Finding a Research Mentor (Part 1)

One of the most frustrating and time consuming processes for me during the first year of medical school was selecting a research mentor to work with during the summer between the first and second year.  At that point in time, I had nearly zero research experience outside of working for a virology lab in college one summer, but I knew that participating in research and generating products of that work (presentations and publications) were highly valuable for building a competitive residency application portfolio.  This is the first of a three part segment on discovering the right research mentor for you.  This post will discuss the basic considerations of what specialty to chose for your research and what kind of research is best for your goals.  In part two, we will discuss several qualities to look for when identifying potential research mentors.  Part three will cover other miscellaneous considerations that can have a substantial influence on your research productivity and success.

Image by Pete Linforth by Pixaby

I remember during medical school orientation being provided with a document that provided help for finding a research mentor.  Perusing this document, all it did was list nearly every attending with an affiliation to the school of medicine, their specialty, and an email address.  After emailing a couple of attendings and receiving no reply, I decided that I needed to be more systematic in my approach.  I first needed to answer several questions.  What specialty should I perform research in?  Did I want to participate in basic science or clinical research?  In conjunction with these questions that I did ask, looking back I realize that there are several additional considerations that I wish I would have accounted for.  These include the qualities I should be looking for in a mentor, the timeline for project completion, and potential for future projects.

What specialty should I perform research in?

As a first year medical student, very few people know exactly what specialty of medicine they want to eventually practice.  And that is okay.  I received several pieces of advice when discerning the answer to this question.

All research is good and more is better.

Dr. Carter J. Boyd, Founder Med Student Edge

All research is good and more is better.  Program directors and individuals that sit on resident application review committees know that it is not common for medical students to know from day 1 what field they will apply to for residency.  They also know that research takes a long time and that projects that you start as a first year medical student may take several years to move from an idea to published paper.  Later in your medical school career, as you begin to move towards choosing what specialty you will apply to for residency, you should try to identify a research mentor within the field you will be applying to.

While all research is valuable, if you think you may have an inclination towards more competitive residencies (i.e. surgical sub-specialties), it makes sense to do research in a more competitive specialty initially.  There is a seemingly unwritten bias among surgeons to favor research activities and experiences that were affiliated with other surgeons.  This may be better understood with an example: it is easier to have an application filled with ENT experiences and change at the last minute to applying for family medicine than it is to have a family medicine application portfolio and decide to apply to ENT near the application deadline.  Experiences in more competitive specialties transition to less competitive specialties with greater ease than the reverse scenario.

All that being said, try to pick a specialty for research in a field that you like or want to learn more about.  If you know that you do not want to be a neurosurgeon, then look for opportunities outside of the neurosurgery department.  Research is a great way to learn more about a specialty and an excellent way to become an expert on an individual topic in that specialty based on your project topic. 

Should I participate in basic science or clinical research?

There are several important points to consider when answering this question.  First, determine your own goals and preferences.  If you are interested in academic medicine and particularly in helping direct a lab as a part of your career, working on basic science research may help give you a background in this arena and assist you in building the skill set needed for eventually serving as a principal investigator in a laboratory.  Instead, if you are interested in policy, patient outcomes, or medical education, clinical research may be a better fit for you.

For my decision for the summer between the first and second years of medical school, I used a cost-benefit mentality to decide.  I had 10 weeks of dedicated protected research time with no other commitments.  If I were to choose basic science research, I would require extensive training on the procedures and experiments I would be performing, have limited access to the facilities, be subject to sharing equipment with the normal workflow of the laboratory, and may encounter delays or mistakes that require troubleshooting beyond my expertise.  Additionally, at the end of 10 weeks it was going to be difficult to find time to complete experiments or projects as medical school coursework commenced in second year.  By comparison for clinical research projects, I could obtain remote access and work from any location, work at my own pace, and hypothesized that it would be much easier to continue projects into the school year if I did not finish them within my 10-week period of protected time.

In terms of volume, it takes basic science researchers months to years to take a project from idea to publication, oftentimes a very arduous process.  As a medical student, this timeline does not align well with the aim of having as much research on your CV as possible.  It is much easier to produce a considerable volume with clinical research, particularly with collaboration on data collection and outsourcing of critical components of research such as statistical analysis. 

