Should you #ApplySmart?

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Pediatric Program Directors (APPD), the Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs (AMSPDC), and the Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics (COMSEP) put out a joint statement addressing how the 2020-2021 application cycle would be different. In addition, they outlined cursory guidelines for how applicants to pediatric residencies this year should proceed.

woman working at home with her laptop
Photo on Pexels.com

While generally helpful, one statement in the announcement has generated much discussion amongst applicants: “Finally, a strong plea: Please do not apply to more than 15 programs unless you have had some academic difficulty, are couples-matching, or are advised to by your pediatric medical school leadership. We want to ensure that applicants get a holistic review, but this will be difficult to do if programs are flooded by applications.” This statement is based on data from the APPD, though the AAMC’s data on this topic contradicts it. The APPD cites a student with a Step 1 score from 216-234 a 99% chance of matching if they rank 10 programs. The AAMC’s data on the other hand only gives an applicant an 85% chance of matching if they apply to 15 programs.

Stemming from this, FuturePedsRes has initiated a campaign, #ApplySmart, to disseminate these national pediatric recommendations and encourage applicants to follow them. Many applicants to pediatric residencies have taken to Twitter to announce their pledge to apply to 15 programs. These efforts are noble and represent a good initial attempt at addressing some of the broader issues that exist for applying to residency. Still, the pediatrics applicant this year needs to be well-informed of the potential implications of such recommendations.

The #ApplySmart initiative sets up a Prisoner’s dilemma. For the hundreds of pediatric residency applicants as a whole, it is collectively beneficial to the group that each person only apply to 15 programs. However, to any one individual, it is to their benefit to apply to as many programs as they would like to. Guidelines as set forth by the pediatrics national governing bodies favor the individual over the entire pool of applicants, particularly when an individual is defecting from the ‘rules of the game’.

“Discuss it with advisors, mentors, family, and friends, but ultimately do what is best for you.”

Dr. Carter J. Boyd, Founder, Med Student Edge

There will likely many people who follow through with only applying to 15 programs. There also will likely be many people who do not follow the recommendations. This introduces the troublesome philosophical/psychological aspect of the application process in a situation where the guidelines are not enforceable. Are you comfortable with your chances of matching if you apply to just 15 programs? What if other applicants don’t follow the guidelines and apply to more places? Will this reduce your chances of getting interviews and matching?

I personally would not be comfortable only applying to 15 programs knowing my chances of matching were only 85%. This is why your decision on how many programs to apply to should be based on more factors than just a national recommendation. Important factors to consider include:

  • the competitiveness of your application
  • the competitiveness of the program
  • geographical considerations
  • size of the residency class
  • couples or military match

An applicant this year to pediatrics (or any specialty) should be aware of the scarcity of time and interviews when deciding on how many programs to apply to. Still, the number of programs that you decide to apply to is a personal choice, and you have to make the best decision for yourself given a multitude of factors. When deciding, take a comprehensive approach. Discuss it with advisors, mentors, family, and friends, but ultimately do what is best for you.

How many programs are you planning on applying to? Do you agree with or disagree with the suggestions put forth by the pediatric societies?

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Biggest Piece of Research Advice That No One Will Tell You

With ERAS applications looming, here is the biggest piece of research advice that no one will tell you. Whatever research studies you may have that are pending or have been rejected from journals (once, twice…seven times), SUBMIT THEM NOW! The ERAS application allows you to list research papers and presentations that have been submitted to a journal or conference. It is crucial to submit these projects and have them included on your ERAS CV. They count the exact same as a project that is already published or a presentation that you already gave.

The ERAS application has set in place standard rules to help standardize residency applications from students across the country. Use these rules to your advantage when it comes to listing research. The ERAS application allows you to list projects that are submitted. It doesn’t matter if you have submitted them before and the study was rejected. Programs will not know the difference. As long as the paper or presentation is currently submitted and under review with a journal or a conference, then you can list it on your ERAS application as submitted.

“Whatever research studies you have that are pending or have been rejected from journals, SUBMIT THEM NOW!”

