Innovation and Change in Anatomy Education During COVID-19

Laboratory dissection of human body donors has long been the centerpiece of medical student anatomy education. Is there a better way to learn the intricately organized complexity of human anatomy than to trace out the three-dimensional layout with your own hands?

Maybe.

There are certainly available and emerging alternative options to classic cadaveric dissection. With a shortage of trained anatomists being an issue before the COVID-19 pandemic, some programs have already moved away from traditional anatomy cadaver labs. Couple this with the necessity for social distancing during the time of COVID-19, the new and non-traditional methods of teaching anatomy will take on a larger role.

Textbooks, flashcards, and lectures have always been a part of anatomy teaching. Medical schools and anatomists have been creative in their teaching innovations during the pandemic, fast-tracking newer methods that have yet to be fully incorporated or mastered.  Livestreamed dissections and interactive anatomy software, already popular, have become imperative for the majority of programs. I suspect magnetic resonance (MR) and other radiologic images will become more prevalent in teaching anatomy. Melting through high-resolution stacks of MR images is an excellent way to gain appreciation for the three-dimensional relationships of various structures. Newer educational innovations such as augmented and virtual reality, social media, and 3D printing are also becoming more important.

Image from Pixabay.com

Prior to COVID-19, there was already an ongoing educational debate over the necessity for traditional cadaver labs in medical education. Those in favor of doing away with cadaver labs praise the quality of pre-recorded dissections, the massive upside of technology in virtually recreation of anatomy (AR, VR, 3D display software, etc.), and the diminishing pool of trained anatomists to teach a growing pool of medical students. Those in favor of continuing with traditional cadaver labs praise the hands-on skills learned during dissection, emotionally and ethically important relationship between the student and human body donor, and the delicate variations of structure between each body that hasn’t been recreated with technology alternatives.

Both sides have valid arguments. Both sides are also hindered by muddy, conflicting, and often subjective or biased data to support their case. I think the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, with human body donors and technological educational tools playing supplementary roles in an evolving nature of anatomy education.

What does this mean for medical students? You will likely have to rely more heavily on extra resources outside of the anatomy lab. Thankfully, there are endless options available to meet your unique learning style.

It will be fun to see the creative tools and techniques that arise from these unique obstacles and pave the way forward in anatomy education.

Below is a (surely incomplete) list of articles addressing the topic of anatomy education in medical schools during COVID-19.

What changes do you foresee in anatomy education in medical school? Comment to share your thoughts below.

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Application Insights from an OB/GYN Program Director

We have learned a lot over the past couple of weeks listening to program directors across the country give their take on the unique challenges both students and programs face this application cycle in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Be sure to take a look at each of these interviews to get a sense of the overall pulse of how program directors generally feel.  Each PD has brought up unique points that help paint the picture of what we can expect with the application review process and interview season.

Today, we have another great addition to these perspectives.  We had the opportunity to speak with the University of Washington Obstetrics and Gynecology Program Director, Dr. Mallory Kremer.  We are thankful for her time and her thoughts.  Read below to find out why each and every interaction you have with a program (whether via email, social media, or a virtual interview) matter more this year than ever before.  Be sure to exude professional behavior in these encounters.  Let’s hear from Dr. Kremer. 

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

All of the unknowns associated with planning zoom pre-interview dinners, zoom interviews, and trying to recruit a diverse group of applicants who may have not had the opportunity to even step foot in Seattle before! 

“Every interaction with a program is an opportunity for us to gather information on how a person treats others.” 

Dr. Mallory Kremer, Program Director, UW Obstetrics and Gynecology
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?

Manners show in emails –we notice how applicants interact with our program administrators and scheduling staff! Every interaction with a program is an opportunity for us to gather information on how a person treats others. 

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

Probably the same. I think that many programs are trying to conduct holistic reviews of applicants to de-emphasize the weight of USMLE scores — pass-fail status for USMLE is coming soon, and programs are adjusting accordingly.