I have heard students and some faculty members suggest that basic science research looks better on a CV than clinical research.  While I think there may be some truth that basic science research experience may receive higher clout given that it typically requires significantly more effort and time, I don’t think that a ‘research experience’ equates with a ‘research product’, namely presentations or publications.  Head to head, I would be more impressed with one basic science publication compared to one clinical publication on a medical student’s CV, controlling for position of authorship.  But I personally would place more value on a medical student with one clinical publication compared to zero basic science publications but ‘basic science research experience’.  All other things being equal, basic science research likely is more prestigious than most medical student clinical research (unless it is a New England Journal of Medicine published randomized control trial).  However, all other things are not equal because it is much easier to publish numerous clinical research projects than it is to garner one basic science research publication.  While there may be a few medical students that garner an outstanding publication in JAMA or NEJM , programs are not expecting you to do that.  The overwhelming majority of faculty members you will interview with have not published in those journals, and they don’t expect you to.  This is why I consistently emphasize research volume to medical students.

For all of these reasons, I elected to pursue clinical research during the summer between first and second year of medical school.  My medical school allowed us an additional research block in our third year of medical school in which I participated in basic science research for 8 weeks, but that decision was largely based on diversifying my research portfolio for applications as I had already generated an ample volume of publications and presentations from clinical research in the first two years of medical school.  For students who may take a research year during medical school, I think that is a great time to be involved in basic science research.  I have witnessed several friends and colleagues make substantial contributions to the scientific community and bolster their own CV‘s with basic science research experiences, presentations, and publications during a dedicated research year. 

This concludes the first of three segments on finding a research mentor.  Look for part two next where we will discuss what qualities to look for in a research mentor. 

Do you have insight to add regarding what kind of research students should perform and in what specialty?  If so, comment below or contact us directly at Med Student Edge.

How to Study for USMLE Step 2 CK

Studying for USMLE Step 2 CK can be particularly stressful during the course of busy 3rd year rotations and the 4th year application process.  Still, it is important to set aside time to adequately prepare for the exam as it is a major component of your residency application.  If you have been studying, reading, and learning during your clerkships, you are likely more prepared than you think.  The ongoing studying for the shelf exams is excellent preparation for Step 2 CK as the style of the questions is very similar to these examinations.  Step 2 CK is different from Step 1 in that CK predominantly based on applying your knowledge to clinical scenarios.  There is much less of an emphasis on extraneous memory recall and instead a transition towards application of what you know to solve novel patient cases and anecdotes.  That fact should inform the way that you prepare.  Namely, practice questions are the key.

My general advice for exam board preparation is to continue what you have been doing.  By the time you are preparing to study for and take Step 2 CK, you have taken an innumerable number of exams, quizzes, and tests throughout medical school.  And if you have made it this far in medical school, you’ve likely been fairly successful throughout that entire process.  If you happen to have struggled on clerkship examinations, you may want to try to identify any problems with your test taking strategies for clinical based questions as these tests are quite similar in content and style to Step 2 CK.  Still, strong preparation is the best way to ensure success on these exams.  Make a schedule, chose your resources, and get to studying.

While Step 2 CK resources have traditionally been more sparse in comparison to Step 1 preparation tools, this will likely change with the progression of Step 1 to pass/fail score reporting.  It will be interesting to see what new learning tools emerge based on this change as Step 2 CK scores will likely transition to the importance that Step 1 scores traditionally carried.  For now, here is the list of resources that I recommend you use in your preparations.  While there are many more resources available, those listed below are sufficient to optimize your time, money, and efforts. 

As I’m sure many of you are familiar with this question bank from Step 1 preparation, UWorld is the gold standard preparation tool for Step 2 CK.  UWorld’s team has worked extensively to augment both the quality and quantity of the practice questions available over the past several years.  The questions aren’t the only feature that make this such an invaluable resource.  The in-depth analysis provided for the questions for both the correct and incorrect answer choices is where I spent the bulk of my study time with this resource.  The descriptions break down the question and deliver the content that the question was testing you in well-polished, succinct answers.  Too many times I have seen students just focus on getting the questions right.  There is a lot to be learned by missing questions and studying the explanations is a great way to build your fund of knowledge.  They have two practice exams available for self-assessment.  I purchased a subscription for the Step 2 CK UWorld that I completed throughout the timeline of my clinical coursework and used to prepare for shelf exams.  It is worth purchasing another subscription or resetting your account when you begin your dedicated studying for Step 2 CK.  Completing the entire UWorld question bank is my most highly recommended tip for Step 2 CK preparation.