Dr. Carter J. Boyd, Founder, Med Student Edge

About 1/3 of the research line items on my ERAS CV were classified as ‘submitted’. Most applicants across the country will have numerous items listed on their CV that fall into this category as well. If you have projects that are idle or have been rejected previously, pick out a journal or conference and submit it today! It doesn’t matter if the paper or project gets rejected 3 weeks after the application deadline. That project will still be listed on your official ERAS CV. This is one of the little tricks that students use all across the country to bolster their CVs. Programs know that taking a research project from an idea to a published manuscript takes a significant amount of effort and time. They are not going to penalize you for listing projects as submitted. In fact, including these submitted projects is impressive as it demonstrates that you are actively working on scholarly activities.

Of course, if you haven’t submitted something, do not list it as submitted. By doing so, you are breaking the trust and credibility of the application process.

Also, be sure that you are able to discuss all items on your CV if asked about them in an interview. If a project is listed as submitted on your CV, it is fair game for questions. You should be able to discuss the project, the basic outcomes, and your role in the project. If you can’t answer those basic questions, then perhaps reconsider listing it.

Quick summary. If you have pending research, get it finalized and submitted ASAP. Include these projects on your ERAS CV. Make sure you get credit for everything that you do.

Do you have idle research projects? What is holding you back from being able to submit them?

Back to more residency application resources here.

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.

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EXCLUSIVE: Application Cycle Pearls with Dr. Britney Corey – Program Director UAB General Surgery

In the third of many interviews with program directors around the country, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Britney Corey, the general surgery residency program director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham! Read below to hear her thoughts on the challenges of this application cycle and on what you need to do to succeed with your residency application!

What is the biggest challenge in the application cycle this year from the perspective of a program director?

The first thing that comes to mind is the technological challenges that we are facing during this application cycle. These challenges are particularly magnified this year as we are attempting to gather faculty, residents, and fellows across multiple locations to be a part of this process, all while maintaining a socially distanced structure.  The second challenge that all programs are facing is how do you sell a program to an applicant that has not seen the institution face to face? Birmingham, as a medium sized city, is so charming in person and we have relied on that in-person interaction in order to really sell ourselves to applicants. Historically, we have been able to attract strong applicants from outside the south because of our charm in person and it may be difficult to express that sort of interaction over a zoom interview. Lastly, the other big challenge is trying to get enough exposure with the applicants — believe it or not, we depend a lot on the interactions our residents and faculty members have with applicants at our night-before dinners, as well as on acting internships. That isn’t really possible this year so we are all having to adjust.

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?

Any opportunity that the program gives you to interact, try to capitalize on! Whether it is a “meet and greet” zoom or a virtual activity the night before the interview, make sure to attend. More importantly, make sure to know something about the program — actually, know a lot about the program! Whether it is knowing the research interests of a particular faculty member or maybe the research opportunities available to residents, any amount of information that you know and display will show your interest and commitment. Be interactive both during the zoom interviews, but also afterwards too. Make sure to reach out to programs that you are interested in and follow up to display your interest because this is a year where that will be very important. The other thing to note is that this year there will likely be more emphasis on letters of recommendation and the MSPE letter because those will be from the people that really know you. Make sure that your letters are from people that really know you and that they address your interpersonal skills and attributes.

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

I’m potentially biased because of my own personal interest in this, but I think that in general they will be less important because they will have to be less important moving forward. The change to pass/fail is happening. If we don’t pivot this year, we will be pivoting soon. I also think recent events have highlighted the disparities that exist in health care and the need for diversity – not just in ethnicity but in background and interests. So moving away from a step score will bring more diversity potentially because it forces us to look at other ways that applicants are unique. Hopefully it also allows applicants to be more involved in activities that they are passionate about.

At the same time, the reality of the situation is that applicants will not be spending money on travel this year, so they may be more inclined to apply to more programs and by doing so, programs will be more tempted to have use filters to screen the applications. One of the easiest and most common filters is an applicants standardized test scores, specifically Step 1.

Dr. Britney Corey
Dr. Britney Corey, Program Director for UAB Department of General Surgery

Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises?

Probably. I think it goes both ways this year because while the programs may be more inclined to rank their home students higher, I also believe the applicants will be much more inclined to want to stay at their home institution. The applicants who are disadvantaged by this are the students that are applying to specialties that do not exist at their home institutions. If this applies to you, remember to do your best to display interest to other programs, utilize your mentors to advocate for you, and try to arrange an away rotation if possible, as this is a special exception.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give an applicant when it comes to how to succeed during the application cycle of 2021?

