for only the second or 3rdtime, a 280 or two. Meaning: ‘national average Step One 240’s” doesn’t offer any guarantees. (conversely-- Chen and Heller cheerfully pointed out that 92% of US seniors with Step 1 scores 211-220 Matched). International students tended to need higher scores to get attention, since potential visa and credentialing issues etc weigh against them; while on the other hand lower scores still may be countered by other positives, including popularity on home turf, grades, personality, research, community service, LORs, compelling narratives, connections. No Step 1--Now WHAT?
IMMEDIATE FUTURE GUESSTIMATES: As Step 1 vanishes but applications-per-program and per-applicant soar, programs will still look for razors to cut through the crowds. Most likely Step 2 will become the de facto must-have high number, and will need to be taken in time to be seen by programs no later than early Oct. of Match season (ie, likely August before ERAS opens). The emerging Standardized LOR (SLOR) is another numerical suspect, since it will present a series of per centile scales the writer uses to assess the applicant along a 0-100 scale. Instead of the previous Step 1 cut-off some programs admitted to using (ie, someone would pre-screen the hundreds of applications and only pass along for consideration those with Step 1s above a certain, usually 230-240, cut off), we may rapidly be moving to the point where someone again prescreens out all applications below a set cut-oof, eg where the candidate did not receive all 85 or 90% scores on all scales.
Which advisees most worry me? Surprisingly, it is the “VeryGoods”: they would make terrific residents, are rock-solid hard workers, can be tolerated for a 12 hour shift in close quarters, contribute to the team, will mature like fine wine, but do not necessarily dazzle on paper or possibly in person/on Zoom . Hundreds of applications and dozens of interviews into the season, the VeryGoods may be overlooked and under estimated as the occasional Rock Star* distracts the interviewers. For years the VeryGoods have been scarier to me, as an advisor and mentor, than some of my far weaker applicants—just because they seem to be doing so well, no one pushes hard enough for them. VGs would get the upscale interviews, would seem to be in sight of home plate…but might be ranked in the middle of the bell curve, ranked # 30 or 40 on every program’s list—a respectable showing given 120 interviewees chosen from 800 applicants--but in an era when strong programs wouldn’t dip below 20 or 25, not good enough. For at least the next year or so, wise programs need to look harder at the VGs; every one is going deeper on their Match lists as students apply to more programs each. VGs are the people who keep the program wheels spinning. Happily, moving forward, Step Two scores and obvious glitter may not be trusted as sufficient screen or cut-off for wise programs. Programs may also start interviewing more applicants than usual, facilitated by the easier Zoom process and necessitated by the increase in students applying to more programs, not all of true inteerst to them
( *What is a Rock Star? They’ll still be around; you’ll know one when you encounter one on the Interview Circuit. The nauseatingly perfect 260s and 270s (and those gasp-worthy 280s?!) Step One scores, Jr. AOAs, the PhDs, the 37 publications in Nature and NEJM, the Olympic athletes, the ex-NFL players, patent-holders, the budding garage entrepreneurs from the cover of Business Week or Time; applicants who have built clinics in 3rd world nations, testified as experts before Congress or the UN, have perfect teeth, really great shoes, and dress like Don Draper or Michelle Obama. Remember there is a huge spectrum of programs and applicants and factors at play; less academic types or those with less sparkly numbers, those who know you want to be excellent and to be in private practice, take heart. If I suggest you spread your nets wide and apply to at least some programs off the beaten trail (away from the Coasts, plus away from whatever is popular that year with your direct competition), it is to enhance your likelihood of interviewing and matching. Many of you are heading for the dozens and dozens of excellent residencies outside the elite academic Top Ten (a figure of speech, like ‘tiers’, without precise definition; don't ask for that list!.
It may not help many (superb but indifferently academic) applicants to be compared to the very elite top of the food chain; getting prestigious interviews is reassuring but not sufficient. (“The perfect is the enemy of the good”—Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique 1764). Be realistic, honest, and open-minded and it is (in my opinion) VERY highly likely you will Match--happily.
It remains a bit of a Numbers game: you need adequate grades and USMLE scores just to be allowed to step up to the plate. Red flags, hard or soft, must be dealt with. However, bear in mind that from the programs’ perspective there is some validity to establishing a cut-off point (which may vary widely with programs and which appears to be loosening after the past 3 years’ experiences with unfilled slots), below which most programs will not interview you. Radiology has become a high-performance and scientifically complex field, requiring not only a masterly command of medicine but of physics, electrical engineering, statistics, biochemistry, and manual dexterity. There will be for incoming residents the newly restructured arduous two-phase national Radiology boards (including the dread Physics) one must pass to complete residency and then licensing. Fortunately by the time current applicants get to those national hoops, the ACR will have figured out its current problem, mandatory ACR-site testing vs. social distancing and the hazards of travel in the post-COVID era. Current applicants must be life-long learners who can qualify for recertification every 10 years. We find there is some correlation between Step Ones and the national residency In-Service exams, for example, that encouraged us to cling to our Step One scores yardstick—now disappearing but no doubt a new yardstick will appear. No matter how lovable you are, if your numbers don't match up to their current Residents’, some programs will not regard your application with open enthusiasm. Your advisors may urge you to accept the fact you need to get off the high-traffic ‘first tier’ trail. Do so—and become ‘that Hopkins applicant’ instead of “that other Hopkins applicant, with the lower scores”. Sorry--but having experienced the anguish of the unmatched yet totally qualified and deserving student (not to mention that of a Resident failing mandatory exams), I'd rather you feel rebuffed or redirected now than let you set yourself up for defeat. Remember the 'average' or 'weak' potential Rads app at a place like Hopkins may look like an Alpha Animal to smaller programs, to many other sub-specialties, or to an Institution only rarely graced with a Hopkins applicant. Prestigious Institution #1 may have a totally different ‘take’ on you, or be looking for wildly different flavors, than Prestigious Institution #2. Be you faint-of-heart, lopsided, or weak-in-numbers...be prepared and strategize— but don’t be dissuaded, if this is truly your dream.
APPROACHING THE STARTING LINE: ARE YOU A PLAYER?
Here’s a strange new resource for guesstimating your Match potential into some specialties: https://www.memorangapp.com/widget/NRMP-match/ a widget posted on a blog (memorangapp.com) crunching Match data. I make no claims to its accuracy nor validity.
Since 2005, the Hopkins Radiology VERTICAL ADVISORY system has been in effect. I want first or second year students reading this, or third years who are still uncertain, to take advantage of the Radiology Peer Counseling System BEFORE asking to see me. While with my weekly e-mails/Instagram, Gross Anatomy, and TTW appearances I am probably the Radiologist a first or second year knows best, be warned I usually do not meet with Basic Science students. I will instead refer you to those more junior, but also more current and relevant, than me. My present and future residents and the clinical students are excellent sounding boards and superb advisors. You will be far more relaxed around them than around me, and able to ask those 'stupid questions' (which PS never are stupid). Talk to the Radiology Interest Group/Radiology Applicant senior students (from about January to Graduation, when they are seasoned survivors), Pre-Clinical Interest Group people, my first year Rads residents (aka The Elite Corps), and/or ex-Hopkins students doing internships/PGY1 in town.. This system works!! Data-mine it for personal enlightenment.
Don't invite disappointment, in this or any endeavor. Do some home work and listen to your advisors. For the most competitive academic Radiology residencies, USMLE scores (previously Step 1, soon to be 2—PLAN ACCORDINGLY, takes ?6-8 weeks to get Step scores sent out, so try to take Step 2 by late July-early August)must soar well above 230s/mid 90s, transcripts groan under the weight of A's, Honors, and applause; accepted publications bend your mailbox from sheer volume; whole communities praise you as their savior; and your letter-writers must reflect deep faith in your future. This loosens up rapidly as one considers other less assertively academic programs or those many great programs dedicated to turning out superb future practicing radiologists without emphasizing research. Anywhere on the spectrum, accept that rigid red flags – initially failed courses or Step exams, ethical or behavioral charges or concerns, DUIs, suspensions, substance abuse, and more—remain massive speed bumps. Whether aiming academic or clinical, Coasts or fly-overs, large or small, aim for a sparkling and error-free ERAS, a compelling even if not Pulitzer-level Personal Statement, and a personal presentation showcasing yourself in person as someone people would like to hang out with for…oh, say, five years.
(Further caveat for Hopkins students: If a Rads application appeals to you primarily on life style issues; or worse, you feel insecure about the whole scary Match process or torn between two fields, and want to go with the choice that might give you more Faculty helicopter parenting, nudging, nagging, and nurturing through the Match process -- you may not be adequately committed, and I may not agree with your choice. I am a catalyst, not an alchemist, and try to avoid the impossible. I am also an ardent advocate of truth in advertising, and transparent integrity. Find another babysitter).
I send out unsolicited generic Match info and reminders to the whole class on a regular basis (TheRealTeamRads, Instagram). Remember, the SOM, the Colleges system, and our superb Deans of Students are committed to supporting and informing you ALL; I have talked to other schools and we have unusually good fortune in having these people. And at some point before we shovel ourselves too deeply into this Game, I will ask you to be 200% honest with me or any other advisor: have you left out, glossed over, or cleverly camouflaged anything I/we should know, personal or professional, which could rear up and bite us (you as applicant, us as advisors needing great credibility, and/or your institution) down the line? Did you flunk or repeat something, ever get investigated for cheating or dubious ethics, have misdemeanors or felonies that will show up on background checks (yes, misdemeanors will, in some places), spend a year committed against your will or having intractable seizures? Carrying diagnoses or challenges which we should discuss, confront, explain, or counterbalance? On a chronic medication which will impair performance or show up oddly in a drug screen? (There are HIPAA issues here, disclosure or discussion is 200% your choice, but some issues cannot or will not be concealed and/or will show up in ubiquitous legal pre-employment drug screens and antibody tests). Ever been suspended or asked to leave (college, med school, the country)? Are you dependent on illicit substances or 12-Stepping to recovery? Under suicide watch? On probation for shoplifting? Is your visa under review? Have you made the news lately in some unflattering manner? What will Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Google, Twitter, Vine, Tumblr, TiKTok etc tell me/others/Program Directors about you? Does something need addressing, clarifying, finessing, spin? Is there an elephant on the couch? Sharing with me or any advisor behind closed doors does not mean these things will become public, but not sharing may be lethal if attempted concealment fails.
DO NOT conceal or misrepresent here- honesty and integrity are numbers 1, 2, 3 and 10 on everyone's list of sine qua non. We have helped students to overcome serious issues and red flags to support their efforts to Match; we have withdrawn support from students when it transpired they were gaming us, overtly deceptive, or unwilling to play by the rules. This is a Zero-Tolerance Zone. If you ask my opinion I will express it, and you may not like what I say.
SOCIAL MEDIA: CLEAN UP YOUR ACT
Being snowed into the hospital for 3 days during major snowstorms in 2010 led to boredom so intense I started running backwards through all my med student ‘friends’ Facebook accounts. By a dreary night’s end I had enough astonishing, offensive, dubious, legally unwise, and occasionally nearly-pornographic photographic and written material for a new lecture, “How to Kill Your Career on Social Media”. Review, clean and purge all such publicly-accessible sites NOW—raise your privacy barriers, better yet just get off for a few months. Google yourself; you can’t always remove or modify such results but at least know what others are going to encounter (and occasionally, one must prepare to explain how there is another human with your name, who unfortunately has no taste, no sense of propriety, and no future in the professional world but is NOT you). Consider any Tweet, posting, text, or SnapChat to be potentially viewable on a highway billboard. Exercise impulse control and censor yourself at all times. Don’t agree with Mr. Trump? Proceed with caution and don’t go all Kathy Griffin. Be it Halloween in Fells Point or the Preakness Infield, assume someone is capturing you at your worst or least tasteful, indelibly. Stay sober, or you won’t even remember generating those offensive photos, situations, or quotes—but every one else will have trouble forgetting them. Cell phone cameras, Instagrams, hospital and mall security cameras—the world is watching you 24/7, so be squeaky clean and behave.
POTENTIAL RADS APPS AND THE CLINICAL YEARS
For Hopkins students, the Basic Elective is the usual entrance point, intentionally or otherwise, to exploring Radiology as a field. (Please feel free to introduce yourself and become a Matchlorette even if you take the Elective elsewhere). Although we are delighted to meet students considering a Rads future, we do realize most of our students actually are destined to become our referring or consulting clinicians. Our Elective emphasizes how to request exams, what each imaging modality can/cannot do, how to choose imaging exams wisely and safely, and basic survival skills for house officers and students. In non-COVID times,you spend one or two mornings a week on Tutorials, seeing how CT, fluoroscopy, EMed Rads, US, IR, etc, really work. The recent Zoom elective soared to nearly 120 registrants; in-person, it will be smaller-- to protect the classroom and clinical imaging area experience and to insure that we can get to know you. Be forewarned that there is, on my days, a heavy unofficial emphasis on perfecting professional, communication, interview, and interpersonal skills--Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk. You --hands off your face! Stop jiggling! Drop the, like you know, UpTalk? We digress often to debate and discuss relevant medical, legal, ethical, interpersonal, or educational topics.
Most people would recommend doing at least one other radiology elective to confirm your interest in the field. Popular choices among students in the past have included virtually if not literally every Division in Imaging. 2nd months include NeuroRads, Pediatric Rads; IR (The IR elective, for example, is a great rotation and a must for those interested in interventional radiology pathways, oncology, hands-on stuff, research, and adrenaline. The day typically starts at 7 am with sit-down rounds where the cases for the day are reviewed with an attending. Typically there are 4 cath labs that run throughout the day and a huge spectrum of pathology and procedures. The Catheter Cowboys really love their work.), Body CT, Nuclear Medicine, MR, and occasional other choices (Ultrasound, Mammo , molecular biology research, etc) depending on your background, interests and sophistication. Ask my residents for ideas/potential faculty.
Whether you are a Hopkins student or hoping to visit from elsewhere (in or out of US), subspecialty electives must be arranged on your own, once you identify and speak with a contact attending. Use the Vertical system here-- my residents and students preceding you may have the best feedback on whom to approach. Please don’t ask me.
While a 2nd month of some sort is highly suggested to those still exploring or confirming a tentative Rads interest, remember that we expect you to produce something from it--a paper, case report, poster, abstract, teaching program. No free rides!
RESEARCH: MUST I?
Research remains one of the tickets one must punch to be interviewed in a serious top-tier academic program. Academic programs wish to begat more academic radiologists. Research has become one of the primary screening tools for such programs, in addition to the traditional grades, USMLE, and letters of recommendation. The range of research experience is quite varied. Some applicants will have several publications in major journals (include Science and Nature) and presented at national meetings (like RSNA). Others will have had just a smattering of case reports. And still others will have projects in progress. It will help tremendously to have research experience, and while publications are nice, they are not mandatory. Ask around for research opportunities because they are abundant. The Dean's Office offers some summer opportunities with small stipends; talk to more senior students who have already trod your prospective path, and ask my junior residents for advice. Pick your research advisor wisely, as this is probably one of the most important factors in getting something productive out of your time. Most applicants will spend at least 2 months doing research; many spend more time than this. Some of the most competitive programs are very committed to research and to training future academic Radiologists (MIR, MGH, UCSF, Hopkins, etc.) and will not take you seriously as a dedicated future researcher if your research background is comparatively weak. Also remember that anything listed as `in progress' or `submitted' does not yet officially exist, as far as programs are concerned.
