Because of the large number and diversity of internal medicine residency training programs, finding accurate and reliable information about them can be challenging when trying to assess whether a particular program would be the best match for you. The following are some ways of gathering this important information.
Start with the facts…
- Virtually every program has a website or social media presence that contains information about the program, its institutional affiliation (such as medical school or hospital system), and often the kind of patients and the community it serves. Although these sites can’t provide some types of less tangible data such as the educational philosophy and the culture of a program or institution, they are a good source of basic information and help to put a ‘face’ to a program.
- Accurate factual information about each program is available on the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) website. Programs participating in the match are required to update this database at least annually.
- The Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is the governing regulatory body for all US residency training programs. They maintain a public portion of their website that is open to medical students. Although this site is a bit difficult to navigate, it gives information on the accreditation status of both a program and its sponsoring institution. This site should be checked to be sure that programs and institutions are accredited and not having significant compliance issues.
Then use other resources…
- See if there are graduates from your school at a particular program. This is a wonderful source of information about what a residency program is really like. Residents who graduated from your medical school are usually quite eager to share their experience with those applying to their program or considering doing so. Because of their shared experience with you, they also tend to be very honest about what is good and bad at their program and can give you a first-hand idea of the culture and overall educational experience. If you don’t know if any graduates from your school are in a particular residency program, simply check with the department of medicine (usually the residency program administrator, residency program director, or Vice Chair for Medical Education) – they usually keep track of where students who have applied in medicine have gone. They may also be able to facilitate contacting them for you. The dean’s office can provide information on the previous year’s match results (make sure to go back 3 years since those who graduated in that time frame will still be in training). If you are interviewing at a program where a former student from your school is training, it is worthwhile attempting to contact them before your interview, and many times they will meet with you on your interview day. Most residency programs where you are applying will help you make contact with that person if you explain the circumstances.
- Look for people in your medical school (faculty or fellowship trainees) who either trained in a program in which you are interested or know people at that program. Even if someone has been out of training for a number of years, they are likely able to provide some very helpful information about the nature of the program, the institutional culture, and the community and geographical area. Although you will likely not know who these individuals are, people in the department of medicine (such as the residency program administrator, residency program director, your clerkship director, or the Vice Chair of Medical Education) can help guide you in finding out who they might be and how to best contact them.
- Talk to the individual in the department of medicine who is composing your departmental/Chair’s Letter. Although who actually does this in different schools may vary (such as the Chair of medicine, Vice Chair for Medical Education, or your clerkship director), this person typically knows a lot about specific residency programs, and their input may be very helpful as they usually know students who have applied to programs in past years and how well they have done, and particularly if there have been any difficulties with specific programs.
- Ask the people who are your advisers or mentors in internal medicine. You may be surprised that people you interact with frequently actually have close ties with individuals at a program or institution in which you have interest. Just ask them if they know anyone or anything about these programs.
- Talk with your family and friends about where you are applying or thinking of doing so. Although they obviously can’t give insight into a specific program, they can offer a more personal perspective to what you are thinking. For example, geography is an issue as it is important to have some support system (friends, family) close by as residency can be challenging and lonely at times. Remember that residency choice is a major life decision and the input of your significant others is extremely important.
- If you do visit a program, know that the residents in training are the best barometer of what a program is really like. Pay close attention to the learning environment in the program and don't just rely on name recognition or reputation. Know what type of environment that is most effective for you and seek it out. If possible, it is best to talk directly to residents. Some useful questions to ask:
- How enthusiastic and engaged are the faculty in teaching residents?
- How accessible are the program directors and faculty mentors?
- How supportive is the program of resident needs?
- Do the residents support one another or is the atmosphere excessively competitive?
- How would they rate the quality of their fellow residents?
- Do graduates match in good fellowships and get high quality jobs when they are finished?
- Do services in the hospital get along and work together?
- How satisfied are the residents with the program?
- Do they wish they had gone somewhere else?
- Would a resident feel comfortable having a family member admitted to the hospital?
- How rewarding are the ambulatory experiences?
Be wary of web-based residency review sites. It would seem that these should be a good source of information about a residency program by those with direct experience. However, similar to other review sites, the individuals who comment tend to have either overly negative or positive views of a program, and it is difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions from most of these sites.