So much of this is out of your hands at this point – you probably can’t add another research project to your CV or etc. But you can practice! Practice by doing mock virtual interviews with your medical school, practice with your fellow classmates and make sure to set yourself up for success. Do your homework so that you can adequately show your interest to these programs. Lastly, the reality of residency is that there are many programs that can get you to your ultimate goal. It’s important for you to be honest with yourself about what your goals are and where you stand academically, and to make sure that you have a consistent application that builds a case that supports what your goals are. For example, if your passion is volunteer work and health advocacy, then your experiences and letters of recommendations should align with those goals and you should apply to programs that will help you further yourself to reach those goals.

Thank you so much to Dr. Corey for taking the time to share her thoughts about her expectations for this upcoming interview cycle! Stay tuned for our next interview, which is a fantastic one-on-one with Dr. Charles Khoury, the Emergency Medicine Residency Program Director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham!

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EXCLUSIVE: Application Cycle Pearls with Dr. Pierre B. Saadeh – Program Director NYU Plastic Surgery

In the second of many interviews with program directors around the country, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Pierre B. Saadeh, the plastic surgery residency program director at the NYU Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery—widely regarded as the top plastic surgery program in the country. Read below to hear his thoughts on the challenges of this application cycle and on what you need to do to succeed with your residency application!

What is the biggest challenge in the application cycle this year from the perspective of a program director?

The elimination of visiting rotations (sub-internships) is a challenge for us. Sub-I’s are a two-way street. The applicants get to know what we have to offer. Additionally, they get a sense of the culture, the caseload, the teaching environments, the workload, etc.  We get a sense of the applicant and with crucial resident input, a sense of their potential “fit” with the program.  Lack of in-person Sub-I’s will be our biggest challenge.

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?

We have reached out to the non-NYU Sub-I’s previously selected and offered them mentorship at the resident and faculty level with identified members of our department. 

Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery | NYU Langone Health
Will standardized tests scores become more important this year? Less important? The same?

The same, but we will likely use more personalized due diligence with faculty from the applicant’s institution.  Given that USMLEs are going pass/fail, we have to prepare for this change in any case.

Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises?

All things being equal, home students already have advantages at their home programs.  I’m not convinced this will change much.  Also, it is the home students who will have much less exposure to other programs and as a result they may be the driving force with regards to remaining at their institutions.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give an applicant when it comes to how to succeed during the application cycle of 2021?

All of the usual. USMLE scores, grades, research, and letters will be looked at closely.  The difference this year is that the applicants will do best to reach out to programs of interest directly and through their home faculty advisors.  Faculty who have graduated relatively recently from outside programs are also a great resource.  The applicants need to inform themselves maximally about other programs and when they narrow their choices, they likely should impart their interest to a limited number of select programs.

After interviewing Dr. Saadeh, an important take home message is that applicants should utilize mentor connections and have those mentors reach out to programs on their behalf. Start this process early by identifying faculty and residents at your home program who have trained at programs that you are interested in.  Cultivate those relationships now so that they will be willing to be an advocate for you during the application process!

Thank you so much to Dr. Saadeh for taking the time to speak with us candidly about his expectations for this upcoming interview cycle. I also want to thank Dr. Carter Boyd for setting up this interview allowing us to gain yet another valuable perspective. Stay tuned for our next interview, which is a fantastic one-on-one with Dr. Britney Corey, the General Surgery Residency Program Director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham!

Click here for more perspectives from program directors.

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EXCLUSIVE: Application Cycle Pearls with Dr. Margaret Chase – Program Director Ohio State/Nationwide Med/Peds

In our first of many interviews with program directors around the country, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Margaret A. Chase. She is the Program Director for the Combined Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Residency at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Read below to hear her thoughts on the challenges of this application cycle and on how to effectively put your best foot forward with your residency application!

Dr. Margaret A. Chase, Program Director for Med/Peds at Ohio State/Nationwide
What is the biggest challenge in the application cycle this year from the perspective of a program director?