National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) Practice Tests provide practice examinations that are useful for reviewing specific specialty subject content and also comprehensive material to prepare for Step 2 CK.  These practice exams generate score reports that can help you identify specific content areas weaknesses to guide the remainder of your studies.  They also provide a rough idea of what score your performance on the practice test might correlate with on the real exam.

In terms of books, First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK is a good reference guide.  I don’t recommend reading it cover to cover given the time restraints for Step 2 CK preparation, but it is good to have a quick and easy place to annotate learning points from practice questions.  I had extensively annotated a copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and ended up referencing it for several specific areas that aren’t covered as in depth in the Step 2 CK version.  Step-Up to Medicine was another great resource that I used throughout all of my clerkships (not just medicine) and I found particularly helpful for preparing for the Step 2 CK exam given the detail it provides on the fundamentals.

Image from FirstAidTeam.com

Online MedEd is a great resource for video based learning.  I used these videos to varying extent to cover certain topics studying for shelf exams throughout the clinical years.  I found these videos particularly helpful for reviewing specific content areas where I was not performing well.  They also provide for a more passive way of learning when you’re exhausted from reading or focusing on practice question blocks at the end of a grueling day.  I made a cumulative list of videos that I found particularly helpful for me to review easily confused concepts as the exam date approached (such as the Pediatric’s – Orthopedic video).  There is other content available through this site, but selecting videos to address your specific weaknesses is the most high-yield.

By the time you are taking Step 2 CK, you are already a pro test taker.  Trust the process of preparation and try to maintain a solid routine of studying so you can excel on test day.  Good luck!

Med Student Edge has no financial relationships with any of the resources that have been mentioned in this post.  Do you have other helpful resources that you’d like to share? Leave a comment or contact Med Student Edge directly.

CV Template

While I should have been excited the first time I secured a meeting with an attending to discuss a potential research opportunity, I was incredibly anxious over one line in the attending’s email.  “Before our meeting, would you mind sending me a copy of your CV?”  As a first year medical student, all that I had at that time was the résumé I used for applying to medical school, and I really didn’t have much to add to it.  Instead of preparing appropriately for the meeting by reading the attending’s previous published research articles, I spent two days learning how to build a curriculum vitae on the internet.  I was hopeless trying to decide which elements to incorporate from the various examples I read.  I pieced together a rather motley document to email him before our meeting (as fate would have it, the attending chose a different medical student for the project).

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

About a year later, I stumbled upon a model CV from our medical school.  I realized how different this version was from the examples I had seen online (largely targeted for the business world).  I swiftly constructed my CV based on this guide and over the next two years since then have tweaked the sections and formatting to better align with the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) application.  This CV template will allow you to accurately demonstrate to mentors, residency programs, letter of recommendation writers, and others your accomplishments and achievements.  Copy and paste it into a word document and begin to build your CV.  The formatting may require minor adjustments.

We will walk through each section of the CV and try to clarify any ambiguity.

Heading

Use your official name, and if you go by another name consider putting it in quotations.  List an address that you (or someone) will be checking for mail.  List your cellphone number and a non-institutional email address.  I recommend creating a separate email address for going through the application process (I used my personal gmail) as some institutional email servers filter out external emails.

Education

This should include any graduate school (your medical degree, any master degrees) and your undergraduate degree.  At this point, high school is no longer relevant.  I recommend listing your USMLE scores under your degree (in my experience, attendings will ask your Step 1 score if you don’t list it).  I also recommend major medical school honors such as election to Gold Humanism Honor Society or Alpha Omega Alpha under your degrees as well.  Everything else can appear later in the Honors and Awards section. For your undergraduate degree, I think it is important to include what you majored and minored in.  I had an extensive conversation with a chief of the plastic surgery division on one of my away rotations after he noticed from my CV that I had a minor in Theology.  You never know what will catch the eye of an attending. 