Research in other fields certainly counts—while the nature of endeavors on your CV may make it blindingly clear that another field enticed you initially (whip-tailed lizard spinal regeneration or retinal vascular studies anyone?), rigorous scientific pursuits and publishing have much in common and show dexterity and experience.
Be honest with yourself; not every one wants to stay in the ivory tower forever. If you are bright, test well, have played the game in other ways, but know you have zero intent of becoming academic, you absolutely can do well in Radiology, but you will likely need to focus on programs slightly less strongly identifying as academic powerhouses. There are so many great programs with less or no emphasis on academic production. Do your homework and take a close look at the many MANY other excellent programs that are very strong clinically but neither emphasize, expect, nor scrutinize, research as heavily. For such programs, research is a non-issue, unlike the hard-core academic fast-track.
An interesting discussion with a PD from an excellent state school 3 years ago, initiated on behalf of a strong student with sincere interests in being in a particular geographic locale, revealed that this program tended to be less excited about applications with a fair amount of research because it implied to that program that such students might be regarding them as a ‘safety’ school. The PD was reluctant to waste precious Interview slots on someone far less likely to be truly interested in or to fit in well with the program’s clinical emphasis. Other PDs from wonderful `second tier' (I detest that phrase) training programs also confirm that my high-powered research students can look less attractive to them than an equally-solid but under-published student. Some programs do not want to give research time and remain very clinically and goal-oriented. Conversely, given two Hopkins students with 99% boards, high grade-points, great letters, wonderful community service and great interpersonal skills, most `name-brand' elite programs look at the publications and research track record.
Bottom line: Figure out who you are and channel yourself appropriately. Assess your background and goals and apply intelligently; you should be able to identify programs delighted to make your acquaintance. If your numbers qualify but your Research section is anemic, be prepared to hear me directing you away from wherever the bulk of your more-academic Hopkins competition is looking. Doesn't mean you couldn't do the work at a superstar program, just that it is less likely for you to land one. I want you to be able to get the attention and respect you deserve wherever you interview; if you are always traveling with and being compared to The Academic Rock Stars, that won't happen. It’s a bit like speed-dating; everyone wants the supermodels but pragmatically put yourself where you are a good fit.
If you have never done research and still intend to compete at the academic programs, be realistic. Arrange some research months as early as possible; most attendings can only work with one student per month, and not every month (likely black-outs: July when we are swamped inculcating new arrivals; November pre-RSNA; December because of holidays… but this varies); and are popular. Have a game plan. Pre-assess your interests, skills, inclinations, short-comings. Check the Dean’s collection of opportunities for students. Approach a potential research mentor with a CV or summary of your experiences and special skills, if any; knowing you have claims to an electrical engineering , biochemistry, or computer or website background may lead to different suggestions than those elicited by the "I'm new to all this but gee whiz I'd like to try" ex-Fine Arts or Psych major. Do not expect us to have huge menus of instantly-available projects ready to pluck; remember that you may need to exercise some ingenuity and initiative getting someone to show you how to search a database, the literature, or Pathology. Do not expect to bite off and chew the whole carcass at once; even a simple case report may seem like the Rosetta Stone for neophytes. Nor can someone who woke up one August morning early fourth year and said "Wow-it just came to me-RADS!!!" realistically catch up research-wise with someone who has been punching in goal-directed research tickets all along.
NEW PARADIGM SHIFT #2: The Supplemental ERAS debuts.
The Supplement will let you indicate 10 geographic preferences, 2) past experiences or qualities supporting specific regions or programs and 3) specific program ‘signalling’—why you are focusing on Fox Hollow University, what attributes you will bring to them, what they offer that you find unique and attractive. The ability to let a program know you are specifically interested in THEM has always helped. What used to be done via the individualized Personal Statement will be replaced by this formally organized option, the Supplemental form one can submit to programs between (in 2022) Aug. 1 and Sept 16. This ‘signaling’ lets a student emphasize a geographic preference (country broken in 16 geographic divisions, one can list up to 3 preferences, with 300 characters to explain why). There are 5-point (urban ßà rural) scales to let you emphasize the milieu you prefer. Programs will NOT know of your other geographic choices nor which other programs you ‘signaled’, or if you signaled any other program at all. One can signal up to 6 programs, both IR and Dr, again with 300 characters to explain. It remains to be seen how heavily this will matter; for example, will the non-signaling student be at a disadvantage at the overly-signaled perpetually overly-applied popular East/West Coast schools? Use only if the geography or particular program REALLY matter to you.
"TIERS" ARE IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
If you decided quite late, have no research background, yet want to go to a top-tier academic program, you may need to consider spending an extra year or two developing your research credentials and CV. If you decided quite late, do not have strong academic career goals, but have still racked up the grades and Step One scores, you can target the less-academic 'first' and 'second' tier and smaller programs, who would be thrilled to have a bright talented Hopkins student and are not as preoccupied with future researchers. This is where you have the Hopkins advantage: I will help these programs understand and believe that you *do* want to be taken seriously (again, they may automatically assume you consider them a 'safety' while you pursue a huge brand name, and so snub you pre-emptively in favor of more likely candidates) and would be delighted to be interviewed. And remember this: there are dozens of super programs just below the elite academic handful, which will provide excellent training, superb mentoring, and spring-board stupendous careers.
The so-called 'third tier" (and these titles are informal; there is no secret rank list somewhere), and indeed many "2nd tier" places, are excellent choices for those absolutely not heading for academics, and would be the only viable choices for an applicant with marginal grades or Step Ones, embedded red flags, or other suboptimal attributes. Students who meet these latter criteria: do not expect me to lavish reassurances or to hide truly important negative info; I can and will be blunt.
CAVEAT EMPTOR:In the past I have occasionally agreed to help a student who, against my strongest instincts and direct advice, insisted on trying Rads. Certainly it is your life and your choice--but in such cases, my now-well-known letters (and I do not guarantee I will write anyone a letter in such cases, no matter how much I adore you personally), to programs who have read epistles from me previously, are CLEARLY more vague, less enthusiastic, and less specific. You WILL NOT stack up well against your Hopkins brethren. Success may mean a strategic retreat to the smaller or more geographically far-flung programs not often/ever seeing a Hopkins applicant, and if you want my (written) support in January (“Hey my student Katniss is absolutely ranking you Number One!”) YOU MUST choose a realistic #1-choice target. And— many faculty cannot write letters for students they do not actually know well. I wrote fewer letters in 2020, during COVID, than ever before—simply did not get to know students, one Elective was 120 people and all were Zoom. Choose with care.
TO GO OR NOT TO GO: AWAY ROTATIONS
This is likely a non-event for the foreseeable future, thanks to COVID-19. What you may wish to do, should you be intensely focused on a given program or city, is to email the PD expressing your interest and requesting permission/instructions to audit some resident conferences or lectures, since these are likely to be virtual going forward.
Even pre-COVID I had mixed opinions-- and couldn't speak for other programs. As previous Director of an Elective which was locked against outside visitors (with a one-year Hopkins waiting list, we just couldn't do it; plus the mandatory paperwork and processing was excruciating without any Administrative helper) I don't have much experience with how visitors subsequently do at any one visited school. By all means, if your ideal future includes institutional or geographic specificity, target them early on. Becoming an 'inside outsider' helps, especially if you dream of fantastically competitive and geographically coveted (read: California) programs. DO NOT repeat the Basic Elective; it reads poorly on your transcript ("Hey, look, another out-of-town try-out brown-noser" is a direct quote from a Left Coast PD) and we are not impressed. Try to identify both your area of interest/ability and an area which will expose you to the residents, Program Director, or other people vital to the selection process. Surprisingly (to most students), in most places the Chairman often has far less to do with daily functions, research, or Residency Selection than one might expect; do your homework. Talk to students or residents with ties to that program, jump online, and do your ground work, to identify appropriate entrance points.
CAVEAT: we have had super, talented, and likeable students spend months at Cali schools and still not even get an interview invite to same. Others did a month there, interviewed, and Matched. No guarantees. If you do go: sparkle, sparkle, sparkle. Be first in, last out, dress well, spend your evenings looking things up, preparing, studying, playing the game--if you're thinking it's a mini-vacation with great sunsets and rollerblades you are wasting your time.
OPINION: The Prelim Year As of 2016 and 2017, this abruptly became a Hot Spot and has caused unusual problems. 2015 Match data showed something both interesting and concerning: there were 47 Matched students in Radiology who did NOT have an internship as SOAP dust settled, would not be starting internship July 1, 2015, and therefore COULD NOT take their July 2016 Radiology slot. ACGME and NRMP made some short-term exceptions/accommodations which let most but NOT ALL of the 2015 and 2015 Rads Matched students to keep on track. I had not heard of such a squeeze before, but after 15 years of ‘Don’t worry, if you are qualified for Radiology residency any internship would be happy to grab you”, apparently the universe tilted. Currently we encourage expending far more energy and effort on the PGY 1 applications, both from you and from me. (Ironically one 2015 JHU Rads applicant, considered one of the top 10 applicants in the US, opened their Match envelope to find they had dropped down a few slots for internship while scoring their Number One ranked residency—my first warning that once again the celestial spheres were shifting. Expanding the PGY 1 search will be sad, expensive (hopefully COVID has flipped these permanently to ZOOM), annoying—and necessary. We may see more Residencies offering to help with that PGY-1 position but that is unclear. There *are* SOAP positions, but that is a very suboptimal approach.
I do not happen to think an Osler sub-I is necessary for a DR Rads app. Do it if you wish, but not because you think you ‘have to’. Again—my opinion and mine only! Internship is something you must do and hope to do well, but think about what you want from that year as you consider options. Future IR people, Surgery is what you need to do.
2020 Comment : “ I applied to both Baltimore area programs and some programs in other cities. I received interviews from all the Baltimore programs but very few from other cities. I think it would be wise for an applicant who wants to for instance go to Chicago for intern year to contact Chicago prelim programs prior to interview invites to express interest.”
We use email so constantly and casually that we forget to think about the impression it makes. It may well be the first impression of you received by a future employer or letter-writer. Like that interview suit, err in favor of the formal and conservative. In ‘business’ email communications of any sort during this process, remember to adhere to professional format and phrasing. HEADERS in particularly are important. No header may lead to deletion by the viral-cautious. One hopes the inappropriateness of “Hey”, “Hi’, ‘Yo’ as headers need no further commentary. I find the most professional and efficient way to draw positive attention, approbation, and even a response is to make the header a succinct summary of what the recipient will find within and from whom: eg “Query: Possible LOR/Chuck Sheen MSIII”; “Request for Advisory Meeting/K.Everdeen MSII”, “Request for Vertical Advisor Referral/B.Obama MSI’. If you met the addressee briefly but they are not necessarily going to remember (you were one of 16 people who stayed after the lecture to ask a question; you introduced yourself in a crowded elevator 9 months ago; they coached your kindergarten T Ball) briefly allude to that point and re-introduce yourself in first line. ”Hello it’s Katniss, I sat next to you at the Pan-Asian Orientation lunch last Sept…”
Open with “Dear Dr. XXX….” And spell the person’s name correctly. Re-introduce or define who you are. (“I am a Hopkins MS III currently applying for your Radiology residency…”).Keep sentences and paragraphs short, tight and to the point. NEVER use text abbreviations (LOL, OMG, IMHO, YOLO…) . NO emoticons, XOXOs or emojis of any sort. If you have a photo on your email make it a professional-style head shot, not in a one-shouldered gown, bow tie, or T shirt. Ditch the pithy quote, sports team emblem, or other personal touch under your signature. Use a formal sign-off such as ‘Sincerely”; possibly “Best Wishes” if a relationship exists. Do not assume Spellcheck will catch everything (there/their; its/it’s)
Any doubts? Sit on it 15 minutes or an hour. Have someone else read it. Re-read. Edit. Repeat.
ON-LINE RESOURCES: GOOD, BAD, MOSTLY UGLY
Certainly one starts at the official NRMP Match website, which someday someone may translate into English. Sooner or later every frantic Radiology applicant succumbs to auntminnie.com. There are some useful sources of info and statistics on AM, a lot of great quiz cases and career updates, but remember that, like Wikipedia, students and applicants can post whatever random and occasionally irrational thought skitters across their convoluted minds and make it sound like fact. I made my first foray into the anonymous Aunt Minnie Residency Applicant chat room in January 2004. Wow. The rumors, the spin, the unduly-vivid imaginations, the sour grapes, the gratuitous sniping--wear Kevlar and take 3 grains of salt. There was some accurate and positive stuff there, but just as much dead-wrong or harmful info. Be skeptical, and triple-check anything alarming or worrisome with a Hopkins resident, Match survivor, or mentor before getting too excited. The JHU Radiology Vertical Advisory has a platinum track record and involves non-anonymous, knowable, sources—use it, not the Web. We are developing an unhealthy respect for and belief in anything on the Web; lose it. BACK AWAY FROM THAT SEARCH ENGINE!
Remember it is not unheard-of for residents or faculty to skim auntminnie.com, so if you are moved to ventilate/confabulate Gen Y blog-style, declare yourself suicidal, or trash-talk someone or something, think twice--like that picture of you passed out dead drunk on the bathroom floor posted on FaceBook, it may come back to haunt you. Better yet--STAY OUT OF THIS CHAT ROOM!!!
One of the more positive things to arise from social networking are the occasional advisory or Q&A sessions offered through Twitter or Zoom or such platforms, where identified credentialed non-anonymous faculty, program advisors, course directors etc will chat and offer advice, observations, and caveats. Certainly attend these when possible. Also useful are the sites springing up like mushrooms, from the AAMC's guide to Virtual Interviews, to various YouTube tutorials on looking good in a Skype interview, to tips from TV personalities, and sites like lifehacker.com which can rapidly introduce you to a strange city, to help you judge it and to help you sound truly interested come Interview Day.
Which reminds me- this is the era of social networking. It has spread like flu. You are all unduly plugged in, and communicate words and images freely—too, too freely. Indiscreet verbal or visual postings of any sort, anywhere, may come back to bite you on the rump. Do you really think no one over 25 is looking? Those adorable self-expressive misadventures and digital dirt gain immortality once on-line. Sex, drugs, alcohol abuse, violence, profanity, dishonesty, antisocial behavior, any act or comment of dubious taste or integrity: purge your sites and search your souls NOW. Mind your Tweets. Go to FaceBook, Pinterest, SnapChap, TikTok, InstaGram, Twitter, BeBo, your blog or its equivalent, right now and take any photo or message or quote off there that could reflect badly on you now or at any point during the next 90 years. Do not have faith in the mythology that certain sites actually succeed in erasing transient comments or photos (screen shot or photo, anyone?). Passed out running the urinals at Preakness? Bared some anatomy in a regrettable drunken moment 8 years ago? Delete, delete, delete; and pray. If Rolling Stone caught you naked at Bonnaro or Burning Man do NOT give your real name. Better yet—keep your cloths on and stay cyber-squeaky clean. I now have a lovely 5x7 print-out of one of 2008’s star JHU candidates, obtained in public domain, where he and a dozen of his BFFs are jubilantly celebrating their approaching completion of 1st year military college—stark naked except for strategically placed hats. You have no idea how eternal these ill-advised images can be. And surprise --committees know how to Google you. We do it routinely at Hopkins before interviews, and a recent survey of recruiters indicted as many as 83% of recruiters (!) may now do the same.