I think the biggest challenge remains the uncertainty of a new process-trying to figure out how to showcase our program, city, and most importantly our amazing residents virtually. There is something to be said for the “feel” of a program and a “fit” for applicants, so we are working hard to make sure that comes across sincerely. Our marketing departments, program leadership and residents have been working overtime to ensure virtual tours and the interview day can help give applicants a glimpse of our facilities, city, unique strengths and “personality” of our program, but it will be a learning curve for everyone-programs and applicants alike.

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?

Actually, I think applicants can show off all these aspects in a virtual format. It’s a bit awkward at first, but having interviewed a few applicants for fellowship already I think you can get a decent sense of people. An interview is an interview so I just encourage people to practice, try to maintain their energy with each interviewer and as much as possible…be yourself!

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

Certainly the goal is always to review applications in a holistic fashion and this was the rationale for the upcoming transition of Step 1 to pass/fail scoring. I think programs will start off with the same approach to their application review that they have used in prior years and therefore, the standardized test scores will have the same impact for each program as before. However, one of the big concerns by programs this year is the potential for a significant increase in the number of applications received (given the lack of need to travel and overall uncertainty of the process). If that becomes a reality, programs may indeed have to use testing scores as a primary screening tool. I remain convinced that programs, just like applicants, want to find the right “fit,” which is not simply reflected in a testing score. As such, programs will do their best to look at the whole picture presented by an applicant as much as they are able. I strongly encourage students to follow your advisors’ counsel with regards to the number and type of programs that you apply to and don’t over-apply!

Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises?

I think for both programs and applicants alike there may be an increased level of comfort with the “known entity” of a home program or student. I suspect, however, as the interview season progresses and we all develop an increased level of comfort with the process and the ability to connect with people and places virtually, that people’s willingness to look outside of their home programs/students will expand. I suspect, in the end, ranking will look very similar to how it has in the past for programs-each based upon their individual program priorities and who they feel would be the best fit.

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?

Do your homework! Talk with lots of people-current residents, recent graduates from your medical school, fellows or young faculty members that trained in different places. Try to get their perspectives on different programs they visited and their experiences. Review websites, tours, links provided and take advantage of the information provided that might help you better understand what programs have to offer. Be flexible and gracious during your communication with programs and interviews-remember we are all in the process of learning how to do this! Most importantly remain true to yourself and your goals as you look to find a residency program. Identify your biggest priorities and ensure that the programs you are applying to can meet those priorities. And finally, try to enjoy the process! That may sound strange given the challenges that we are all facing, but honestly, this is a really exciting time and a unique opportunity to learn about what different programs have to offer and to connect with people all across the country who want to get to know you and what you are about. Embrace the adventure!

Thank you so much to Dr. Chase for taking the time to candidly discuss her thoughts on this application cycle. I also want to especially thank Dr. Alan Gambril for setting up this interview where we gained a really great perspective. If you enjoyed this exclusive interview, stay tuned for our next interview with Dr. Pierre B. Saadeh, the Residency Program Director at the NYU Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery—widely regarded as the top plastic surgery program in the country!

Have specific questions for program directors we are interviewing? Comment below!

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EXCLUSIVE: Advice from Program Directors on How to Succeed in the 2021 Residency Application Cycle

Take a deep breath. Actually, take two deep breaths.

Great, now let’s talk about applying for residencies, but more specifically, let’s talk about what applying for residency in the year 2020-2021 will look like. This year is different for many reasons, but the main difference is that applicants this year will do their interviews via Zoom. Not only will applicants not have the option of visiting programs during the interview, they no longer have the option to go on away rotations. This provides many challenges to applicants all over the country and has left many students in a scramble to figure out how to best present themselves to the programs that they are applying to.

Photo from AAMC.org

The bottom line is all this change has left you – the applicant – in unchartered territory. How do you show off your excellent in person communication skills, your manners or your overall personal demeanor over a Zoom interview? Fear not because we have asked multiple program directors across the country to answer these important questions and are here to present you with the keys to success in the 2020-2021 interview season!

We have interviewed program directors across multiple different universities and specialties with the hopes that it will provide applicants with insight into what program directors will really be looking for this year. Stay tuned for these interviews as they are released over the next two weeks.

Hear from Program Directors Directly

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International Medical Rotations

This past spring, I had the pleasure of spending a month with our site’s founder, Dr. Carter Boyd, doing a general surgery rotation at a public hospital in Lima, Peru. At our medical school, we have an Office of International Medical Education (IME), whose mission is to provide students both research and clinical experiences abroad. One of my biggest regrets of college was not studying abroad, so when I heard about this opportunity, I didn’t think twice.