Honors and Awards

General format is to list the award name, and the group that awards is gave you the award (whether that be a school, professional society, alumni association).  It is important to also list a brief description of the award.  While the award may be well known at your institution or in a given group, don’t assume that everyone reading your CV will know what it is without a brief explanation.  Keep explanations to one short sentence if possible.  This is where I would list scholarships and research awards.  If you have honors from college that are noteworthy, I would also list those here.  Any major awards from high school such as being valedictorian or an Eagle Scout (I was asked about this at nearly every institution) should also be included. 

Research Experience

In the left hand column, you want to list the time frame that you have worked with this attending.  I chose to divide research experiences by individual attending.  I have seen others divide research experience by project, but I think organizing it by an attending is best, particularly if you have worked with numerous attendings.  I used ‘research assistant’ as my title/role on almost every research experience (the ERAS application portal will ask for these items).  I also classified my research experiences by the specialty that the project was associated with (plastic surgery research).  I would list the attendings name, with his or her degrees, and academic titles (professor, assistant professor, associate professor, chair, ect.) List the attending’s departmental or divisional affiliation. Then, list a description of what research you did and what your role was.  I kept each of these down to one sentence, though I have seen many people write a full paragraph and provide extensive detail.  I think either is okay, but lean towards brevity.  

While I did not list a work experience section (I went straight through undergrad to medical school and took no time off), if you had another career or worked before coming to medical school, add this section to your CV.  Programs will ask about any timeline gaps in your application, so having it already listed on your CV allows them to focus on you and why you are interested in their program.

Publications

This is the first of many sections related to research products. This was the bulk of my CV.  I have them subdivided in this way because this will help you streamline the process for when you enter the information to ERAS.  Under this publications heading, this is where you want to list primary research articles that you have authored or co-authored in reverse chronological order (the most recent at the top).  I would listed publications here that have been accepted for publication, are in press, or are already published with a DOI or PMID.  Use a standard citation format that includes the authors last names followed by first and middle initials, the title of the article, the journal name, month and year of publication and the DOI or PMID if the article is published. If not published yet, list “accepted” or “in-press” at the end of the citation. 

Published Abstracts

ERAS allows you to specifically designate these, so if an abstract you presented at a conference gets later published in a journal, you can list that here.

Book Chapters

ERAS has you specifically designate book chapters as separate from primary research publications so I recommend listing it separately on your CV. ERAS requires you to submit all of the publishing details of the book. This was very difficult for me to determine for one of the book chapters that I helped write. I recommend getting in touch with your attending to make sure you have the appropriate information to list these citations.

Other Media

This section could include articles that you were featured in or wrote. One of my posters at a conference was picked up by a news network and an article was written on our work. I listed it in this section. I also helped to create a surgical video that was published online. I listed it here.

Manuscripts Submitted

In my opinion, this is one of the most important sections for ERAS and I think it is very important to have up to date when you give your CV to mentors or are applying for away rotations. Submitted manuscripts can be listed on your official ERAS application (this section composed 37% of all of the publication/presentation listings on my ERAS CV when I submitted my application). This is a great feature of the application process, particularly given the long duration of the peer-review process. Simply list the authors last names followed by initials, the title of the project, the journal it was submitted to, and the moth and date of submission. 

Manuscripts in Preparation

You cannot include this on your official ERAS CV.  However, this is a great indicator to mentors, letter of recommendation writers, and program directors of projects that are close to submission.  List the authors last names followed by initials and the working title of the project.  Your goal should be to move as many projects from this category to the manuscripts submitted section.

Studies in Progress

Again, this section cannot be added to the ERAS CV.  For the same reasons as above, it serves as a nice demonstration of your ongoing scholarly activity.  List the authors last names followed by initials and the working title of the project.  Work diligently to get as many of these projects finished and submitted before the application deadline. 

Presentations

You should list these in the same general citation format.  Start with the authors last names followed by initials and the title of the talk.  List the conference or setting of the talk.  Include the city and state where the talk was given as well as the month and year.  It is also important to list what type of presentation it was (poster, oral, plenary, ect).  For abstracts that were accepted but not able to be presented due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would also include a brief caveat statement explaining this.

