If you are a third year student and have decided to apply in internal medicine, now is the time to start thinking in practical terms about the residency application process.
All medical schools will soon be providing important general information about residency application – make sure you take advantage of this so that you don’t miss any important deadlines or need to rush things later in the process.
General items you need to pay attention to include:
- The process for development of your Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE), or “dean’s letter.” This is a letter generated by your dean’s office that comprehensively reviews your performance over your medical school career. Although each school has a somewhat different process for generating this letter, it is not released to residency programs until a specific date in the fall, usually in October.
- How the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) works. ERAS is a service that transmits your key application documents (such as the MSPE and letters of recommendation) to the residency programs to which you are applying. ERAS opens at the beginning of July at which time you can begin to work on your applications, and can start to actually apply to programs in mid-September. Your school will provide you with access information to help you do this.
- The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) process. The NRMP standardizes the residency application and selection process and is responsible for administering the Match. Similarly to ERAS, you will need to register, usually starting in the fall.
There are also a number of things specifically related to applying in internal medicine:
- You need to begin working with an advisor in the department of medicine who can help you through the application process. Most departments designate someone to do this, such as the Vice Chair for Medical Education (the person who oversees the overall medical education activities of the department), one of the residency program directors, the clerkship director, or a particular faculty member. If you haven’t already made contact with this individual, you should find out who this is and meet with them. They can provide a wealth of information and provide individualized advice and direction on the application process, assembling your application materials, providing information about specific residency programs, and helping you understand which programs that may be well suited to you, among other useful input. This individual may also be the person charged with composing your departmental (or chair’s) letter.
- The departmental or chair’s letter is a document provided by the department of medicine at your medical school to the residency program to which you are applying, and is requested by a large percentage of training programs as part of your application materials. It has some similarity to the MSPE, although it focuses primarily on your interactions in the department of medicine at your school (such as your medicine rotations or other activities, such as research). It is useful to think of the letter as a ‘department-to-department’ communication, where information from your school’s department of medicine that might be pertinent to your application can be communicated to the program where you are applying. This letter is usually less structured than the MSPE and does not have a uniform distribution date. The person who writes your letter can provide more detail about its content and what information they need to prepare it.
- It is never too early to think about letters of recommendation. These are an extremely important component of your application as they help residency programs understand how well you are able to function in clinical settings and how you work as a professional colleague. You should begin talking with faculty with whom you have worked and can provide a fair review of your performance and ask if they would be willing to write on your behalf of your residency application. Remember that letters are of much better quality and provide more meaningful information if written in close proximity to the time you worked with a particular person instead of seeking a letter months later. Your departmental advisor will also be able to give you advice on the number and types of letters you should pursue, so feel free to discuss this with them.
- You should also begin thinking about your personal statement. Because so many applicants to internal medicine residencies are highly qualified academically, the personal statement included in your application allows you to distinguish yourself from other candidates whose applications may be similar. Although seemingly difficult to write, your statement is an opportunity to let programs get a glimpse of who you really are and what you are like apart from your more objective application data. As with the other components of your application, your departmental advisor can help you formulate your statement and possibly assist in the review process.
There are many other aspects involved in residency application, but these are some of the things you should start thinking about now.
Applying to residency may seem stressful, and at times it is. However, it is also an exciting next step on your career path.