And don’t use Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging to communicate with advisors. Even if we are on it, play the professional game and use the business email approach. DO NOT ask ‘Cn U C me 2dA’!
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION: Whom should I ask?
Your letters are a key to distinguishing you from the (talented, accomplished, likable) pack. I suggest at least 2 Rads people, with the other one or two chosen from whomever you feel/hope will write the best letters. A sub-I supervisor, a research supervisor—someone who knows you well and will cheer for you intelligently. Remember this relationship is going to be far more difficult to establish and nurture in the new era of teleworking, remote education, and social distancing. A good LoR writer will be honest, titrate opinions and clarify your place on the Hopkins and national food chains, compared to other students he/she knows, for better or worse. Your writers need to be a) enthusiastic, b) knowledgeable, c) credible, d) literary, and e), ALL of the above. They need to know more about you than the factoids or accomplishments on your resume or ERAS; the committee's collective eyes glaze over the third time this CV info is recycled. A Nobel-prize winning scientist or world-renowned Department Chairman who doesn't know you, reiterates your CV and mumbles generic praise is less effective than a less well-known person who can make you leap from the page, elaborating and specifying your many glowing personal and professional attributes. (Of course, if you can land one who is both a recognized Rads Nobel-level world figure and can warble your praises in 3-part harmony, mazel tov). And there are some real cheerleaders out there who can't get the message into effective words. Some people are just so habitually understated, or perhaps translate poorly to paper for one reason or another. No way to really check this factor out; just word-of-mouth and crossed fingers.
There persists a rumor the Rad Chair has to write a letter— this is NOT TRUE. NOT. And some LOR writers can tweak the epistle to fit both PGY1 and residency applications.
As to what they need know about you--go back to page one and re-read my comments about honesty. If you misrepresent ANYTHING in your information packet, you are in essence encouraging an attending to (inadvertently) misrepresent you--and drill irreparable great gaping holes in his/her own credibility. Sins of omission count as heavily as those of commission. I have been burned a couple times by both carefully orchestrated omissions and blatant misrepresentations (neglecting to mention flunking Step One; claiming AOA status; carefully not mentioning that silly little ‘F’ or DUI...). By then writing super-supportive but inadvertently erroneous letters, I have had my credibility scorched. Unless you have strong back-up plans, such as running your brother-in-law's dog walking business, come clean. This is another Zero Tolerance Zone.
Once you identify a potential LOR author--preferably by late third year--make sure they KNOW you. Let's say the only reason Dr. Who seems like a potential LOR author is the glowing comments she made grading your IM rotation. Do you email her interesting follow-ups, web sites relating to a case recently under mutual discussion, updates on your joint research projects or notification that your mutual patient from Dr. W's service, Mrs. Baratheon from Westeros, turned up while you were in the EMed? Do you ever drop by her office or lab (be sensitive to cues that this is either a bad time, or in general a bad idea; not everyone likes surprises), attend conferences or lectures in her area, make an appointment or dash off an email (professionally headed) every few months to touch base?
Once you have identified your potential LOR cheerleader (and probably 4 people should be in hand by late July, folks; don't forget you also need LORs for that Prelim year), meet with them to discuss/request same. Approach by email to be clear about reason for meeting, potential times, and your hopes for their enthusiastic support. Remember to leave them wiggle-room to refuse ("I'm hoping you would be able to write a strong letter of support for me…", or, "...if you feel you are the right person to speak up for me"). Come prepared with a NEAT, ORDERLY, and BRIEF resume (see numerous guide books and below; there is a Hopkins faculty format online which will not entirely suit a student but gives some generic sense to the format). Your procrastination or deadlines are not their problem. Many attendings disappear in August or early September (vacations, meetings, kids to be delivered to schools). Meet with and land their support by June if possible (remember the medical world goes head-over-heels and circles the wagons each July), mid July at the latest, and (tactfully, respectfully) double-check if they have plans to leave the known Universe late August/September. Get your whole package--final draft resume, transcripts, ERAS number and instructions, etc.-to these people no later than early August (ask if they prefer email or hard copy; virtually all now electronic but if hard copy, neatly and orderly assembled in clearly-labeled plain interdepartmental manila envelope is fine; please don't go buy expensive glossy folders to lovingly cradle your fragile babies). Tell them you will check back before Labor Day to follow-up. Then DO JUST THAT-tactfully and respectfully (email works well-"Just a reminder, my advisor insists my package be complete by Labor Day; please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need more information' ; or, "Dr. Magid is really neurotic about getting these letters in by Labor Day, she urged me to remind you” Now that letters get uploaded to the Match site by the author, it is easier for the student to check on status. I will be nagging you relentlessly to have your entire package INCLUDING letters ready to hit 'send' on the magic Sept. date that ERAS opens. LoRs download a bit later but programs literally will get 500 or more applications that first day—be in that first cascade!
Remember to be specific as to just which aspect of your application their letter is to address- if for the PGY-1 year as well as residency, wording would be different; if only PGT-1, ditto. If only for DR, vs for DR and/or IR... well, it likely confuses you, so make sure it is crystal-clear for them. You don't want their wording ("This is in reference to the DR application of ....", when in fact it also goes to IR, or the Prelim year programs) to be 'off'.
He/she/they who slides info under attendings' doors/onto their email just before deadline runs risk of getting a) no letter--faculty just left for 10 days at the Skeletal Society in Istanbul--or b) a hastily-produced letter by an annoyed and harassed doc who has several other deadlines pending the same week. Leaving it to the last second also makes one question your organizational skills, attention to detail, ability to follow through, and functional effectiveness. Especially when all your comrades beat you there by 3 weeks.
Matchlorette comment: “ON LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION: I truly cannot, cannot overstate the weight held by the famous Donna Magid letter. So many of my interviewers made it a point to tell me what a special, heartfelt letter it was. As stressful as it was at the time to get my personal statement and an "autobiography" ready early, it was worth it to have my ducks in a row by the time ERAS season was in full swing, and to know that there was someone looking out for me. I guess there isn't really anything in this paragraph that you don't already know. But I am so thankful to have applied with this extra boost of confidence and support. For other letters of recommendation: I'm of the opinion that it's worth it to approach a potential letter-writer early, close to the end of the rotation, so they can expect a LOR request later from you, and also that it's okay to ask more than four letter-writers. I asked my medicine sub-I attending but had a feeling it wouldn't be a very strong letter, and ended up only sending it to Medicine prelim programs. It does not hurt at all to have extra letters that you choose not to use later.”
INFORMAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY PLEASE!
Prior recent Matchlorettes’ comments:
“I was told at multiple interviews that they really enjoyed reading my letters of recommendation and my personal statement.”
“Donna’s letter got mentioned everywhere, DO that Autobiography thing for her!”
“ON LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION: I truly cannot, cannot overstate the weight held by the famous Donna Magid letter. So many of my interviewers made it a point to tell me what a special, heartfelt letter it was. As stressful as it was at the time to get my personal statement and an "autobiography" ready early, it was worth it to have my ducks in a row by the time ERAS season was in full swing, and to know that there was someone looking out for me. I guess there isn't really anything in this paragraph that you don't already know. But I am so thankful to have applied with this extra boost of confidence and support. For other letters of recommendation: I'm of the opinion that it's worth it to approach a potential letter-writer early, close to the end of the rotation, so they can expect a LOR request later from you, and also that it's okay to ask more than four letter-writers. I asked my medicine sub-I attending but had a feeling it wouldn't be a very strong letter, and ended up only sending it to Medicine prelim programs. It does not hurt at all to have extra letters that you choose not to use later.”
If you want a letter from me, please produce an informal Autobiography by mid-July at the latest. This is a casual, free-form memoir/confessional/stream of consciousness plunge into your psyche. Use taste and common sense; there are things the NO ONE needs to share. I want family history (your choice how many generations back), info on parents, sibs, important relatives, where you got your core identity; earliest memories, school days, siblings, circumstances, oddness, hobbies, quirks, passions, pitfalls, peeves, triumphs, mildly embarrassing moments, those stories every one breaks out over the holiday table, your décor style, things you feel are central to your identity, and more. Baby and family pictures are a wonderful charming conversation-starter when you bring me this opus (as one of my delightful and beloved ’08 candidates 1stdemonstrated. I’m considering making it required!). Do you wear lucky green socks to all exams, or carry a carved sea otter for luck? Ever been exorcised, abducted by aliens, lost or found your faith, collected bottle caps or roller blotters, hand-crafted a chess set, run a business, been homeless, lost sleep because the bees are dying or the polar bears are losing weight, been shipwrecked or in a plane crash, had some key pivotal experience? Careful sterile recitations will be resoundingly rejected for a re-do. No points off for grammar, spelling, sentence structure—just let it flow. IMPORTANT SIDE EFFECT: I have been told endless times that in trying to perform this exercise, students found some inspiration or direction un-jamming them for that dread obstacle ahead: The Personal Statement.
THAT CV... .
You will be preparing a personal and professional resume for the Deans and for your advisors/letter writers. This must be a flawless opus, logically arranged, readable, oozing precision and integrity. This is not Freshman Creative Lit class, nor Hyperbole 101. Any errors, exaggerations, typos, or misstatements here will be lethal. Find a traditional format--compare notes with friends, or check the various guidebooks, and look at the Hopkins faculty CV format on-line (in the Silver or Gold books). Keep away from fussy fonts or quirky layouts.
This is tricky: it is your primo sales document, your PR, must make you sparkle and stand out yet must be pristinely correct and traditional. Your skills and accomplishments must be clarified and show-cased. You are both distinguishing yourself from the crowd yet reassuring future employers you will fit in well with the crowd. You are marketing yourself— no time for understatement, modesty or oversight.
*Avoid "I .. I...I...I.."
*Be telegraphic: "Spent 10 hrs/month ...", not "I spent about 10 hours a month, mostly Thursday and Sunday afternoons unless it rained..."
*Work section--do not put "none" unless it is truly so, right back through high school. Virtually everyone has done something at some time. My MD-PhDs especially lead sheltered lives and may indeed never have worked since college-but if there is little to list here at least briefly mention that lawn service or burger-flipping career summers in college or if necessary, life-guarding or bus-person experience in high school. Working in the family grocery or sock factory certainly counts; "Cashier, stock clerk, accounts review, as needed, high school and college summers, family grocery" actually is a wonderful contrast to all that ivory-tower stuff and reassures me you've seen the gritty and pragmatic world in which the vast majority of us live. There's just something ... odd ... about a person who's never been Out There in the Real World. 'Odd' doesn't fly; Radiologists are People Persons.
*Research section: Be brief yet descriptive: "Worked in Dr. Siberia's Genetics Lab 6102-8/02" is ok, but "Dr. Siberia's Genetic Lab 6/02-8102: 35 hr/wk extracting genetic material from Drosophila proteins via centrifuge and spectroscopy, with purity analyses" is certainly more informative (both about the nature of the work and about your ability to communicate precisely). Don't get carried away here; be telegraphic and avoid the word "I". Be accurate and prepared to be quizzed by someone who knows a lot about that topic (ie, be honest- -anything else is LETHAL).
Same with activities/interests-when there is a certain vagueness or pure-list flavor, or one-time events, we wonder if you just did everything once so as to be able to add it to the list, or actually made a longitudinal commitment. Place yourself on a spectrum for each entry, defining effort/longevity of an activity or your level of expertise/accomplishment in an professed activity. "Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Baltimore, Health Clinic volunteer, Suicide Hotline volunteer" may be perfectly accurate and adequate, but consider the extra effervescence of details: "Habitat for Humanity: survived 4 weekends 3/13-6/13 dry-walling and sheet rocking 3 inner city townhouses for homeless families, 15 hrs per wk'end. Big Brothers Baltimore: enjoyed 2hr every other week with a 9 year old from inner city, 9/14-9/15. Played ball, coached study skills and homework, field trips to zoo, Nature centers, and math tutoring. Health Clinic volunteer: annual spring Hypertension screening, one weekend 3/15. Suicide Hotline: after 10 hrs. of counseling training, manned phone lines 3 hrs/week for 7 months on JHU anonymous Help line."
We want to see the details-I am reassured both as to the sincerity of longitudinal involvement in said activity, and the applicant's general stylistic attention to detail (major trait requirement in a resident). Be precise about timelines, even when activity was quite brief. Conversely, a list lacking such specifics at best is non-engaging and at worst suspicious ("Hmmm, looks like one of those puffed-up jobs ... "). Also--details may spark conversation at interviews; perhaps your interviewer also learned to drywall for a similar project, wants to explore some detail of the Hotline training, or is also working their way through Bollywood’s Top 100. Who knows?
And try to use active, descriptive, lively verbs and adjectives here; 'helped', 'worked on', and 'contributed' are certainly accurate but a bit over-worked. Your Interests column is often the source of chit-chat at an interview. Ask the 2012 applicant which line on his long, PhD-laden CV elicited the most commentary and the answer is “I said I grew tomatoes…everyone asked about that”. While "Art, music, cooking, movies, reading" may be an honest portrayal, "20th century sculpture, especially David Smith, occasional forays into sketching, 9 years of piano playing with a preference for Chopin, trying to learn to stir fry, working my way through the Great Books list, relax with 1930's detective novels, devour the New York Times on-line daily, with particular focus on international news" seems far more likely to either hit a connection in a fellow enthusiast, or to stimulate some conversation. Your job is to come across well-rounded, interesting, distinguishable from the herd. Would you rather be asked, "Music--do you mean playing, or listening?" or "Chopin--can your left hand really keep up in that tricky Nocturne?". (Reminder-he/she who confabulates or exaggerates here may get busted!!). If you can lay claim to some form of computer skills acknowledge it, but be precise and honest; “enjoy web design and maintenance for my sister’s business”, “Designed and programmed two Killer Apps for the new iPhone which paid my med school tuition” would be significant attributes to bring to the table, while ‘Nearly flunked out of 3rdyear due to my obsessive late-night porn site cruising and addictive poker-playing’ are…suboptimal. Conversely, while cutesy-humble, confessing banality or lack of interest in the world, or commonly-disrespected weaknesses (“I love TV, especially SpongeBob”, “I admit to being really poorly informed about current events”, “Bulimia is my hobby”) even if true are just…sad.