Activities and Service

This will become a substantial portion of your application and CV.  List your role or title, the organization that it was affiliated with, and the city and state of the experience.  Here, it is also important to give a description of what your role was.  There may be many experiences or activities that would be well known to someone at your institution that would not be recognized outside of your school.  It is okay to go a little deeper into each of these if you would like to, however my personal style is to maintain brevity.

Professional Membershis

This is where I would list memberships to honor societies from college (Phi Beta Kappa for example) or election to honor societies in medical school (AOA or GHHS). Also, if you have become a member of a specialty organization (when I was interested in urology, I became a student member of the American Urological Association) include it here and the length of time you have been a member.

Languages

List any languages other than English that you are proficient in and indicate the level of proficiency.  Being fluent in another language is an extremely attractive quality.  But if you list it, be ready to speak it.  One of my interviews for residency was conducted completely in Spanish because the interviewer wanted to test if I really was fluent in Spanish as I had listed.

Hobbies

Some people will build an extensive list (I have seen people list 30+ hobbies).  To me, that seems like a bit much.  I would select 5-10 maximum hobbies or outside interests to include.  These are one of the most commonly asked questions in interviews.  So if you list hiking as a hobby, be prepared to discuss your most recent and favorite hikes.  If you list cooking, be ready to walk an attending through your favorite recipe.  If you list a musical instrument, you should be ready to tell the interviewers what songs you play.  While you want to show that you are an interesting person outside of the hospital, don’t list a hobby or interest if you aren’t able to speak on your involvement or interest in that particular activity.  You will be asked.

Composing a CV for the first time can be a daunting task.  This post helps you with what to include in your CV and how to organize it.  Keep these tips in mind when formulating your CV and set aside time to update it regularly.  Be sure to carefully review your CV and ask a family member or friend to give it a read over for you.  Remember, this is your way of presenting your accomplishments and activities.  Invest in the time now to organize and format your CV well and it will payoff for you later.

Do you have questions about how to compose a CV or what information to include? Leave a comment below or contact Med Student Edge directly.

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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How do I boost my CV before applying to residency?

Image by WikiImages from Pixaby

I’ve heard this question posed several times and its same sentiment expressed countless more. As the deadline for submitting an application for residency approaches, the pressure mounts for getting last minute bolsters to your curriculum vitae. And you are certainly not alone in this. I found myself in a very similar situation this time last year. Despite already working tremendously hard in the first three years of medical school, with just a couple months left before applying, there were many integral pieces of my application that were missing.

As of June 1st during my application cycle, I had zero letters of recommendation. I had not completed any of my away rotations or my home sub-internship in plastic surgery. I had many research projects that were stalled in various stages from data collection to manuscript drafting to submission. I had not taken Step 2 CK or CS. I had not drafted a personal statement. Still, I was able to find success throughout busy audition rotations and normal medical school coursework to significantly enhance my CV in these last three months.* You may find yourself in similar circumstances, and don’t stress! Most applicants will be in the same boat. Here’s a guide through each of these facets of your application. They will each be individual topics for more extensive discussion, but here is the sparknotes on each.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation can be an extremely anxiety provoking endeavor. I remember the uncertainty of how many letters I should get, who they should be from, and if I should try to get any on away rotations. Away rotation rec letters would be out of the question this year for most students as sub-internships opportunities (if any) are virtual. Ideally, for letters of recommendation you want them to be from faculty members in the field to which you are applying, though I think there will be more leniency with programs across specialties given the special circumstances of this application cycle. At the same time, you want to be sure that the individual writing the letter knows you well enough to write a positive, strong letter of recommendation for you. When I asked each of my letter writers, I specifically asked them, “Would you be willing and able to write me a positive, strong letter of recommendation for my residency application?” Letters of rec are an important part of the application, and you want to make sure that your letters portray you in your best self. Another important component is the timing of when you ask. You want to give letter writers ample time (at least 1 month’s notice, preferably more) before the deadline. I asked my letter writers from my home institution in person in late June before I was going to be gone for two months on two away rotations. I provided them with a copy of my CV and a rough draft of my personal statement (which you should as well), and emailed them any major updates to my application (new presentations being accepted, articles published, test scores, ect). Follow up with them and give them a professional, gentle nudge if you haven’t heard from them as the deadline approaches. Concern if letter writers were going to have their letters in by the deadline was one of the most anxious parts of the process for me, largely because I didn’t have control over it.