Dr. Mallory Kremer, University of Washington Obstetrics and Gynecology, Program Director
Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises?

Not necessarily – our program seeks to recruit a diverse group of applicants from across the country, to bring in different perspectives and experiences, which means we cannot give preference to all of our home-grown students.

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?

Be honest and ethical as you move through the process. Your passion and accomplishments can still shine on a zoom interview. Be curious & open minded, and ask lots of questions!

Thanks again to Dr. Kremer for providing this excellent insight into her program and their strategy for recruiting students.  Special thanks to Dr. Anisha Khanijow for setting up this interview.

Be sure to check out the remainder of our interviews with program directors across the country.  Explore all of our other resources for applying to residency and check out our complete guide for structuring and answering the most common interview questions.

How to Study Anatomy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Anatomy is one of the more difficult subjects during the pre-clinical years of medical school. It involves endless rote memorization and tongue-tying Latin words. Anatomy is often the first-time medical students realize that there is often a big difference between the classic, textbook description and what is seen in reality. During normal times, anatomy is tough to master prior to a lab practical. During the COVID-19 pandemic it will be even more difficult. Medical schools are limiting the number of students in the lab at one time. Social distancing protocols make it difficult for anatomists to get in close and teach students real time with a cadaver at hand. So how do you maximize your learning and proficiency to ace your anatomy practical with limited time in the lab? Here I will discuss my favorite anatomy study resources.

Photo from Pixabay.com

Anatomy Lab

My number one suggestion for success in anatomy is to maximize your hands-on time in the anatomy lab. Obviously, this will be tough with COVID-19 changes, but do your best to find extra time, even if after hours, to find time for hands-on dissection. Practical tests will most likely involve identifying structures on an actual cadaver. Naturally, the best way to practice is to dissect, self-quiz, and identify structures on a real cadaver. Illustrations of anatomy just aren’t the same. It’s hard to learn how to distinguish the subtle differences in fascial layers, adjacent muscle bellies, or artery versus vein by looking at a drawing. The sensory stimulus of touch adds in another neural pathway for your brain to register newly learned material. Most importantly, the anatomists and TA’s are available for one-on-one teaching and relaying anatomy wisdom. When you can’t be physically present in the lab, tune in for any live-streamed dissections, practical sessions, office hours, and whatever innovative new resources your school is implementing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rohen’s Atlas

Rohen’s Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas was my favorite anatomy resource outside of the actual anatomy lab. It is a textbook slam packed with incredibly detailed dissection photographs of real cadavers. There are full-page pictures of every possible angle of every possible dissection of every part of the body. Not only are the pictures phenomenal, but the book is set up to allow you to quiz yourself. Each structure is neatly labeled with a number. The corresponding structure names are listed in the margin, making it easy to cover with a slip of paper for self-quizzing. The numerous angles on real cadavers, rather than idealized illustrations, make it as close to a hands-on viewing as you’ll get.

Essential Anatomy 5 App

Essential Anatomy 5 is a 3D interactive anatomy app. It is best utilized on a tablet, but is supported by iPhone 4S (and newer) and iOS 8 (and newer). This app was a huge help for me in grasping three-dimensional orientation of structures when studying outside of the anatomy lab. With a 4.8/5 rating from >10,000 reviews, it isn’t just me that’s been helped. The interface is highly intuitive, with easy zooming and rotation along any axis to view any structure in any orientation. It is best for studying anatomy of the musculoskeletal system, vasculature, and nerves. The app allows you to add and subtract individual structures or entire layers of muscles for easier visualization. The basic functions of the app cost $15. You can also add on (for an additional $10) additional study features that include identification of bone substructures (i.e. tibial tuberosity, ASIS, articular surfaces, etc.) and isolation of a muscle with its origin, insertion, innervation, and supplying vasculature.