DO NOT embellish your level of proficiency in any given talent/interest. One student who described working on his medical Spanish was interviewed in Spanish and could not comprehend/respond; another was required without warning to demonstrate his ball-room dancing in front of the interview crowd (!). I do not invent this stuff. Don’t carry images or samples of your art/photography/poetry unless it is truly interesting, accomplished, and neither trite nor scary (no matter how gorgeous that jailhouse home-made tattoo seems to you…do not share).
Academic publications or presentations should be formatted in the conventional bibliography style. Check 'Instructions to Authors', AJR or Radiology. Boldface your name in each entry for easy visual scanning.
1) Mouse M, Duck D, Coyote W. Prospective Study of Wet Duck Feathers, submitted J Dubious Results Sept. 2011.
2) Simpson H, Simpson M, Coyote W. Variations on Tasteless Comments: A Review. In press, J Esoteric Foul Language 2012, 17:235-241.
And since there can be more than 4 months between compiling your academic bibliography for ERAS and showing up for an interview, be alert and bring one page updates* to interviews. There will be a lot of blank space on this addendum page. Live with it. (And do not update papers rejected and since re-sent to 2"d journal):
"Dear Dr. Strange,
Please add the following changes to my Radiology Residency application file:
1) Mouse M, Duck D, Coyote W. Prospective Study of Wet Duck Feathers, now in revision, J Dubious Results Oct. 2016.
2)Coyote W. Accelerated Neuroses Indices in Radiology Match Applicants, now accepted for abstract presentation at the April 2017 meeting of the Nailbiters Society.
Thank you. I look forward to my interview later this month.
Wiley Coyote, MS IV
The Lady Gaga School of Medicine"
THE PERSONAL STATEMENT: “I'M STUCK “
Join the deer-in-headlights crowd, the very concept is constipating. Paralyzing. Nauseating. Somehow, you need to cast yourself in the most flattering light without leaving the realms of honesty; align yourself with your chosen profession, be humble yet assertive, reassure us you seek rigorous training and intend to give back at every turn; underscore your ability to collaborate and play nicely with others; impress us with your literary skills and polish, possibly amuse us, avoid raising any red flags (we read between the lines, Hon), and lighten the deep coma into which the interviewers fall upon reading the 126th WhylWannaBeARadiologist snoozer ... which, for 19 out of 20 of you, will be the topic. It’s a sales pitch and it is marketing—and remember that marketing is NOT advertising. (While the latter managed to sell a few Segways, Beta Max video players, and a six-pack of New Coke, when the products subsequently failed to live up to their hype they then sank without a trace. MARKETING means understanding both yourself and your chosen career inside out, and then finding the best fit possible to the mutual benefit of program and applicant. I will help you MARKET but I will not assist in any false advertising). PS we also are aware of the downloadable PSs out on the Internet… that is plagiarism and will not be tolerated nor excused.
Try to use an active voice (Not “The play was performed by 3rdgraders; it was delightful and refreshing”, but “The third graders’ play delighted and refreshed me”). Fewer words, crisper sentences, more projected energy. If your grammar is uncertain, get a good proofreader (a human, not Spellchecker) to ferret out those pesky split infinitives, dangling participles, terminal prepositions, and other mysterious faux pas. One cannot start a sentence with “And…”; ”Indeed,…”; “But…”.
Exercises to break the writer’s block: Writing the informal autobiography for me often helps, I’m told. So does responding to the Dean’s form. Try a series of writing exercises: write yourself 1-2 pages never to be read by others, explaining what you have in excess; when you knew you were in hot water; apologizing for something even if you didn’t do it; reveal your most humiliating experience, reveal your most enlightening moment; what would you need to take to that desert isle; what you are proudest of, most deeply ashamed of… you get the drift. Prepare your proverbial ‘elevator speech’—that brisk, memorable, and carefully tailored 30 second sales pitch and career/interest/accomplishment summary that would land you that dream job were you to find yourself briefly elbow-to-elbow and alone with The Powers That Be in that hypothetical elevator (Google ‘elevator pitch’-- several sites offer great pointers). Dredge, dredge, dredge. You are looking for a narrative thread, a slight flavor, a burnished glow. This PS should also convey some information or insight into your product (you) that cannot be acquired elsewhere in the ERAS process. Ideally it also provides a few footholds for an interesting conversation at Interview.
Programs have set up the perfect cognitive dissonance experiment: the 600+ plus truly fabulous applications on our desk begin to run together in one molten mass of indistinguishable but undeniable talent and potential. Frankly, programs learn to ignore about 90% or more of LORs, especially when they clearly are just another boring generic CV review sprinkled with overused words of lukewarm generic praise. Your grades and Step scores (and soon, percentiles on the SLOR) tell us at least half of you could do the job perfectly well. Therefore the PS looms larger than you might think in teasing out not just the intelligent and capable, but the individuals we might actually want to be stuck with over a grueling 13 hour day or tough weekend. Your essay puts a face on your story, shows us the human behind the student, makes us root for you, perks up our ears with interest. We want to see insight, values, voice, energy, enthusiasm, perception, awareness of others, egos smaller than Everest, a desire to contribute and give back. Don't waste our time reiterating your superb grades or research accomplishments, those are already showcased elsewhere in the ERAS, probably twice. Boredom is the enemy.
Look for an opening-line hook (See the first few lines of Garcia’s One Hundred Years of Solitude: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.".Or Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.. .".Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress: "Had we but worlds enough and time ..."Or “The earth was smitten with fire and brimstone…” Or even "The yellow glow of street lamps illuminated the rippling wake of street puddles made by Detective M, rushing through the foggy streets in search of his assailant": second year med student Mike L, rapidly ad libbing when I asked for a catchy opening line!). Maybe the hook is a special moment frozen in time, a view, a sound, a street festival, a moment, a headline, a personal transition. What are your passions? Probe your past, your history, your family, the quirky corners of your mind (some of you need to be real careful here; I've caught glimpses of those mental corners and There Be Dragons...). You wish to entice, intrigue, entertain, convince, reassure. It is a professional sales pitch, a confirmation of your validity, your values, your goals; a re-affirmation of your unique skills, attributes, enthusiasm, your ethos, your world view. It's like trying on jeans: you can stop when you get a pair which technically fit, or you can keep going 'til you find that mystical transmogrifying magical pair that accentuate and underscore and showcase every good thing there is to see about you. It can also be an intriguing opportunity to learn more about yourself. If you elect to share a personal tragedy, problem, or personal test which contributed to this choice, be careful: being compelled to go into Neurorads subsequent to sharing a family member's painful illness and death from astrocytoma is different than being propelled by the year you spent in bed following your devastating skull fracture, subsequent uncontrollable seizures, and massive personality change. Both are legitimate motivators, yet one--unfairly or otherwise--will derail us and raise concerns about your current and future health, ie, put some people off. As will your near-miss with that felony conviction or the enchanting tale of how you fast-talked your way out of those pornography charges. Honesty rules, but this is not an exercise in free-association or random musings. If there are any serious moguls in your personal or med school history which must be confronted to preserve the integrity of the medical school, they will be included or alluded to in the Dean's letter, if not elsewhere. Discuss with the Dean and/or your advisor how to best address serious issues—sometimes it’s better to let them handle it in their letters rather than in your PS.
While a paragraph ago I urged you to really stretch and stimulate, creativity is a gamble; I've seen a very few brilliant examples of odd-ball approaches or unique content, and far more flaming failures. Nor is it likely that your audience (even a mere 30 schools times 5 committee members equals audience of 150 or more..) has any predictable homogeneity. Get input from trusted friends and advisors. Trust those inner voices. And if an Adult (me, an advisor, a Dean, your mother, your calm, mature, and literate best friend) recoils in horror, absolutely rejects and detests it, finds it obnoxious or pompous--take their word for it; return to drawing board, do not pass Go. There are more Moms, English majors, and faculty on these committees than flakey senior students. Many of us recall rolling our eyes at the student who wrote “I am a Force to be reckoned with!” (Besides demonstrating poor grammar, it was obnoxious). Nor was I impressed by “I am one in 7 billion! I have unlimited internet and unlimited creativity”.
Remember it is a writing sample; we want to see your literacy, sentence structure, coherence; your ability to organize your thoughts and couch your arguments. You have one chance to make that literary first impression. Check your facts and spelling--I never forgave one other-wise solid candidate for calling an alligator ‘an amphibian’; how could a trained scientist make such an obvious goof??? Double check their/there, its/it's, to/too and all the other snares Spell Check ignores. Proofread proofread proofread. Beware the awkward language usage, run-on sentence, poorly-phrased concept, exhausted cliché, grammatical lapse, historical error (which Armstrong did you mean, Louis, Lance, or Neil?) the typo--all deadly harpoons, implying sloppy habits, poor fact-checking, or imprecise thinking. Trust me, committees will not overlook the misspelled word or poorly phrased thought; Radiologists worship precision, accuracy, and the written and spoken word. We want future colleagues, who, umm, ya know, like, ummm, get it? English? Proofread. Don't trust Spelichecker. Contain your thoughts to one page. ONE. NO emoticons. Probably no exclamation points, but certainly NEVER multiple ones!!!!! Don't start every sentence with “I…”I…”I…
This has to be your baby. I can review and critique drafts, and nudge you away from obvious pitfalls (the look of sheer horror on my face is a dead give-away), but I've already done my residency; they don't want to know how I write, think, edit. And if I were to get too hands-on in this corner, both my applicants and I would lose credibility. It's terrifying. It's all up to you. And it is REALLY important.
Should I personalize several versions?
The answer: a qualified 'Yes', at least ‘til we all get used to the Supplemental ERAS. Programs, seeing huge increases in applications, need some clue you are truly interested. Certainly if you do individualize, take great care, so Siberia U doesn't accidentally get the version declaring your destiny lies with Atlantis U. (Do you want me, as a Hopkins committee member, to find your JHU application states "...and that is why Emory Radiology and Dr. P's cyclotron research are so attractive to me." ? It happened.) And if you are geographically truly limited by a spouse finishing a graduate degree or who would be employable only in certain regions, if you are longing to return to roots, need nearby family for childcare and support, cannot live without mountains one more day… say so in statement—without pleading or seeming pathetic—but be careful and edit/rewrite that portion if applying also OUTSIDE that stated area! (another statement received at Hopkins one year said “…and so my passion for winter sports and cross-country trekking drive my desire to become a Dartmouth resident”. Maybe Dartmouth received “..and so my addiction to crab cakes and to the Chesapeake Bay drive me towards Hopkins”?)
That said, if you know you absolutely must go to a particular city or program and wish to be particularly strong about that for those schools, sure--send those programs a Supplemental ERAS and/or an extra line or two emphasizing the family, background, research mentor, fiance, horoscope reading, dog’s birth family, or personal situation mandating that program or town. Do some homework; what are some unique aspects of this program that so beckon you, and which of your attributes will be value-added to this particular program? Find some way to demonstrate your fit to and enthusiasm for that program’s specific form and philosophy even if its main attraction is being in the right zip code.
Mean what you say and say what you mean. And if you are claiming geographic preference be prepared to discuss/defend it especially if it is not obvious from life history and paper trail—ie you went to high school, college, and med school in home state, have 6 siblings and 4 grandparents all within 25 miles of birthplace in Texas or Illinois or Baltimore—why should a program 1500 miles from there believe your claim you ‘can’t wait, really have to’ re-locate? And if you are a very strong academic applicant—you’ll know who you are—be prepared to be explain why you are willing to leave Hopkins. Awkward—but happens, every year.
Do not submit your favorite snap on the beach at Spring Break, on the slopes in ski wear, or holding your pet python or an alcoholic beverage. Do not wear your favorite T-shirt and hemp necklace. No prom, wedding or hot tub pictures (have gotten all in past). Head-and-shoulder only. Do not wear a visor on backwards, sunglasses, hip-hop hair, or throw obscure hand-signs ("W": no). No Ice Challenge images. No game face. Nothing unduly artsy, dramatic, or creatively posed. Remove jewelry from any piercings that will show, aside from one through each earlobe (female); none if you are XY ("they" may not have strong feelings pro or con male earrings, but may wonder whether you understood the unwritten rules and conventions). Skip the over-spiky Woody Woodpecker surfer hair and puka necklace. Play it safe, put on a tie (NOT a bowtie) even if you're skipping the jacket, put on a reasonable blouse or blazer and skip the cleavage, fussy scarves, feathered hair bands, glittery or feather earrings (male or female). No props, no artsy poses leaning against a tree or supine in the grass. Head and shoulders only; full-body shots look odd, awkward and stagey. Don't tilt your head flirtatiously, don’t fold your hands against one cheek. No stethoscope around neck. I like to see a pleasant but not too casual look, a natural smile, something that makes me want to meet you. It's a black and white head-and-shoulders format; I strongly advise submitting a B&W image to be more certain of how it will transmit. In this digital era there's no excuse for suboptimal photos, keep going 'til it's just right. Don't hold the camera at arm's length and grab a selfie, it distorts your face. Do not try new hairstyles, Anime drama poses, or go to the Mall for a glamour-shot. Stay out of those awful 4-for-$2.50 booths with pleated polyester curtains. This is the first glimpse we have of your projected professional image, of your projected Brand and flavor. I'm told the Med School provides these, I may be wrong. In this digital era find a very talented colleague, perhaps. Some big-box stores do this, fairly cheaply; or find a friend with actual skills. Wherever, if it comes out unacceptably, politely insist on a re-do. For God's sake smile or at least imitate `pleasant'; make sure it's technically adequate (no odd reflections, half-closed eyes, goofy facies; not overly-dark-- my students of color, be very careful here). These will be printed and photocopied at every program, getting worse with each rendering. And will someone PLEASE find out how ERAS handles these-- in the printed applications I reviewed, some of the photos come out postage-stamp size, so one needs a magnifier to identify the student; occasionally, some come out near-life size overflowing the edges of the page (scary). It’d be nice to see them about 2”x3” on the far side. (Students with both micro- and macro-sized photos have claimed to have submitted conventional photos, so maybe it's another cruel ERAS processing artifact).
Every year a couple of applicants decide to skip the photo. Bad idea. We meet you in person if you Interview; any visible traits such as ethnicity, religion, weight, injury, acne or injury scars, genetic syndromes, or some of the other surprising reasons I’ve been given to not submit a photo, become moot. When Committees have to get back together in January to finalize The List, all these wonderful applicants starttoruntogether. The photo is an excellent reminder that snaps you back into our conscious mind, not a secret profiler tool.
TO HOW MANY PROGRAMS NEED I APPLY?
Short answer: I don't know, target keeps moving. There are sites that claim to document Match rates if one applies/lists XX programs—but each applicant and each year is different. And now with Zoom interviewing, the SLOR and the Supplemental, and Step one eradication, NO ONE knows for sure. At the end, list ALL programs to which you would be willing to go. These days, applying to +50 Rads programs is common. Applying to more happens, but may reflect your insecurity (or insight that your application is a long shot) more than a true odds-increaser. Every year nationally there are maybe 15 or 20 truly elite applicants who can get away with far less; the very strong may get away with 30-40. I have no idea how many more nation-wide can apply to less because of private agreements. I mentioned the caveats earlier, about taking too personally the graphs saying '95% of students with 12 applications Matched...".