Sub-Internships (Home and Away)

Sub-internships are one of the biggest components of the summer and fall months for applicants to plastic surgery (and any competitive specialty). Visiting medical students for sub-internships during this season, appear that they will be severely restricted both at institutional and national levels given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Be on the look out for virtual opportunities that many programs are beginning to offer to gain familiarity with programs. This places even more of an emphasis on your home rotation performance. As there will be no opportunities for external rotations, all of one’s letters of recommendation will likely be garnered based on a student’s performance on their home sub-internship. Be well prepared for these rotations; study hard, be present, and be an active learner. Additionally, in the 2021 match, we will likely see a spike of applicants matching at their home institutions across specialties given the familiarity between programs and the applicants.

Research

One of the theme’s you will notice in my approach towards building a successful application is a strong emphasis on research. It is one of the only ways you can buffer your application for lower academic performance both on clinical rotations and board scores. Strong research experiences, posters, presentations, and publications demonstrate many qualities that program directors are looking for. These include dedication, hard work, persistence, scientific-inquiry, teamwork, and active learning just to name a few. In June, with just a few months before applications are submitted, it is very difficult to start (much less complete) a new randomized control trial. One of the most important point in the entire application process that I was not aware until approximately June of my application cycle that for research posters, abstracts, presentations, and papers they do not have to be already published for you to be able to list them on your official Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) application. You can list items that programs will see that are still in press, have just been accepted, and most importantly have been submitted. This is why research is one of the easiest ways that you can bolster your application in the final months before applying, namely you just have to submit it to be able to list it on your CV. In reviewing my ERAS application which I will do in more depth in later posts, about 37% of my research activity section was sub-classified as ‘other than published’, namely it either had been accepted and was still in press or more often had just been submitted. Taking research projects from an idea to when you see it finally published and indexed on Pubmed is an incredibly long period of time. While even getting a project to the point of submitting it to a conference for presentation or to a journal for publication takes a substantial period of time, it is much shorter than waiting until it is presented or published to be able to count it. Thus, the biggest advice I have for you today is to examine the projects you currently have ongoing and access which of them you and your team are most readily able to finish up and submit prior to submitting your application. Honesty and integrity are of the utmost importance to uphold in your application and in your career. Don’t say that something is submitted if its not, and don’t make up any items just to list it on your CV. While 37% of my application was ‘other than published’, 95% of that portion was accepted for presentation or publication in the months after applications were due.

If you don’t have any ongoing projects, this is a great time to reach out to residents and attendings, and ask them if there are any projects that they need some assistance with. Case reports generally can be written up quickly. Many times, you can submit high quality abstracts with preliminary data. When it comes to research, its all about quantity over quality, but more on that later.

Step 2 CK

I did not apply with a Step 2 CK score on my application. I took the exam in late November in between interviews and was only ever asked my Step 2 CK once. That being said, I had a Step 1 score in the 98th percentile and realized that it was more likely that my Step 2 CK score would decrease relative to my Step 1 score. For plastic surgery, there is maybe 1 program that I have heard rumors of that requires a Step 2 CK score to get an interview, but I know cases of people that interviewed there and matched there without having a Step 2 CK score as a part of their application. For the group of people that is comfortable with their Step 1 performance and believe they have a highly competitive score, I would strongly advise against taking Step 2 CK before you apply. The risk of a poor performance on the exam is not worth any marginal benefit of topping an already outstanding Step 1 score. I have heard from many friends in other competitive specialties (orthopedics, ENT, ect) that a Step 2 CK score is more or less expected with your application. In those cases, it is important to perform well on Step 2 CK and try to maintain the same relative score to your Step 1 score or improve.

