Special: Away Rotations for 2020

Away rotations were a very important part of my fourth year of medical school as they are for many medical students applying to a wide range of specialties.  Audition rotations or sub-internships give students a unique opportunity to work directly with programs, meet new faculty and residents, garner letters of recommendation, and learn a tremendous amount working in their desired field.  They also are important for international medical graduates and students who may not have the specialty they are applying to at their home institution.  I will dive into the value of away rotations in later posts.

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During early 2020, fourth year medical students were preparing their applications for the Visiting Student Learning Opportunities (VSLO) program.  These plans came to a dramatic halt with the freezing of the typical application cycle due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.  Given the duress of the situation and realizing the broad implications of ensuring the safety of all medical students, encouraging social distancing practices, and providing equitable opportunities for all medical students, I recently was a part of a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary team that discussed the best way for students, programs, specialty governing bodies, and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to address the pandemic’s effect on away rotations.  We proposed several action items and opportunities that institutions and specialties could implement to provide virtual experiences for students.

It has been great to hear that despite the circumstances, the AAMC made specific recommendations that help to address many of the concerns raised across the country with away rotations and that specialty governing bodies have integrated these approaches into their guidelines for programs to use.  Specifically, many programs are working to set up virtual experiences for students.  These may range from allowing interested students to virtually attend a program’s grand rounds, virtual meet and greets with faculty and residents, or attend resident teaching sessions.  The specific opportunities differ by school and institution, but application deadlines for some are approaching soon.

While these virtual experiences serving as surrogates for audition rotations are not ideal, I encourage every applicant to take full advantage of the situation and these opportunities.  Programs and applicants alike will be chartering new territories so I would expect glitches, however don’t let that negatively impact your experience.  One item in particular that I would like to emphasize is carrying yourself virtually in video call scenarios with the same professionalism you would exhibit for in person experiences.  As interviews are going to be happening virtually (more on that to come), programs will be operating with less information than usual and be using these virtual sessions to help ultimately determine rank lists.  Be dressed well and appropriately, be well groomed, sit up straight, be attentive, and use a nice, plain backdrop.  You would hate for any pictures, posters, decorations, or other items lurking in your video feed to negatively influence your application and compromise your ability to match.  I would put away cellphone distractions and be sure to have your audio muted when others are speaking.

Most importantly, be yourself. Oftentimes on away rotations, many students feel the pressure to portray a certain image of themselves and we do that in other areas of our lives as well.  While you certainly want to be professional and respectful, if there is a discussion taking place, be a part of it if it is appropriate to be.  Prepare for the sessions and ask insightful questions when given the opportunity.

While this is uncharted territory, research and take advantage of these virtual experiences programs are offering to make the most of this application season. 

Best of luck in finding the right opportunities for you and comment or reach out with any questions you encounter with the process.  

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Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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