It varies wildly depending on your status, geographic needs, degrees of freedom, perceived ‘tier’, couples match complexity, etc etc. You will need to listen to the Dean and other advisors if we warn you to spread wide nets or move away from other Hopkins applicants to up your odds. Numbers alone do not insure a match. Go online and review the differences between Matched and unmatched candidates; there are some clues to be gleaned here. Most programs are interviewing anywhere from 8 to 15 people per opening (nationally now NRMP suggests each program rank just over 10 students per slot); just getting 18 interviews doesn't mean you will end up high enough on anyone's list. Apply wide, try to visit programs of definite interest and if necessary start canceling interviews in less ideal places in January if the vibes seem good. IF of course your home team adores you and states pretty clearly ‘If you want us you will get us’, and IF you do indeed wish to stay put— and IF your program has a history of sticking to that story of wanting you (alas, perfidity has happened on both sides of fence), you may be very comfortable reducing the number of applications sent. It is all so arbitrary.
Between your Dean's meeting and your advisors, you should have some idea of what your reality is. Don't feel insulted if, after a lifetime in the Ivy Leagues and at the 99th percentile, you are told you need to apply to endless programs and/or look at ‘second-tier’ (horrible term) or less competitive programs. When 850 applications target 10 jobs, competition is artificially enhanced. Also, accept the fact you are competing against each other, here and elsewhere. No one, in selecting 4 or 5 residents, wants them all to be from one medical school. If you are the 9th Hopkins student they have seen, you will be compared not just to the general applicant pack but to your school pool. They will assess whose Boards or grade or per centile points are higher; whose letters more vivid; whose interpersonal skills, verbal presentation, personal statement, or extroversion more appealing; who has the charismatic edge. Being from The Mecca carries less weight at such times. On the other hand, step slightly off the academic highway and show up somewhere where fewer Hopkins students apply, and your institutional luster is burnished. Plus, you get a chance to be assessed absolutely --on your own personal and professional merits--instead of relatively.
Dr. Stan Siegelman (Hopkins) says 'there are at least 80 great programs' which will deliver superb training”. If you know you are less competitive, and/or less academic, 'scope out the so-called 'second tier' and step outside your original geographic guidelines. There are many wonderful programs, world-class teachers and mentors, and gratifyingly affordable life-styles waiting in unexpected places.
Matchlorette on Couples Match: “ONE LAST UNPLEASANT SURPRISE FOR THOSE COUPLES MATCHING: Starting, I believe, with the class that matched in 2018 (so a very recent change), the NRMP changed their match list fees for couples. If you are couples matching, in addition to the fees they charge everyone else, you are now charged $50 for every 50 ranks more than the "free" 100 ranks on your match list, up to 300 ranks (the maximum allowed). So, to rank 101-150 programs, you are charged $50; $100 to rank 151-200, and so on. The bottom line is that as a couple, you are charged $200 each to have the full rank list with 300 ranks (which you'd need if you wanted to rank every possible combination and you'd each interviewed at, say, 16 programs). Combined, my SO and I ended up paying $400 total. In hindsight we could have saved the money since we matched well above rank number 100, but better safe than sorry.”
ERAS SUBMISSION: RACE IS TO THE SWIFT
I cannot emphasize timeliness too much. A few years ago, 164 programs offered 980 total slots, pursued by 940 US students and 1299 total applicants—but looked at another way, 11,925 (of 164) programs were ranked by the applicants. Programs are anticipating a HUGE multiplier this year, as the tele-interviewing process (ie, low-cost Interviews) has enabled many to apply to even more programs. Translation: the math is confusing, but a more realistic number ( ie slots:number pursuing) is a multiplier around 30 or 40--the number of programs the typical antsy Rads Apps applies to. even though many applicants will not be weighed for interview invites until the Dean's letter rolls in (late Sept.usually the magic drop date for Dean’s LoR). In this buyer's market, many programs have received so many hundreds of superb applications before the end of September (pre-Covid) years that they did not bother to open any more after the first few hundred. Hearing that shocked me--we are OCD and review all 700-plus we receive--but the harsh reality is that your year(s) of preparation and toil may be tossed just because you waited until close to the closing deadline. This race is to the swift. KEEP AFTER your LOR writers, send gentle reminders around Labor Day. If you are hoping to play in the Major Leagues, GET IT DONE .
PS—there is something tricky about the payments to NBME to release Step scores—one payment to RELEASE and a second less-obvious one to SEND—several Matchlorettes therefore had delays/confusion. Check it out.
SCHEDULING: ANOTHER EXERCISE IN NON-CONTROL
Remember that as a courtesy any Hopkins person applying to JHU is offered an interview. We will do my best to be real with you; not every one should bother to accept that courtesy offer (read: "Snowball in Hell..."). If someone tells you "Perhaps you shouldn't bother unless you do it our first week, for practice”—please, listen to them, DO NOT show up in late January!!
IF IN-PERSON INTERVIEWS RESUME: Mostly one doesn't ‘schedule’ interviews ELSEWHERE, they are scheduled for you--some places do only one or two massive weekend groups; others will offer you a rigid take-or-leave single date. Every so often you will need to choose between two conflicting offers on one fixed date. Hopefully Zoom interviewing reduces the conflict since in theory one could do 2 programs in one or two days, timing permitting. This is an indifferent Buyers' market. Get addicted to your email, or have someone check it if you are going to be in a sealed biosphere underwater or in a mine shaft in a 3rd World country out of touch, because a tardy response to an email may get you a "Gee, sorry, we filled those slots". Do your best to clump in-person prelims and Rads visits, but resign yourself to flying to California 4 times, Chicago 3 times, Houston 2ce, because no one is flexible and no one cares that you are going broke interviewing. I've heard Southwest is best about refunds or reschedules, but post-Covid that keeps changing. Y'all are experts at 'scoping out Web travel deals. Borrow family frequent-flyer points; try to carpool with classmates. And ask if there is an on-campus dorm for visitors, a visitors’ host program,or check Priceline or other price-slashing sites, to try to control hotel costs.
(2Pre-Covid note: one unhappy Hopkins traveler reported getting BEDBUGS on a prolonged multi-site Interview trip. Read all relevant advice, inspect bedding, consider packing in heavy plastic liners, and maybe buy one of those sleeping bag inserts…)
BE HAPPY most will be virtual for near future!!
I DIDN'T GET AN INTERVIEW! NOW WHAT?
First accept that this is not encouraging news, though not necessarily fatal. Remember that Aunt Minnie is an unreliable (sometimes intentionally misleading) source of 'I heard.." info. Outright rejections (Board scores below cut-off, for instance) are usually unsuccessfully appealed. Wait listings or didn't-hear-yets might be more successfully wiggled. “Didn’t hear yet” is the most nerve-wracking; not every program sends out a clear-cut rejection, some just let the prolonged silence speak for them. By all means, if you are realistically competitive at and obsessed with a particular program/locale, find someone here with ties to that program who might be willing to send an encouraging email. Let the program know yourself, once and only once, that you were disappointed not to be offered an interview since they are so high on your list, and that you are hoping they can reconsider either now or if something opens up later in the season (dates tend not to re-open once taken, but it's worth gently reminding them you are available). Every so often there has been an oversight or legitimate delay and every so often, this actually works. One of the happiest recent Matchlorettes did not originally hear from their presumed first choice, got someone to nudge them, got the interview—and Matched.
But DO NOT CALL NOR TEXT. Email works better and is less likely to annoy the program; you have more control and chance to polish/perfect, can't get into an argument, can force yourself to be brief, professional, articulate. Plus, it's there in front of them; remember phone calls are ephemera and texting a Gen Y/Millenial thing. Be brief, graceful, and coherent. The idea is to reinforce your sincere interest in a program/city, especially Prelim programs. Several initially-excluded students have scored interviews--and even Matches--this way, but do this only if the program is truly near the top of your list, not just to feel secure by landing yet another interview at your 27th choice.
I was surprised to discover that some slightly smaller, less-academic, or less geographically-popular but totally terrific programs may need gentle encouragement to know that a good Hopkins student really does want to be considered, and/or is not automatically staying here, or clinging to the coasts. The Supplemental ERAS can help you here. “I have a ton of family in your area, a fiancee with 3 years left at BBU, and have previously done research with SJCombs in your Wiz Khalifa Lab. I am hoping you will take another look at my application".
Matchlorette: “- IF YOU ARE COUPLES MATCHING, SEND EMAILS!!: I couples matched with someone going into Internal Medicine, and hadn't realized that IM is a huge field where it is easy to get screened out if you're unlucky enough to have gotten a HP in the basic clerkship (as is what happened to my SO). Be prepared to have your options limited. Send emails to programs when one of you gets an interview -- both of you -- I screwed up a little here, because I was afraid to email "top" programs on my end due to worry that they would think I was being too high-maintenance/demanding. For instance: when programs like Penn and Duke and Stanford (and even Hopkins) sent me interviews, my SO would email their IM counterparts, but I never emailed the Radiology departments to say that I was couples matching and my partner had applied/was hoping for an interview. I don't know if it would have helped -- but he did get interviews at many IM programs where I wasn't too nervous to email (Mayo, Emory) -- and when we made the rank list, a lot of the programs I would have loved to go to ended up dropping down our list because my SO hadn't gotten an interview. This isn't to say that he would have certainly gotten interviews, but it's tough to think that you could have done more. In short: if couples matching, you have nothing to lose by sending a short email explaining your situation, and include any/all specific reasons you have to attend that program in particular.
- EVEN IF YOU AREN'T COUPLES MATCHING, SEND EMAILS IF YOU HAVE A SUBSTANTIAL REASON TO BE INTERESTED IN THAT PROGRAM!!: What an era we now live in! - There is now a crowd-sourced Google spreadsheet that is updated as soon as anyone receives an interview invite from that particular radiology program, along with the dates that are offered. I generally do not recommend checking this spreadsheet often (it is a breeding ground for neuroticism), but in one very specific case it did help me. The day UNC sent out interviews, I did not receive one. When I saw that interviews for UNC had gone out, I wrote them an email explaining my ties to the area -- I grew up in Chapel Hill, my parents and brother live here, I would be honored and grateful for the opportunity to interview at UNC -- and two hours later they sent me an interview offer. Again, I am of the opinion that an email of interest won't hurt you (provided it is sincere and well-written), and it is worth sending if you feel your application may have gotten overlooked. “
Matchlorette tech suggestion: “ ANOTHER NOTE ON THE TECHNOLOGICAL ERA WE LIVE IN: As interviews are now scheduled online, people's first choices of interview dates often get scooped up quickly. When Vanderbilt sent me an interview offer, I was unable to get to a desktop computer to schedule my interview for fourteen minutes -- at which point all dates were taken except for one, which conflicted with another interview I had. I was lucky enough that this was my only real scheduling snafu, but one will definitely run into some conflicts. Some upperclassmen have given advice to research last year's interview dates for every program applied to and make a spreadsheet of what your "ideal schedule" or top 3 interview date preferences would be, so that you can respond more quickly to programs -- I do not recommend doing this, it is unnecessary work and things change so quickly. I do recommend doing the following:
(1) Connect your ERAS application to a newly-created Gmail address, so that you know every email that comes in will be residency-related. You can then leave this Gmail address logged in on your phone and the distinctive email alert will allow you to distinguish between Gmail and the regular Mail app. I have friends who, upon receiving the alert, excused themselves from interviewing a patient to go find a desktop computer and quickly schedule an interview -- I was never brave enough to do this. I did quickly explain the situation to the attending I was working with that day (to explain why I was glued to my laptop in the workroom), and they were more than understanding.
(2) If you cannot be at your computer/phone for an extended period of time (for instance, if you know you will be scrubbed into the OR all day), send your current interview schedule and account details to a loved one and have them sign you up for interviews that come in. I did this twice: once when I was taking my OB/GYN shelf exam, and once when I was taking Step 2 CK. Med school friends are great for this -- they often are more technologically savvy than parents, and they understand the stress involved in scheduling interviews.
There are several medical and business how-to books out there about interviewing. After this last 2 years, there are also endless sites offering tips for Zoom interviews. Read them! Insure privacy/quiet for the session, post Do Not Disturb/Qiet Interview in Session signs on the locked door (no kids, no through traffic, no playful dog interruptions); preview how you look and what your background is (don’t get too creative here), appropriate dress not just from the belt up (too many errors viewable on-line), camera at a level where you don’t come across as asleep. Zoom or in-person, I really don't intend to launch into instructions on grooming, jewelry, dental hygiene, nails, shoe polish, table manners, neurotic fiddling, hand shakes (which I hope have become dodo-dead post-COVID), cell phone silencing, and avoiding the temptation to check messages or emails... but all this and more are fair game in the many hours you and I will spend together before you hit 'send' on that ERAS application. (see below)
If conventional travel involved, DO make sure your interview clothing is carry-on and relatively wrinkle-resistant. One applicant’s electric razor broke, pack a back-up disposable. Pack extra contact lenses. Do be 10 minutes early, not 5 minutes late, and remember the non-medical staff can exercise astonishing veto power in a program IRL or on Zoom. There are no throw-away moments, no re-do's. Be rude to a receptionist or administrator on the phone, Zoom, or in person and you may kiss it goodbye; these people have worked with us for years and are shrewd litmus test assessors who have our ear. No whining about air connections, hotels, parking, or acts of God. Be charming and considerate to all. Leave the water bottle outside. Don’t touch your face or yank at your clothing. TURN YOUR CELL PHONES OFF AND FORGET YOU HAVE ONE. Be a Social Optimist: assume they will like you, practice that firm handshake (or alternative gesture—Namaste?) and sincere smile and radiate quiet pleasure in being on board. And if the program puts you up with residents, specify if you have pet allergies—one too-polite applicant stayed silent and suffered miserably through the next day’s program, alternately fighting his swollen sinuses and the tendency to nod off on antihistamines.
2020s Matchlorettes commented:
- “ Have a group of supportive co-applicants that you can talk to, exchange notes, etc. I feel that while it could be stressful, I ended up benefiting a lot from going through the process with a group of friends rather than doing it alone. Don’t panic if you don’t get that one interview when all your friends do, especially early in the season. It happened to me, you will be fine
- ”Take a deep breath. Interviews are generally fun. Be prepared to talk about your actual hobbies. All of them.
- Dr. Magid’s LOR can be a great conversation starter. Make sure to invest in the autobiography, and be ready to talk about it.
- Be prepared to talk about all your research works, but pick 1-2 projects that you’re most passionate about and practice. Many interviewers let me pick a research topic to talk about.
- While it never feels that way, remember that you’re interviewing the program as much as they are interviewing you. This mentality helped me relax, stay focus & ask questions that are important to me. Also keep in mind that some interviewers are doing this for the 1st time. They are probably as nervous as you are, and it is up to you to make it into a memorable conversation.