My interest in learning medicine abroad was met with great enthusiasm by the director of IME, Dr. Majd Zayzafoon. His passion for enriching students’ experiences abroad is inspiring. I reached out to him regarding this article, and his response perfectly embodies how he feels about medical student international experiences.

From Dr. Zayzafoon: “The true value of international clinical training for medical students may be immeasurable in some ways, but thankfully, I have seen tangible evidence over the years for how this training has shaped and made a positive impact on our medical students who are now practicing physicians. Through cross-cultural learning and language immersion in the medical field, our students gain exposure to a wider variety of illnesses and learn to adapt with limited resources in underserved populations around the globe. Given our current situation and global pandemic, these skills will prove invaluable as we move through this new phase in medical history. There is no better time for our students to collaborate and train with fellow physicians around the world and learn from their experiences. It is so rewarding to witness the changes in our students after they return home from their international clinical electives and hear how these opportunities have influenced them in personal and professional ways. The ultimate goal is to gain a ‘whole world’ understanding of medicine and help improve healthcare for every member of society.”

With the support of Dr. Zayzafoon and the IME office, we set off to Lima. In some ways, our experience was similar to academic medicine in the US. There are attendings, residents, interns, and medical students. They have rounds and afternoon didactics. In other ways, it could not have been more different. While we played a competitive quiz game on biliary diseases from smartphones in lecture, nurses in the other room were using the paper charts to complete orders for the day. Progress notes are actual hand-written notes, and all the patients on the ward (35-40 total) were in one large room together. The discrepancies in resources between this hospital and academic centers in the US where we train was shocking to me. Observing this disparity and working in a lower resource setting is something that every medical student would benefit from.

“The ultimate goal is to gain a ‘whole world’ understanding of medicine and help improve healthcare for every member of society.”

Dr. Majd Zayzafoon, International Medical Education, UAB School of Medicine

Outside the hospital, my eyes were opened to an entirely new culture. This was my first experience living abroad, and it did not disappoint. From art museums to restaurants to soccer games, we did our best to explore every aspect of Peruvian culture that Lima had to offer. We also took the opportunity to travel to Cusco and the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. There is a magic about Machu Picchu that is truly indescribable. Seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World will forever be one of my favorite days of my life.

As a future physician, this experience had a drastic impact on how I will practice medicine in the future. Being a non-native Spanish speaker in a Spanish speaking country showed me just how difficult it is for patients in the United States who do not speak English. Every interaction with medical staff, nurses, and doctors is made exponentially more difficult when a language barrier exists. Even basic questions can be misunderstood and lead to errors in patient care. My experience made me even more passionate about working with Spanish-speaking populations in the US, and I know it will help you find or further embolden a similar passion within medicine too.

In short, if you have the opportunity to travel and practice medicine abroad, take it. For 4th years (and maybe even 3rd years), this may be yet another on the list of opportunities that may not come again. But for those in preclinical years, take an active role in finding out if your school has a similar avenue for international medical experiences. Find out if clinical departments at your school take trips that have opportunities for students. You’ll see and do new things in medicine, experience a new part of the world, and you’ll be a better doctor because of it.

Have you considered traveling abroad for a medical experience? Comment or share your questions below.

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Book Review: The White Coat Investor

The White Coat Investor by Dr. James Dahle is likely the most well-known and read physician-specific personal finance book published to date. The White Coat Investor is more than just a book. It is a podcast, website, and online forum. For many, it is a lifestyle.

money pink coins pig
Photo on Pexels.com

The Good Life

In the book, Dr. Dahle lays out his plan to attaining “the good life” defined as financial freedom. Generally speaking, he applies a principled approach towards achieving personal financial success and security. These principles primarily encompass eliminating debt, saving hard earned income, and reducing taxes.

Do It Yourself

Dr. Dahle also emphasizes the importance of physicians becoming financial literate to “get a fair shake on Wall Street”. He is a major advocate for self-led financial planning and investing to reduce the fees paid out to financial advisors for what he describes as often questionable advice.

