Preparing Your Internal Medicine Residency Application Materials
If you have decided to pursue an internal medicine residency, itís time to start thinking about the specific components of your application. It is critical that you review the details of the residency application process and make sure you contact those individuals who can help you navigate the process (see Applying for an Internal Medicine Residency). Although you cannot yet sign up for the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) or National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), there is a lot you can do now to begin assembling several of the most important parts of your application.
The three parts of your application you should be thinking about and working on now include:
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Curriculum vitae
All of these pieces of your application allow programs to catch a glimpse of who you are, what is unique about you, and how you interact with others. In other words, they provide information to programs that help them differentiate you from other equally strong candidates, provide insight into what you might contribute to a program, and help them assess whether you would be a good fit with their program and their current residents. Therefore, these parts of your application are important and preparing them should not be taken lightly.
Letters of recommendation (LoR)
Letters of recommendation are required by all programs, and many will also ask that you submit a departmental (or chairís) letter as one of the submissions. These LoR allow programs to hear directly from people who have worked with you in patient care settings and who have observed your direct interaction with patients and other health care professionals. This information is important for programs to have when reviewing your application.
Many students worry about whom to ask for letters. It is difficult to know early in the process from whom you will receive a letter or how many letters you will ultimately have to choose from. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask those whom you believe can give an honest evaluation of your performance, even if you are not sure that you will eventually need to use their letter. Because of the way ERAS works, letter writers will not know if their letter has been used in your application. Although it is not a good idea to ask for letters from almost everyone with whom you have worked but will likely not use, you also do not need to select in advance a small number of people to ask (or hope to ask). It is usually helpful to have a few more letters than you need; selecting those you actually use will come later in the process.
For those you do ask, it is important that you seek LoR as soon as possible after completing a clinical rotation. Letters generated soon after you work with someone are more individualized and contain more detailed content than those written months later. Remember that most faculty work with many studentsóthe longer you wait to obtain a letter, the more ďgenericĒ they tend to be because the writer may be less able to recall specific details about you and will write more generalized comments. So, if you know faculty you are planning to ask to write on your behalf, it would be good to approach them now.
When asking for letters, be honest with the potential author and ask them if they would feel comfortable and willing to write on your behalf. Although most faculty are extremely happy to write for students, if there are concerns about their ability to write a supportive LoR, they will hopefully come up in those discussions.
It is also generally recommended that you waive the right to review your LoR. Although you certainly have this right, authors may hesitate to write completely objectively if they know you will be reading the letter, and programs may be given the perception that there might be issues you donít want reflected in your LoR. If you feel strongly about not waiving you right to review your letters, you should discuss this with your advisor in the department of medicine.
Some students hesitate to ask for LoR because ERAS is not yet open and you do not yet have an ERAS identification number. However, writers can be asked to compose their letter and hold it, and many departments of medicine have a system in place to store LoR before the opening of ERAS so that letters can be completed shortly after working with a faculty member and sent to ERAS once you have registered.
It is also important for you to discuss your letters with your advisor in the department of medicine. For example, it is preferable that at least some of your letters come from more advanced training experiences (such as an acting internship or subinternship), but it may be difficult to do this because of scheduling issues beyond your control. Plus, not all LoR need to be from clinical rotations, particularly if you have done other things (such as research or other types of work) that demonstrate qualities that are best relayed in a letter of recommendation. For these reasons, seeking advice from your departmental advisor about how to approach the composition of the letters you include in your application is important, although it will likely come later in the process.
Your personal statement is your best opportunity to communicate with residency programs about yourself beyond your other application materials (such as your grades and examination scores) and before an interview. It can be an effective way to distinguish yourself from other applicants, point out what is unique about you, and serve as a basis of topics for interviewers to discuss with you. Residency programs really do read personal statements, and a strong one can be very helpful to programs who are reviewing your application. Now is a good time to start thinking about what your personal statement might look like.
Many students find that writing personal statements is intimidating and worry that they arenít able to write something that is either creative or compelling. However, the purpose of a personal statement isnít to be literary, but to express something about who you are as a person and potential medical resident:What led you into medicine and particularly into internal medicine? What motivates you on a day-to-day basis? What are your hopes and dreams as a physician? What qualities do you have that would bring something unique to a clinical training program? There are many questions that, if looked at personally, often make writing a statement fairly straightforward.
It is also important that you receive feedback from others on your statement. Most departmental advisors can be immensely helpful with this, providing guidance on how to frame what you are thinking of writing, reviewing what you write, and making sure that the basics, such as spelling and grammar, are in order. Take advantage of the input of your advisors because they probably read many personal statements each year and can provide helpful feedback on what works and what could be improved in yours.
Information about your background is part of the ERAS application that will be sent to residency programs as part of your overall application. Although it may seem fairly straightforward, many students have a tendency to leave out interesting details about their backgrounds because they perceive that it may not be pertinent to their application for clinical training. However, this information is extremely helpful for programs to understand who you are as a person. For example: What are your interests and accomplishments outside of medicine? Have you done anything in the community? Do you have athletic or artistic talent? Residency programs use this information to better understand you and how well you might fit in with their program. What to include or not is also something worth discussing with your departmental advisor.
Although you are just beginning the residency application process, these are things you can (and should) be working on now!
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