- Have a list of 20* questions for when people ask if you have any more question about the program. Memorize them. Especially important for the last interview of the days after you got asked the same thing by 10 other people.” (*Donna’s opinion: ‘20” seems like a LOT, 2-3 would work too)
Matchlorette: “ A QUICK PLUG FOR THE HOPKINS ALUMNI HOST PROGRAM: It's great! If you send the Hopkins HOST program your interview date and city, they will email you back a list of all ex-Hopkins residents and attendings who currently live in that area and have indicated that they would be willing to host a medical student. I did this in Pittsburgh and stayed with a really generous attending in her beautiful house (I had a whole bedroom and bathroom to myself) -- for nothing! It's a great way to save some money if you don't have any friends/relatives in a strange city (although, if you do, now is absolutely the time to reconnect with a "by the way, if you have a spare bed or couch available..."). “
“ON PREPARING FOR INTERVIEWS: Interviews are my weak point. I am not terribly articulate nor am I a fast thinker. I received some truly excellent advice from my friend and classmate, who told me that in her experience as a student interviewer on the admissions committee for Hopkins Med, she looks for two things in an applicant: 1. Gratitude, 2. Enthusiasm. I took her words to heart and I think it helped me tremendously on my approach to interviews. As she explains it, from the applicant's standpoint, the interviewer has already a sense of who you are from the application (your grades/scores, your research and extracurriculars, your strengths). The one thing that the interview can relay that your CV cannot is gratitude for your experiences (I think this goes hand-in-hand with humility), and how excited you are about the specialty and program where you are interviewing. If you have to work a little harder to project or highlight two aspects of your personality on interview day, I think these are the most important ones.
- ON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS: The radiology interview is relatively short (in my experience, 20 minutes max, if that), and extremely laid-back: there were some programs where I hardly said a word, and the only question I was asked was "do you have any questions for me?". By 2-3 interviews in, I was not asked any question that I had never been asked previously (with the exception of Stanford, which notoriously has a MMI-esque station that is unlike any other interview designed to see how well you think on your feet and, probably, test your analytical skills. I tanked it. I still received personalized post-interview communications that led me to suspect I was ranked highly. So it's still okay!). As someone who is a little awkward in interviews, I'm a little biased and think it is okay to be a little awkward in interviews. HOWEVER, one should certainly be prepared for:
* A 1-2 sentence blurb about every significant research project listed on ERAS, especially if you are first author or if the project is in radiology (interviewers like to talk about things that interest them!).
The dreaded moment when the interviewer says "What questions do you have for me?". I think it is fine to ask a question that you already have had answered, if you're interested in hearing another perspective or if it seems like an important question. I would be prepared with at least 4-5 questions. To me, it is not so much the quality of the questions -- but rather, if you have no questions (or only one bad question), it causes the interviewer to think that you are not interested in the program (going back to the importance of projecting enthusiasm!).
* The two major questions that kept popping up: (1) "Tell me something about yourself that isn't in your application", and (2) "Why do you want to come to this program?". I was asked at least one of these questions at over 50% of my interviews. Two interviewers at ZZZ asked "if you're coming from Hopkins, why would you leave and come to ZZZ?" and I was caught off-guard. Have some reasons ready: for programs I had no obvious ties to, I said that I was couples matching and that both my partner and I were excited about our respective programs in the area.’
“ - PROGRAMS HAVE THEIR QUIRKS: I'm not sure how much you can circulate this as an advisor (probably not much), but there were a few programs that had somewhat idiosyncratic interviews I was told about previously. A couple residents let me know that Stanford has an "interesting" station (no details), and that one well-known Interviewer at Penn likes to ask a volley of rapid-fire questions ranging from "What's the last song you listened to?" to "What's your favorite meal to cook?". Duke does "walking interviews" where you and your interviewer spend the 20-30 interview walking through the hospital and campus (multiply this by 4 interviewers!) -- I was forewarned by others to wear good walking shoes. There were certainly a few other interview situations throughout the season that left me feeling a little disoriented. It really helps, in situations like these, to have friends and residents who look out for you -- unfortunately, there's no other good way to prepare for this. The only general advice I can think of is: bring a coat to the interview, and carry it on the tour (especially if you're terrified of cold weather like me). I'd say about half of the programs I interviewed at between December-January included an outdoor portion of the tour, particularly NYC programs. There was always at least 1 person caught without a jacket, walking outdoors for 5+ minutes in sub-freezing weather -- one poor girl had already a bit of a cold and was sniffling the entire time in just a pantsuit, because she'd taken an Uber straight from her door to the interview and hadn't thought she would have to go outside at all. But other than that, the Radiology interview is generally very straightforward (actually, the more "intense" interviews I had were for the prelim year in Internal Medicine!). AVOID BADMOUTHING ANYONE. I know this is emphasized in Apps of Steel, but I think it is worth mentioning again because I was floored by how often this happened on the interview trail. I saw applicants tell residents at dinner about other horrendous interview experiences, about things they disliked about their home program, about the weird PD they met, about residents at other programs who got too drunk at dinner, about the terrible food at other interview dinners -- don't be this person, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth! Residents, too -- I tended to think poorly of residents who made off-hand disparaging comments about other programs in the area -- proud to say I never heard a Hopkins resident do this, but it happened multiple times elsewhere. If you are called on to comment on particularly egregious gossip, I will refer to the excellent advice in Apps of Steel: duck, deflect, "I'm just a medical student, that kind of thing flies right over my head". This happened at XXX U, where an (otherwise very nice) interviewer said: "So you're from Hopkins! You must know all about the drama that happened with our chair" (I didn't). An apologetic laugh, "I'm just a medical student, I actually don't know much about what goes on in the department" -- I was happy to have the words on the tip of my tongue in a moment where I otherwise wouldn't have known how to react!”
Remember your Interview situation is likely to cross generational boundaries; PDs are usually Gen x or Boomers, applicants are usually Gen Y/Millenials. While in general medical students form a very conservative sliver of their generation, there are occasional mis-cues or faux pas that could have been foreseen or avoided.
Here are some things Gen X and Boomers (Your Interviewers) do not quite ‘get’ about Gen Y (you): You want flexible work hours, you think jeans and casual Friday are appropriate garb, you text, you take selfies, you think getting into a car with a total stranger (Uber) or sleeping at a stranger’s (airbnb) is great, you like to share, you ask questions, you want prompt feedback and transparency, and in school you got a trophy just for showing up. You want coaching and mentoring and rapid results.
Here are some things Gen Y does not quite get about Gen X and the Boomers: We will not retire and go away any time soon. We are digital immigrants, not natives. We grew up gathering data laboriously and crunching it for hours, not minutes. We have a few scars and regrets; it is called experience. We respect and expect hierarchy and loyalty. We paid our dues. We like Standard English, respect for the invisible rules and customs, and conventional ethical values. We think Gen Y is terrific.
On financial aid? Contact them and ask for a “Budget Adjustment for Residency”. I am told many of your travel expenses (If IRL resumes) may be reimbursable in scholarship although I know nothing about the details. Keep all receipts on principle—either for this or possibly tax deductions.
Ask current house officers for ideas on cheap travel—airbnb, uber, Rotatingroom.com—that hotel room you occupy for 1 non-sleeping hour is a huge and possibly unnecessary expense. Look for old college friends or lost relatives in town and beg for the couch. Ask if the med student or any dorm rents overnight.
AUTHENTICITY vs CONFORMITY: This is not a time to hang on the tails of the bell curve, nor to get too creative. Extremism or soap boxes of any form (visual, sartorial, verbal, political, sexual, religious) will hinder your journey. To some extent you must emulate those you are hoping to join, and medical institutions tend to be conservative habitats. This is a particular issue for any sort of perceived minority, be it gender or gender-preference, religious, ethnic, or other valid core beliefs and lifestyle choices. Being yourself isn’t wrong, but temper that with the need to prove you will fit in to group and team process if chosen. Most of you are superb at donning protective coloration or tamping it down appropriately; those who do not yet ‘get it’ may benefit from (hopefully gentle, empathetic but constructive and clear) feedback from an advisor, dean, or peer. You cannot masquerade as something you do not wish to be—find your comfort level and try not to draw any (possibly belligerent) lines. And use judgment when asking ‘difficult’ questions—what happens when a female resident is pregnant; what if an observant Jew needs to rearrange call to avoid Sabbath call; how will this facility accommodate my physical challenge when I am on the XYZ rotation or at Facility Q. A compassionate interviewer or program often offers such information generically before it is asked, yet remember a program is not supposed to ask you certain personal questions (“Are you planning on having children?”; “Why aren’t you married?”; “Are you gay?” “Why don’t you have a driver’s license?” “How often do you drink?”).
DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Programs and Interviewers want to know you are a personal/cultural fit. You need to explore that culture and decide if it fits you; and if the program is of great interest, how to display your fit into their culture and comfort levels. Cultural congruence—shared passions, values, styles—are a secret handshake. Find a way to project your fit and your fitness, while remaining humble, honest, and real.
Research on-line the night before (take notes!) will help you flesh out your impression of the program and place and to ask questions on-site that might otherwise not occur to you. Later in the season, notes taken before the Interview—and after!—will help revive impressions as your exhausted and confused mind spirals into February. Have some clue how the program operates; review the Department and Institution web site for clues and cues to flavor, philosophy, regional bias, enthusiasms, possible gaping holes, strong points (night call, paper vs digital records, organ-based vs modality-based, Fellow-heavy, how many hospital sites, how many residents total, how are conferences and teaching, …). If you can identify an ex-Hopkins student who has gone there (DOSA and I both have prior JHU Match Day lists filed), in Radiology or other specialties, last 4-5 years, perhaps check in with them beforehand to see if there is any additional insight to the Institution or town to be gained off-the-record. Have some intelligent inquiries (and avoid “What time do you get out most days?’ “What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program? ”or “Can I moonlight?”—these are turn-offs) ready for residents and faculty.
Selection Committees can read. We want to size you up in person even if Zoom; paper is too two-dimensional. A Radiologist is a doctors' doctor and needs, among other things, excellent verbal and interpersonal skills. Training the arrogant, lazy, argumentative, or psychotic exhausts us. On top of that, every institution and department has its own flavor and culture. You may be wonderful, but just not a good fit for the existing group marriage (think blind date: everything sounded great on paper but after 5 minutes you both know … ‘ummm no thanks, no one's fault’). I can't tell you much about interviews elsewhere, but here you usually have six 12-minute interviews, 3 faculty and 3 residents. All have arduously scrutinized your ERAS application, recreated time-lines (“I can’t quite figure out where you were for that 7 months in late 2013..”), Googled and FaceBook’d and PubMed’d you.
No one tells us how to interview; topics may veer wildly from sports to iguanas (a recurring sub-text in this document) to current events, as well more-anticipated topics. One never knows which phrase or factoid in your ERAS actually registered in those places where they bother to preview the paperwork prior to Interview Day. (I was astonished and horrified to hear from my students how many interviewers fly blind and have not pre-read the ERAS--after all that hard work! Trust me, though, we'll have done our homework here).
"His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy ... He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready ....."
EMINEM, LOSE YOURSELF, 8 MILE ROAD
Listen to your Dean, your advisors, your friends and family; buff yourself up for interviews. By the time you must fly in November, one hopes you have identified your own personal peccadillos. Hands off your face, sit up straight, make eye contact, no knee-jiggling, no nail-biting, project confidence and joy. Maybe someone has suggested modifications in hair or dress Possibly you’ve hammered your MallBonics ("Uhmmm.. .like.. so, uhhh.. .like, awesome.. .), your Valley Girl uptalk? YaKnoww??, your nervous quirks, your discoverable personal flaws. Advisors or wise friends may suggest--gently, I hope --you have too much temper, are too shy, too arrogant, talk too much/not enough, that your eyes glaze over and you babble and gush if someone mentions SpongeBob Squarepants, the NRA, Republicans, or child pornography. Someone may suggest topics best avoided, by the crowds in general but you in particular--the interview most likely is not the place to come out, to explain the poetry of Tupac Shakur, explain why Frylock is a demonic metaphor, show off your Anime pose, or to convert someone with your born-again religious fervor I would suggest not sitting on chair's edge, and to curb the hand wringing, twitching, drumming; teach yourself to clasp your hands or hold your (small) briefcase to keep yourself still. Some say don't steeple the fingers--can look arrogant. Interestingly, at Hopkins, the one time both residents and faculty on the committee seem to agree 100% is when someone comes off as arrogant or conceited. Make eye contact, smile, if forced to shake hands do so firmly (Carry alcohol wipes or tiny Purells; hope that Covid has eliminated this ritual if IRL resumes. Find a way to gracefully decline—Namaste, elbow, whatever). Don't mumble. Put a lid on the nervous giggles and titters. No snarling rictus fake smile. NO GAME FACE, not ever, never!! This nonverbal stuff is hard to polish or practice with roommates or friends; video yourself if you really need major work. Be merciless with yourself here.
PS—should you be applying in 2 subspecialties, don’t go out of your way to explain or clarify that. It makes some programs look at you cross-eyed or wonder ‘what’s wrong’. Don’t be dishonest—just don’t bare all unnecessarily. Ditto ‘Where have you interviewed?”. It isn’t quite illegal but it is awkward-- maybe look puzzled and say vaguely “A lot of places, I’m pretty happy and relieved” (unfortunately an honest ‘My advisor told me we didn’t have to answer that” may rub someone the wrong way even though true).
Never bad-mouth any one or anything. NEVER. Turn your cell phone off. Do not check it or let it ping you with updates. Do not comb hair, touch up make up, groom in any way, publicly. Do not discuss activities usually occurring behind closed doors with or without another person. Don’t ask too much about hours or vacation. Look interested and engaged and pleased to be there at all times. There are no throw-away moments—not with a Resident, receptionist, administrative assistant, bus driver or Security guard.
Some programs offer Zoom ‘cocktail parties’ with their residents the night before. As awkward as these Hollywood Square non-events are, GO to it. If your rare in-person interviews happen to include dinners or luncheons, make sure you have some basic etiquette down. GO to these dinners, it makes a difference. Wash hands, wait to be told to start (or wait ‘til the host/hostess starts), don't gulp down alcohol even if it's offered, don't comment if alcohol isn't offered; most of you are fine and can fake it as needed. If you are at some disadvantage here, do research! (in this era of instant uneducated athlete millionaires there are people who do nothing but teach rudiments of meeting and meal etiquette; Google some of these for ideas, or rent a proper period-piece British movie). If you find out ahead of time there's a meal, let the PD's office know early on if you are a vegetarian or vegan or have special dietary needs (not every place has caught on yet; the Hopkins dinner is always someplace that works for most dietary preferences but students have been dined elsewhere in steak houses or places with very limited or pre-set options.) Do a Prelim or less-interesting Radiology interview first to break the season’s ice--or, if you know Hopkins is not in your future, take an early interview date with us for practice. Anywhere you go TALK TO THE RESIDENTS, not just the other applicants.