A Must Read

The book is a must read for any future physician. The earlier you can start adapting the principles that he discusses, the more prepared you will be for achieving financial success. Dr. Dahle spends a couple of chapters in the book specifically outlining key financial considerations and strategies for medical students and residents. All of these discussions are supplemented by the blog material and podcast episodes.

Multiple Formats

I first interacted with The White Coat Investor content through its podcast format. Thus, when I began reading the book much of the information seemed repetitive. As I read the book, I could hear Dr. Dahle’s voice in my head saying the exact lines I was reading. I found this repetition to be helpful as many of the concepts such as the pros and cons of a tax-deferred account versus a Roth IRA can be difficult to understand on the first pass.

The book does gloss over much of the minutia and finer details of many of the topics. Dr. Dahle acknowledges this and provides much more targeted and in-depth content on the website. Still, the book is helpful for establishing an initial framework for personal finance and introducing financial jargon.

The White Coat Investor is a great introduction and guide towards achieving financial success. I highly recommend reading this book as soon as you can and begin incorporating its principles into your daily life.

Have you read The White Coat Investor? Share your thoughts on the book below.

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When and How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

As you progress through your medical career, more and more emphasis is placed on your skills as a leader and your ability to work with a team. After all, a physician is the leader of the healthcare team made up of physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, RN’s, LPN’s, social workers, nutritionists, physical/occupational therapists, and everyone else involved in delivering patient care. For that reason, a great deal of consideration is put into your letters of recommendation (LoRs).

positive senior man in eyeglasses showing thumbs up and looking at camera
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If you have a glittering LoR from a physician who cannot say enough about how easy you are to work with and how you will be a hardworking individual that complements any residency program, your chances of being viewed favorably will increase. A strong LoR can even help to eclipse a weaker part of your application, because at the end of the day your residency will last anywhere from 3-7 years.  Given the length of time you will be in training, being easy to work with is absolutely essential.

Specialty Selection

So how should you go about asking for that strong LoR? There are three things to consider. First, you should seek letters from specialties that highlight your applicability to the specialty you are trying to match. Most specialties prefer to read LoR authored by members of their specialty.  If you are applying for a general surgery residency, perhaps it’s better to rethink that LoR from psychiatry, unless you are absolutely certain that it highlights some aspect of your personality that shows your aptitude for surgery. For programs like emergency medicine, consider seeking letters from EM doctors, IM doctors, and general surgeons.

Ask Early

Second, it is important that you ask EARLY. Attending physicians are busy, and writing LoR takes time. Be sure to ask physicians that you have rotated with previously well in advance of the due date for LoR.  One month is typically reasonable, however two months with intermittent reminders is preferable.  When you ask, you should have a copy of your CV and a well-polished draft of your personal statement to give to the physician. These pieces of information assist the writer and allow him or her to include more personal details about you which makes for a stronger LoR.

If you are on a rotation and plan on getting a LoR from that rotation, take a few days at the start of a rotation to get a feel for your preceptors. Try to get a sense for who would write a good letter, or even better, ask an older student who has already rotated at that hospital. The people who have come before you were in your same shoes not too long ago, and they can often offer some of the best advice that is the most applicable to you.

“Would you be willing to write me a strong letter of recommendation?”

Donald Hathaway III, Contributor, Med Student Edge

After you have scouted out who you believe will write the best letter, you should ask them early on in the rotation if they would be willing to write you a letter. This shows that you take the initiative and it also allows them to watch you throughout the rotation so that they will have better information to add to your letter. They will be actively thinking about it during your entire rotation, rather than trying to retrospectively piece together who you were after the rotation ends.

Language

The way you ask for the letter can make all of the difference. The line I used when asking for my letters was, “Would you be willing to write me a strong letter of recommendation?” This is helpful because it forces them to make a snap decision. It forces them to think, “Do I intend to write a  strong letter of recommendation for this student?”

Then and there you can be sure that the letter you receive from them will either be a great letter, or not worth your time. If someone is not going to write you a strong LoR, then you should not get a letter from that person.  This is crucial to differentiate yourself from your peers during the match. Keep in mind that these doctors will likely be asked to write LoRs for several students each match cycle year in and year out. Ensuring that your letter will carry weight and highlight your strengths and aptitude for the field you are applying into is of the utmost importance to you at this stage.

Related: Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

What questions do you have about asking for letters of recommendation? Comment below.

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