For individuals with lower Step 1 scores, my advice is completely different. Showing a substantial improvement on Step 2 CK can be crucial in signaling to programs what caliber of applicant you really are (and as Step 1 becomes pass/fail, this will become important for all applicants). I know it is extremely difficult to study and prepare for Step 2 CK amidst the demands of asking for letters of recommendation, researching programs, working hard on away rotations, and everything else, but it is one of the best ways to demonstrate to programs your capabilities, determination, and work ethic. Despite the difficulty, it is well worth the effort and having that improved score will pay out dividends when interview invites are released.

Step 2 CS

My advice on Step 2 CS is similar to that which I gave for Step 2 CK. I don’t think there are many programs that require it by the time of your application,. Certainly as CS is pass/fail, it doesn’t particularly provide any value to your application. I would not be concerned about having the result on your application, and take it when the timing is write for you. And I won’t spend any more time on it in this post, given that the exam has been suspended for the next 12-18 months.

Personal Statement

Writing a personal statement is one of the more challenging aspects of applying to residency. It is an open ended prompt. You can do anything with it. You have 1 page (while there is a rather generous character/word count limit, I would not write anything over one page) to tell your story: who you are, where you have been, what you have done, where you want to go, and why this field. It is daunting. There are a multitude of approaches that you can use, a plethora of opinions, and innumerable pitfalls you can make. While I will address each of these subsequently and provide you with my own steps towards writing it, my overarching opinion after discussions with numerous program directors and faculty members across the country is that the personal statement hurts more applicants than it helps. My personal statement ended up being not very personal. It was succinct and formulaic: this is what I’ve done and this is what I want to do. I read plenty of personal statements that are more story based, that try to capture someone’s attention with a patient story or a family experience that led them to be where they are today. I think there is value in both, and I really think it comes down to your personality and what you want to portray. But I think it is also important to think about your audience…program directors, faculty members, and residents on the other end that are extremely busy and will be reading 100+ personal statements. That’s why I say if you have a solid, well-rounded application, the personal statement may not provide much value to you. Almost every surgical applicant has that ‘one day’ where they just ‘knew’ they wanted to do surgery. And I think that it is fine to be consistent with that mold.

The most important advice I have for writing the personal statement is getting a draft (no matter what it is) written early. Get feedback from family, friends outside of medicine, mentors. You want to have a well-polished draft to hand to faculty members that you ask for letters of recommendation, and you want to have apple time to refine it and edit it. Getting started is the hardest part. I recommend looking back to essays that you wrote for going into medical school. Reviewing these were a thought provoking exercise for me and helped to ground me in why I went to medical school in the first place. In summary, start writing it today and eventually some idea or theme will click with you.

I know that this may appear as a general outline and I just barely scratch the surface of each of these broader topics.  If you are an applicant and its June, these are the main areas I would focus on to propel your application to the next level.  Look for more in depth content on each topic coming out from Med Student Edge and contact us with any specific questions that you have.  Know a medical student that could benefit from this information? Be sure to share our page and this article with them. 

*My application deadline was September 15th. As a part of a response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the AAMC has pushed the date back for when programs gain access to applications. The date for this application cycle is October 21, 2020.

Introducing Med Student Edge

While I have blogged previously, once for a semester abroad and once for a service-learning trip, this is a new endeavor.  My interests in developing this page are multi-fold.  First and foremost, I want to provide direct information to medical students on success in school in order to prepare for and complete a successful match in the field of their choice.  Having just completed the matching process, there are numerous pieces of relevant information that I had to learn from others and learned on my own.  It’s an incredibly stressful process, and not having reliable information can make it even more challenging.

While I had great mentors, I felt like there were gaps in the advice I received along the way—particularly as my home institution did not have a residency pathway for individuals right out of medical school.  Thus, I will be curating a detailed guide through medical school education based on my path, mistakes I made along the way, and what I learned through those mistakes.  Additionally, I will be compiling a series on residency application advice, specifically targeted for plastic surgery though certainly still applicable to any residency applicant. Second, as I am about to start residency, I wanted to document the various steps along the way in my plastic surgery training.  This is to provide family and friends with a detailed view of my day to day life and a tool for me to continually reflect on my training experience in order to be the best physician I can be.

This will be a learning process as I go forward both from a content perspective and organizational level. I would greatly appreciate any feedback so that I can continue to deliver the highest quality information and continually improve throughout this journey.