Interviews drag on nearly 4 months past ERAS compilation. If any of your academic work has progressed (ie, from 'in progress' to 'submitted', ‘submitted' to 'in revision', 'in revision' to 'in press') type and print a neat brief update and bring multiple copies to each program for the folders. "Before I forget, I wanted you to have this update on my publications". Or email (publication updates, newly-awarded prizes or recognition, your AOA acceptance, or your brilliant Step 2 scores), about a week before your interview--much sooner and it might be lost. Speaking of Step Two—it is likely to become the litmus test Step 1 has been; study HARD and take it by late July to get scores to programs not far behind your ERAS. it’s a gamble; take them too early, do less well than hoped, and they automatically go to all schools; take them too late and dazzle, who cares?? Search your soul and assess your previous test trends and schedule accordingly.
Woody Allen said "Ninety five per cent of life is just showing up". In person-- Don't count on driving 3 hours at 5 AM and making it on time. Don’t be surprised if the parking garage is full and you are re-routed, if there is a construction or MVC delay, if it might take you 15 or 20 minutes to navigate from Parking or taxi drop-off to the proper building in a large complex. Murphy's Law rules. Go the night before. Carry, don't check, your interview cloths (ask primo resident Doug the interview story about losing his dress shirt and having to replace it at 6 AM in a strange town). Test-drive your shoes before leaving home IRL: comfortable? Hospital tours can be endless; can you walk 2 miles and 4 flights of stairs in them? Do they slip on marble, catch in concrete or cobblestone, slip off as you ascend a staircase? If they make noise on hard floors go to a shoemaker and get plastic taps, or reject them. Shine your shoes, ditch the Reeboks. Don't smell of overpowering perfumes or body washes, nor cigarettes, alcohol, or worse. Can you sit down and get up comfortably in whatever you are wearing? Can you walk up or down steps or across cobblestones?
Brave New World: The Zoom Interview
If Zoom, sign on 15 minutes early. Remember to mute audio/visual while you wait through that time. Hippocrates advised physicians to be 'well-dressed and clean in person". Most of you will translate that to “Funeral Director, Stark”, which is not necessarily true-- allowing a hint of color in the blouse or tie under that understated well-cut suit, or for women discrete jewelry and flattering understated daytime make-up, are absolutely fine and may make you feel more like yourself. Wear or do nothing that a person over 40 might not ‘get’. No companion pets, no flip flops, no 'do-me' heels, no sparkly chandelier earrings or huge statement jewelry, no corsages, no cleavage at either end, no excessive or odd makeup, no textured or odd-colored or patterned stockings, no facial piercings, no unusual colors or patterns for that suit, no knitting or chewing gum while you talk, no cursing, no adjusting (or showing) bra straps, no whale’s tails, no package checks, no kilts, no political or ethnic or religious displays on lapels, no extreme hair styles or faux-hawks, no hair colors not normally seen in humans, no Princess Beatrice fascinator hair bands, no bizarre cuts or colors. No 3-day beards, no bow ties, no jailing pants.. No visible tattoos, no thumb, nose, brow, or lip rings. No athleisure wear. No clothing tempting you to fiddle-if you can't leave a collar, tie pin, mustache, bangs, earring, scarf, alone, lose it. No black or bloody or glittery nail polishes, no excessively long acrylic nails suggesting you neither work nor wash (we wash our hands at least 15-20 times a day; no one soaks those glued-on babies This ain't the time to click your tongue ring against your incisors, Hon. Nothing see-through or come-hither, no inappropriate skin shows.
Have in mind at least 5 interesting hospital or patient vignettes or stories to use in some way—a patient inspiring great affection or great distaste; ditto for a service or medical team; maybe something the SOM encouraged students to do, academically or service-wise, that you like. No discussions of sex, religion, politics, gun control, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, Obama-care (they may ask, don’t initiate it yourself), That Former Guy, current politics, fake news, or other trigger-topics; ya never know who is really sitting across from you. Act and look ENGAGED, make eye contact, face the interviewer. Play it VERY straight, very conservative--if only to convey you understand the unwritten ground rules. Do not write with or carry anything with overt medical advertising on it. (Some academic docs are violently opposed to pharma company `freebies'; why take a chance?) Don't get into a true argument even if 'they' are wrong; be willing to gracefully concede, change the topic, or ‘agree to disagree’. (If backed into a corner, “My mom/advisor/Dr Magid told me not to argue with anyone” and smile winsomely)
Undoubtedly most or all of 2022-23 Match interview season will be conducted on-line. Students, consider how much money, time, money, stress, and money this will save! While you are the generation already happily nestled into Facetime, Skype, and more, this is different: Videoconferencing is a business interaction with as many potential pitfalls as the in-person experience. No matter how many viewers your blog has, go look at all the How-To sites, videos, YouTubes on professional on-line interviewing.
Position the computer and camera at about eye level, which means figuring out where the camera aperture sits (bashfully staring at the desk through lowered lids the whole time projects either terminal shyness, disinterest, or sleepiness; peering up as if as if bird-watching not much better. Stack books under your laptop til you find the right angle to let you appear to be making EYE CONTACT with the viewer—and resist the lure of checking your own image every few seconds, which demands discipline and practice). You want to be centered, about chest-up, filling the frame enough for your face and expressions to be seen but not so frame-filling we can judge your skin-care routine or orthodontic history.
Consider your visual setting. That backdrop is now, like your sartorial choices, a player in that first impression. It should neither distract nor monopolize, should stay within the undefined 2 SD of ‘appropriate’; should reflect a bit of forethought and preparation. Find a space which will be quiet and private, and secure the door with lock and a big “Do Not Disturb” sign (no we do not want to meet the kids, the dog, or the roommate, no matter how adorable). Beware the totally bare room/space—it echoes and degrades auditory quality. Choosing the background, real or virtual, is an issue—COVID postings seem to suggest a bookcase is the common denominator but this is absolutely not mandatory. Should you use a bookcase look at it—what titles are showing? Is it tidy? Interesting, or distracting? Any controversial titles or questionable visuals? Do you project well against it? Do avoid a totally blank white/beige/pastel wall—besides being unflattering, it is dull, which hopefully you are not. A solid wall in a more assertive non-pastel, jewel-tone color may be fine (personally I really like it), but test-drive it, and make sure you and your outfit stand out against it and do not blend in. If there are decorative items on that wall —painting, photo, old farm tools, gargoyles, your My Little Pony collection from 2d grade-- think about the potential message or distraction projected. Project the person you are (ok, possibly edited in some cases…), the person you hope to be, and the person you hope they wish to hire. Using a window with a lovely view behind you may backfire; distracting (did you see that red-headed woodpecker!?) and the back light tends to reduce you to silhouette. However, an appropriate quiet simple outdoor setting (real or virtual) may not be out of the question if you are lucky enough to have one (no wind, no activity behind your head, no traffic, no playground noises, no construction…) If all these considerations make you neurotic, invade your personal space, or are too challenging given your spatial constraints or existing décor (or perhaps you needed to schedule an interview while on service or somewhere visually challenged) find a virtual background meeting your professional standards (not a party; no balloons, not the Eiffel Tower nor a political rally..), make sure you have a quiet place with no interruptions and no matter where you are, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONES!! .
Lighting—natural or soft, coming from behind the camera but not casting harsh highlights/shadows; don’t be staring into the death glare of a strong desk lamp aimed at you face—it’s an interview, not an interrogation. Beware the window behind you, see above. Again, test drives are key. With the right windows and right time of day daylight may work but TEST IT first; no do-overs here.
Audio system— First shut the door and prominently post "INTERVIEW--DO NOT DISTURB" signs. Most laptops are designed for audio (most of you DO NOT need to rush out and start buying fancy set-ups), and conventional speech usually transmits well—make sure you aren’t too loud nor too soft, and pre-test your own speech to see if you are projecting naturally and clearly (as well as the usual—do you mumble, talk too fast, UmmUmmUmm….).
And of course now, on top of the usual outfit concerns, one needs to make sure the clothing videos well—prints or plaids can be fine, but make sure any pattern is understated or muted enough to project well. Don’t distract with unduly bright colors or high-contrast stripes, checks, vibrant plaids that don’t project cleanly. And choose a chair which allows both comfort and appropriate height, but does not encourage fidgeting (no wheels), doesn’t squeak, and doesn’t interfere which the visual picture you are creating (so if high-backed—consider it a part of the backdrop to be integrated and incorporated. No Goth peacock back. Low back may be better but beware a stool or no back—you may get uncomfortable and move around too much.)
"He opens his mouth but the words won't come out..." EMINEM op cit
Most questions get boring the 27th time you answer them. Remember specific answers don't matter so much as demonstrating cohesive and coherent thoughts, logical approaches, mental dexterity. and admirable English language usage. You will be sick of many questions, and startled by a few.
Interviewers do not like uptalk, nor vocal fry. Silence your cell phone and any audible computer/phone alerts. Park your Gen Y/Millenial common colloquial language outside the door; this is not a "Yo Dude S'up" event. Learn to pause quietly if you need a moment to compose an answer. Practice brief, crisp, professional answers, in grammatically sound full sentences, to these REAL queries (kindly reported by Matchlorettes):
"Tell me about yourself' (unimaginative but ubiquitous. It’s the Elevator Talk.)
"Why Rads?" (ditto— avoid the overused ‘puzzles’ approach; come up with a brief but intelligent rational which may include your visual learner/assessment proclivities, the ‘doctor’s doctor’ stance, your superb IT skills, your growing realization that we will lead medical and technical change for the next few decades—whatever is true and real but just a bit more detailed than ‘I like it”)
"What are the challenges ahead for Radiology?"
"What sets you apart from the other Hopkins applicants?"
"Why did you apply here?" (esp. if it is your 4thor 5thchoice or geographically suboptimal)
"Why don't more residents go into (Peds, Rads, IR, etc)?"
"What are you looking for in a program?"
"Tell me about a decision you've made in the last year"
“Tell me about a bad decision.” (saying ‘NO weaknesses’ or ‘NEVER made a bad decision’-NO GOOD)
“Do you want to be FAMOUS?”
“If everyone at Hopkins loves you, why would you leave and come here?”
“How does your mother describe you?”
“Why didn’t you do an Away rotation here?” (Money, sick parent, registrar discouraged it, whatever)
“You look like an East/West Coast type—why are you here?” (flyover state)
“Read this radiograph” (Describe 1st,Dx 2d!!)
“Where’s Waldo?” (handing over a book)
“Did you get interviews at (named other programs)?” ILLEGAL!! Gracefully duck (“I’m just starting the season, " thrilled I got some great interviews, seems like bad luck to discuss University B at University A”, "Oh, all over the mid-west and the Coasts...")
“Should the police be de-funded?”
“Where do you stand on kale?”
“Who would win in a fight, Hilary or Michelle? Joe or Donald?”
“I hear a rumor about Hopkins that Dr XYZ might be fired….” Duck! Deflect! “I’m just a med student, that kind of gossip flies right by me.”
“I hear Dr YY at your place is gay/getting a divorce/has a glioblastoma” Duck, deflect, distance self.
"Can you tell me your greatest strengths?" (Boring ,trite, but be prepared)
“Explain a time you had to make a rapid decision and got it right/wrong”
“Give me an example of an experience that proves you can work on a team”
“What was your biggest mistake?” (Again—have a wisely-chosen example; ‘None” does not fly)
“What was your worst hospital experience?”
“Tell me a joke” (!!) Deflect-- "My friends have forbidden me to ever do so in public again, sorry".
“Describe a challenge you have surmounted"
"If you were an animal/plant/salad dressing/dinosaur/disease…. which would you be?"
“Explain that “P” in Pediatrics”.
“Why here, for one year?” (PGY 1)
“What was your one defining moment?”
“Where are we on your rank list?” (ILLEGAL!!! Be tactful and elusive)
“What seminal papers has your letter writer written?”
"Have you ever lost your temper in a clinical setting?"
"What does it take to get you angry?" or “Ever been in a fist fight?”
"Favorite organ system? Discuss imaging of that system" (Caveat: Interviewer’s subspecialty?)
"Would Johnny Cash or Elvis make a better doc?"
“Tell me three things your significant other would say he/she liked (or didn’t like) about you. ”
“If you couldn’t do XXX what would you do? Why didn’t you do (yr answer) anyway?”
"What was the last museum (theatre, movie, public park, TV show, newspaper) you saw?"
“What is your greatest weakness?" (While one very adroit Superstar student got away with saying coyly, "My abs", don't count on this working for you!)
"What was the last book you read?" (Don't let it be a comic, nor X-rated, nor Clifford the Big Red Dog unless you were home with your 4 year old last night). And be familiar with the claimed book.)
And of course those great conversation-stoppers, boring yet inevitable:
"Do you have any questions for me?" (IMPORTANT!! It is a TERRIBLE question and nearly everyone will ask it. Have a few in mind—NOT about salary or vacation! Make your pre-loaded queries specific/non-generic enough to reflect true interest and some previous homework. DO NOT ask the interviewer about program strengths and weaknesses-- asked to extinction and suggests you did no background work. DO know something about the city and the Institution/program; virtually every program has a website, read it). I used to like it if someone asked me 'What do you like best about working here?"-- but if it happened 14x a day it would have gotten annoying fast. If you have a particular research niche or subspecialty interest, perhaps ask if you can email Dr. Who from that lab performing that new interesting procedure, for some info )
“Where do you see yourself in 5/10/15 years?”
“Describe a good/bad team you've worked with and what makes them good/bad?
“What is your biggest weakness, or alternatively, what do you anticipate will be the hardest part of residency?
“Why you for this program” OR “why this program for you?”
“Define the difference between IR and DR” (and hope you know which one your interrogator is! )
“Tell me about an interesting radiology case”
“Why would you ever move here?” (2020 Matchlorette comment: “ I interviewed at programs outside of the East Coast, and at most of those programs, at least one interviewer asked me why I would move to that part of the country when I've lived on the East Coast most of my life (or if I had any connections to that city). At some programs, I felt that this was very important to them.”
“Why did you ever move to/how did you survive Baltimore?”
“Everyone was friendly at the radiology interviews and I was never asked a really odd or unexpected question. All the questions that I was asked are either in the apps of steel or other commonly used resources. People typically asked me about research experiences, hobbies, and books that I've read. Every person asked what questions do you have for me. No one asked me questions that required any radiology/medical knowledge.”
“Internal medicine prelim/transitional interviews: they asked tougher questions than the radiology ones. So students should also prepare for the prelim interviews. For example, they would ask me about patient encounters or particular clinical experiences (e.g. if I witnessed or encountered unprofessional behavior in the ward and how I handled it”
“ The dreaded moment when the interviewer says "What questions do you have for me?". I think it is fine to ask a question that you already have had answered, if you're interested in hearing another perspective or if it seems like an important question. I would be prepared with at least 4-5 questions. To me, it is not so much the quality of the questions -- but rather, if you have no questions (or only one bad question), it causes the interviewer to think that you are not interested in the program (going back to the importance of projecting enthusiasm!).