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy is an outstanding collection of short (1-10 minutes), high-yield anatomy videos. They are broken down into easily digestible videos covering every part of human anatomy. The videos show actual cadavers and real dissections, which helps make for more realistic studying. While a personal subscription is expensive ($100 for one year), most medical schools should have a subscription through the health sciences library. If not, you can sign up for a 48-hour free trial and run through it all in a two-day marathon session.

Anatomy is difficult, but learnable. Like all of the difficult subjects in medical school, you just have to find the right resources and study habits that work best for you. While most readers will not have the exact same learning style as me, these materials are a great place to start when looking for your go-to anatomy resources.

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Application and Interview Advice from UAB Emergency Medicine Program Director Dr. Charles Khoury

In the next installment in our series of interviews with program directors across the country, we had the chance to speak with Dr. Charles Khoury, the program director of the emergency medicine residency program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 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 biggest challenge in the application cycle this year is having to find a new way to do almost everything. In a sense, it’s like reinventing the wheel. Program directors have a level of comfort with the ‘old’ way we did things. This year we will all be adapting to a new way of screening and interviewing residency applications. In the past, we’ve taken for granted the impact of sitting face to face with an applicant and having an organic, free-flowing conversation. Zoom will make this more challenging this year. An additional challenge is that the new system does not allow applicants to really see and experience Birmingham and all the wonderful things it has to offer. It doesn’t allow for the opportunity of visiting our medical center and visualizing yourself as a resident in our program.  

Dr. Charles Khoury, Program Director, UAB Emergency Medicine
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?

There’s absolutely still a way to do this. My advice is to ‘stick the landing’ when it comes to Zoom. Treat it like it’s an in-person interview. Dress the part, set the tone with a really nice, well-lit physical background (a well-lit wall or a painting you like). Invest in the lighting, use a wired ethernet connection rather than WIFI if this is an option for you. Turn all distractions off (fans in the background, colorful aquariums, etc.). Change out all smoke alarm batteries ahead of time. But the most important piece of advice with regards to Zoom is proper lighting. Do whatever it takes.

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

Standardized testing scores will likely become more important this year. Traditionally, letters from visiting rotations were counted quite highly in the application process. Now that students aren’t doing visiting rotations, something will likely fill the scoring void resulting from the lack of visiting rotation letters. I suspect that scores may come more into play because of this. On the bright side, personal statements, CVs, and letters from other specialties will mean more this year than they may have in previous years. At the end of the day, we’re going to look closely at the entire application. Specifically, we will be looking for themes. Does this person demonstrate consistent leadership skills? Does this student seem to be an incredibly hard worker based on her CV and her extra-curriculars? Does this applicant have a track record of teamwork and sportsmanship given his history of high-level competitive sports? We’ll be looking for patterns in all the applications we review this year.

“The goal is to make the interviewer visualize you as one of their residents.”

Dr. Charles Khoury, Program Director, UAB Emergency Medicine
Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises?

To put it simply, program directors are more likely to rank applicants highly if they are able to visualize them as excellent residents in their programs. Home students are sometimes easier to visualize being successful at their home programs, and unconscious bias may affect this. But ‘away’ applicants can quickly make up ground by doing a few things. First, it always helps if the applicant explains why they are looking at a particular program, or asks questions about where residents live and hang out. The goal is to make the interviewer visualize you as one of their residents. Familiarity with a program is nice, but so is knowing a lot about the program, the hospital, the city, and the food scene. Program directors can usually spot the most interested applicants, and this year, interest is key.

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?

Be as genuine, honest, and transparent as you can be. Prepare well for each interview. Read each program’s website, watch their videos, and even play around on Zillow in their area. Email the residents. Call friends who have friends who are residents there. Figure out what you really, really want in a program. But at the end of the day, trust your gut. It’s what got you here!

Thank you so much to Dr. Khoury for taking the time to share his thoughts about his expectations for this upcoming interview cycle! Stay tuned for our next interview, where we speak with a program director at one of the top OB/GYN residencies in the country. If you missed any of the previous interviews and want to know how you can maximize your potential during this upcoming interview cycle, click on the links below!

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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?

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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!

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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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