Application Advice from an Internal Medicine Program Director

As the next installment on our series of interviewing program directors across the country, we had the chance to speak with Dr. Scott Kopec, the program director of the internal medicine program at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, MA. Be sure to read and learn his thoughts on the challenges of applying this cycle and ways that you can make your application standout.

UMass Memorial Medical Center, Worcester, MA
What is the biggest challenge in the application cycle this year from the perspective of a program director? 

Finding unique ways to show the applicants what kind of environment the program has.  You can tell them that we are all a big family that get along great, always have each other’s back, and have fun together, but telling them is not the same as having them visit and interact with the house staff, and seeing for themselves, and determining if they think they would “fit in”.

Dr. Scott Kopec, Program Director Internal Medicine Residency, UMass Memorial
With applicants not being able to interview in person, they lack the ability to show off their interpersonal skills, manners, and overall demeanor in person. Is there a way that they can still manage to do this during this application cycle?  

Yes. They should make sure that any interaction with the program be professional and courteous, whether that interaction is an e-mail or phone call, and with anyone related to the program including admin staff.  In “breakout rooms” where they will have the opportunity to talk to house staff they should participate and be interactive, pay attention, and not be on their phones or doing other things.  They should keep their video camera on unless they are taking a quick break.

Will standardized test scores become more important this year? Less important? The same? 

Unfortunately I believe they will become more important because everyone is anticipating a 30-50% increase in the number of applications, so programs will try to wean down the number of applications to review.  It is impossible to go through 5000-6000 applications.  I think it is fair game for applicants to ask program how much they emphasize Step scores, or if they have a more holistic approach.  Since there is no correlation between Step scores and how you will do as a resident, we do not screen by step scores, and do a more holistic approach. It takes longer to screen applications but we feel it is well worth it.

“Everyone is anticipating a 30-50% increase in the number of applications.”

Dr. Scott Kopec, Program Director Internal Medicine Residency, UMass Memorial
Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises? 

Yes. So if you really like a program outside of your home institution you might want to let that program know.  I also think programs will look more favorable on candidates from schools that they have match previous years.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give an applicant when it comes to how to succeed during the application cycle of 2020? 

Don’t panic.  Make sure you are realistic in which programs you apply too. For example, if you have average Step scores and are in the middle of the class, you are a very good candidate but you might consider not applying to the top elite programs who only take students in the top 10% of the class with Step scores > 240-250.  Also, make sure you have a good mentor who will go to bat for you, including contacting programs on your behalf that you are very interested in but haven’t been offered an interview.

Thank you to Dr. Kopec for taking time to share this very helpful perspective with us. Special thanks as well to Dr. Tim Olivier for setting up this interview. The submission deadline for ERAS applications is quickly approaching. Be sure to check out our other resources and make sure you have the best application ready to submit.

Click here to see what other program directors have to say.

Back to more residency application resources.

Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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