* The two major questions that kept popping up: (1) "Tell me something about yourself that isn't in your application", and (2) "Why do you want to come to this program?". I was asked at least one of these questions at over 50% of my interviews. Two interviewers at ZZZ asked "if you're coming from Hopkins, why would you leave and come to ZZZ?" and I was caught off-guard. Have some reasons ready: for programs I had no obvious ties to, I said that I was couples matching and that both my partner and I were excited about our respective programs in the area.”
“AVOID BADMOUTHING ANYONE. I know this is emphasized in Apps of Steel, but I think it is worth mentioning again because I was floored by how often this happened on the interview trail. I saw applicants tell residents at dinner about other horrendous interview experiences, about things they disliked about their home program, about the weird PD they met, about residents at other programs who got too drunk at dinner, about the terrible food at other interview dinners -- don't be this person, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth! Residents, too -- I tended to think poorly of residents who made off-hand disparaging comments about other programs in the area -- proud to say I never heard a Hopkins resident do this, but it happened multiple times elsewhere. If you are called on to comment on particularly egregious gossip, I will refer to the excellent advice in Apps of Steel: duck, deflect, "I'm just a medical student, that kind of thing flies right over my head". This happened at XXX U, where an (otherwise very nice) interviewer said: "So you're from Hopkins! You must know all about the drama that happened with our chair" (I didn't). An apologetic laugh, "I'm just a medical student, I actually don't know much about what goes on in the department" -- I was happy to have the words on the tip of my tongue in a moment where I otherwise wouldn't have known how to react!”
And keep it together if someone asks you to read a scan or study! Remember describe first…diagnose second.
That Standardized Question approach is rising rapidly; behavior-style questions probe your innards (“What is your life motto? Your most embarrassing moment? 3 things you DON’T like about this program? What would you do if you saw a classmate doing something unethical? What stresses you?”—research this style interview).
And occasionally an Interviewer just sits there, silent, to see your reaction…try not to babble. Keep up a good front, think before filling the void with word salad.
If it is a panel or group, make eye contact with all of them as you answer, not just the one who posed the question.
Starting NOW or sooner, keep brief notes on interesting, difficult or meaningful patient encounters—you will be quizzed on them unexpectedly.
It is not unheard of for an Interviewer to ask you a clinical question, or to show you a paper, coin, or toothpick mind-teaser (‘using only these 3 pennies build a model of the Spaceship Enterprise..”) or ask you to solve an odd puzzle question; there is simply no way to anticipate or prepare. Should you freeze and flail, practice saying “Interviews paralyze that part of my brain”—with a warm and winning smile.
I'll bet you a sushi dinner you get asked several of the odder or more boring questions at least once. These questions are stultifying and yet inevitable but "Oh.. gee...um...so..." is not an acceptable option. Be prepared to be crisp and eloquent without sounding as if you pre-memorized every word. Hate these cardboard questions? Then pour your efforts into the hobbies/interest section and that Statement, and toss some conversational fodder out there! And be prepared for questions about those movies, books, music, woodworking, tomatoes, iguana farming; read the papers and Newsweek during interview season, read at least one or two interesting books (and remember the author's name), be at least vaguely aware if today's interview is also the day that city's team is in Game 3 of the playoffs, that the Pope is visiting, or that half of the city is under 7 inches of water from the hurricane 2 days ago. The whole point of great letters and great PSs are to make sure you never get to the dreaded tedious ‘Tell me about yourself” or “Do you have any questions?” part of the program. Make sure you have not just an interesting question or two-but maybe 6 or 8 prepared queries/ Show that you've done a little homework on the program (ie, don't ask how many residents there are; but maybe “I see the program went from 6 to 8 residents last year, what further expansion to you foresee? Any new rotations in the works?”). If someone asks, "Why are manhole covers round?" or `What are baby aardvarks called?"* you are on your own. Smile. *farrows
THANK YOU NOTES
There appears to be wide dissention among the Hopkins faculty and DOSAs regarding thank you notes. Quick, get me a bucket; I'm drowning in queries about these. My stance on email evolved annually for over a decade. I field an AMAZING number of questions about the dread post-interview Thank-You Note: To Be or Not To Be?? And other questions. Email is the way to go if communication. I do not believe you need to blanket each person at each program, but the targeted emails you do send must present you as carefully as that funeral director's Men in Black ensemble you wore in person on Interview Day.
Thank you notes: it's business and yet it's a thank you; intrinsically conflicting formats. Aim for professional with a warm and 'real' tone. Remember we are looking for verbally agile people; make sure this note doesn't undo the effort you put into polishing the ERAS and your personal statement. Spell every word and each person's name correctly. Be succinct.
Do it within 24-72 hours but do NOT do it from the airport waiting room 90 minutes later—timing is everything. Since some will tell you 'No thank you note at all", versus my "Note, to selected parties", email may be a more-casual bridge between the 2 extremes. Use some judgment. And refer back to my earlier comments on business email. Older, stodgier, more traditional types might wonder where your manners are. Snail mail is dead, ‘so 2012’; people are teleworking, Christmas cards arrive in April, post offices are understaffed both nationally and in hospitals. Email is preferred (although do not read anything into it if targeted attendings don't respond). Again, if emailing, be professional and formal. Format as if it were snailmail: "Dear Dr. SoAndSo... . Sincerely, YadaYada". Grammar counts, as does sentence structure, literacy and clarity of thought. If you aren't sure you said precisely what you meant, don't hit 'send'; let it mature, get an objective friend to proofread. Proofread 9 times; Spellcheck is not adequate-won't catch name errors, to/two/too, its/it's errors, it/if typos-but the erudite reader certainly will, with raised eyebrow. If you worry it is too long, too whiney, too heartfelt--listen to your inner censor and DO NOT hit send 'til you calm down and edit. Contain your exclamation points!!!!!!! Don't blow it now!!!!!!!! (Anecdotally, one applicant forwarded this experience: "I had one Residency Director tell me specifically that he hated email correspondence b/c it could be sent without thinking or editing, whether or not you had something to say (his exact words: 'any old brainf*** that pops out'). However, the Co-Director at that same program emailed me the day after the interview. I'll probably write a traditional letter to the first, and email my note to the second".)
Sign-off professionally! If you got email from a program, mirror it (they said “Sincerely”, or “Best”, “Regards”? Do the same); or choose something safe and objective—Best Regards, Sincerely, Thank you…. NO quotes, NO emojis, NO fancy fonts or colors, NO team insignia, no burst of personality, no website/Instagram/hashtag/Snapchat/TikTok info. It should be your name, title (in most cases Johns Hopkins SOM MS4), your cell phone and email. Done.
The huge advantage of email is the ease with which one could hit ‘Reply’ should one wish to—when I have been impressed with a candidate I answer the email, to reinforce the new relationship, which did not happen in the snail mail days.
Take some notes as soon as possible after Interviews, jot down the good bad and ugly—by late winter everything is one swirling blur. If you got some sort of ethereal ‘vibe’, good or bad, take note—those inner voices can be quite accurate. Scribble down key names, key facts, pros, cons, and trivia.
Be real--don't bother w/ programs you aren't too excited about. Make a few notes within minutes or hours of finishing the interview day, to help jumpstart your sodden brain when you start to write notes ('Was that Dr. F. who was in the military ...or Dr. M? Which one asked me to email them a photo of my award-winning 217 lb pumpkin? Which one gave me that great diaper rash tip?") Mention, if possible, something unique about the conversation you had with Dr. X ("It was intriguing discussing our shared passion for Aqua Teen Hunger Force", "Thanks for the insights into life in Siberia", "I pursued the factoid we were debating and you're right-- SpongeBob does live in a pineapple; it's Patrick who lives under that rock"). LISTEN TO YOUR INNER CENSOR!! If you wonder if some comment is out-of-line, over-the-top, too much, too sycophantic, too heart-felt---oh yes, it certainly is. Stop!!! And of course there is always room for unusual circumstances (eg, if, as happened a couple years ago, you were robbed at gunpoint leaving that interview in the Midwest and the program knows it) find some way to allude to the incident and let them know it's behind you.
IF IT IS TRUE, espouse your enthusiasm and allude to your hopes- "I hope you will keep my sincere interest in mind as I intend to rank you highly"; "I was very impressed with your program and appreciate the time and interest everyone shared w/ me", "It would be an honor and pleasure to train with such outstanding residents", "I am wildly enthusiastic about Siberia and USiberia Med; please feel free to contact me with any further questions or comments ". Do not send photos of you in a new USiberia sweat suit.
The F Word: Wait until mid-to-late January to use the word 'first', since it means little early in the Interview Season. And you CANNOT say "rank you first" unless it's TRUE. ie, only ONCE. Radiology is a small world and it will haunt you if you do this to 2 programs.
DO NOT make it too obvious a generic form letter where just the Institutional/Interviewer name changes.
DO NOT use lots of exclamation points!!!! It's, like, puerile!!!!
DO NOT misspelll, cross out, mis-use words.
DO NOT fawn or grovel or ramble on; we want enthusiastic, but dignified, professionals. Don’t discuss how much your children and SO need/want this job. Don’t send pictures of the iguana in an O’s T-shirt.
And there you have it, folks. Don’t be annoying and don't stalk.
DO NOT TEXT your thank you, nor FaceBook, nor Pagerbox it. Bzzztt, points off. ITZ NT GD ID. If you are wondering WDALMIC (who died and left me in charge), well, trust me on this one. OMG, these people are not your BFFs. And while mentioning current tech gadgets — to every step forward there is a potential pitfall. DO NOT comment on your Interview, nor Program opinions/comments, on Twitter, Facebook, blast, or even the allegedly anonymous Aunt Minnie Chat Room. Hello, remember us? We are the technologically-competent professionals—especially Residents on Admissions Committees—who would be delighted to discover your indiscrete outbursts (“What a drag, glad that is over”; “Everyone here needs a fashion make-over’, “Wow, did every nerd in the Universe Match here?”; “What a hick town, get me outta here!”).
THE FINISH LINE: LATE JANUARY
Decide on your true first choice, and tell them. ONE. ONE PROGRAM ONLY!! By email, not snail or phone. And once so announced, that door is closed tight. You can't say `One' to anyone else. Use the words "Number One", if true, because programs shrug off `highly' or `at the top' as being vague and meaningless. "Having wrapped up my interviews, I wanted to take this chance to tell you how impressed I was with your program. I am ranking you number one, and would be honored to join you for residency. I hope you will keep me strongly in mind". It is within Match Rules to tell a program 'You are my first choice'. Revisit a couple if you feel compelled, but revisits usually DO NOT nudge you up any one's lists--do it for yourself only and don’t spend a fortune doing it. If you wait 'til too close to the Feb. closing date, any comments from you may be too late. Programs are less obsessive than people; PDs finish and submit lists by late January or as soon as possible, and then head to all the great February Rads meetings in balmy climates, never revisiting said list again.
Can’t decide between Twitter U and Tweet SOM? Then you cannot say ‘No.1’ to either. Revert to slight vagueness: “As the season winds down I wanted to reiterate how very impressed I was with my day at Twitter U, and how highly I intend to rank you…”.
Match violations: there are very few points of clarity in the match process but this one is clear: programs SHOULD NOT ask you how you are ranking them. They can encourage, they can tell you 'If you rank us you will get us", they can cheerlead, but they CAN NOT put you on the spot like that. REPEAT: It is within Match Rules for a program to say 'We really want you" or "If you rank us you will get us". It is NOT legal for the program to press you to tell them where they are on your list (nor can you interrogate them for same). The last few weeks of several past Matches a generous handful of Hopkins students got not only email, but phone calls, to this effect. One, called at home at 10 PM by the PD at his/her 2nd choice, got flustered and mumbled something about how highly he/she regarded the program in question, then called me panicking to ask if he/she had just 'pinky swore' (made a binding commitment) and had to change his/her Match list. Unless you are lucky enough to be called by your Number One Dream Match (in which case you may certainly say ‘YesYesYes!’), you need not answer directly.
Of course, telling a PD "Hey, you are breaking a rule!" is unlikely to win you popularity contests. Have handy a deft verbal parry or two if said program is not your #1: "Gee, I am so thrilled, thanks--I'm not comfortable saying anything til my (wife/significant other/iguana) and I finish negotiating out a few final points". "Thank you so much, that is a real thrill", "Wow, that is so great, I loved USiberia--I just promised myself some time in a quiet corner for a day or two before committing to a final list". "Thank you, I am so flattered and thrilled--this whole Match is so confusing, but gee, it just seems bad luck to discuss it before I finalize it". You get the idea--positive, appreciative, but noncommittal. And then consider forwarding this inappropriate behavior to the Dean of Student Affairs (you can be anonymous)
Now: make up a Match List and certify it early so in case you lapse into a coma, fall into a crevice, are grounded in Everest by blizzards, or lose access to a computer for 2 weeks, you have a list in. Yes, you can and will change it again-but do NOT wait until the final hours to certify it for the first time! Hurricanes, power failures, Web site glitches, flu bugs, food poisoning, flat tires, delayed planes, family emergencies, volcanic disruption of the Internet -all known to strike without warning.
Include at least one Prelim program *not* hitched to a Residency in case catastrophe strikes and you fail to Rads-Match.
And then step away from your computer and get outta town.
Advice from two recent Matchlorettes:
“Here's one bit of wisdom for the next wave of applicants, both for making the List and for opening that envelope:
I woke up on the morning of the Match feeling anxious and the most helpful thing for calming my nerves was that I jotted down on a sticky note one thing I liked about each school on my ROL. I was not one of those students who kept an excel file about their impressions, I did everything by feel (this worked well for me), but this one instance of being explicit about what I liked took the edge off my anxiety. Not that I wrote a novel, each program had a word or sentence and nothing more, just something I felt I could reference in case I matched to somewhere not my #1 and needed a reminder that there was at least one positive thing to look forward to”
“ I had a running rank list to which I added programs immediately after each interview day. I found it helpful to compare programs relative to each other when the impressions & gut feelings were still fresh in my mind. I think most people will easily find their top 3. Making the final rank list was relatively straightforward thanks to the running list.”
MARCH: FEEDBACK PLEASE!!!
First of all, come Match Monday, PLEASE email even if it's just "Phew, matched", or "Didn't. Send hemlock". And then PLEASE compose and send me some MEMOIRS--an e-log of your season on the road, pointers for next year's group, advice you wish someone had shared with you, odd questions asked, travel or scheduling tips, comments received on your ERAS, program commentary. 10 words or 10 pages, all contributions welcome. I keep all confidential, remove identifying features, and share this as de-identified and generic.
Faculty everywhere have all been crushed by increasing clinical/RVU expectations, COVID-complex work places, home schooling and more. Collecting pearls and collating pitfalls from others, and freely adapting any useful information one extracts from this verbose tomb, is my contribution to what I consider the Advisor and Mentor Species Survival Plan.
OUR STUDENTS ROCK AND RULE
GO FOR IT!
ADVICE MAY BE WORTH JUST WHAT YOU PAID FOR IT ...
Remember these are my opinions, mine alone, don't blame anyone else if anything offends or puzzles or annoys you.
Numerical accuracy not guaranteed.