5 Ways to Stand Out to Residency Programs

You’ve found the residency programs that fit your interests. Now you want to stand out for the best chance to match with your top-ranked choices. There are a number of things you can do throughout med school that can influence a residency program director’s decision to invite you to interview.

What do residency programs look for?

It’s no surprise that residency programs consider USMLE scoresletters of recommendation, and the personal statement among the top factors when choosing residency candidates. However, doing one or more of the following five things could help you improve your competitive position.
  • Apply for away rotations

    Working an away rotation gives the faculty a chance to see you in action. This can be very beneficial because it lets the residency program find out about you. Away rotations also give you the chance to convince the house staff and your attending physician that your knowledge and work ethic make you a perfect match for their program.
    Stand-out tip: Try to meet with the program director a second time when you’re about to complete your away rotations. Not only is it a courtesy, it also helps remind the director about your interest in the program.

  • Gain research experience

    In certain specialties, research experience that leads to peer-reviewed presentations or publications can positively influence the choice of candidate. The 2014 NRMP Program Director Survey stated that 43 percent of survey participants cited “demonstrated involvement and interest in research” as a factor when selecting applicants to interview. This can be especially true at institutions where faculty members are highly productive researchers who value ongoing scholarly activity.
    Stand-out tip: If you don’t have the research experience or time to execute it effectively, consider putting your energy into improving your core clinical skills instead.

  • Become a leader in student organizations

    Think about joining an Interest group in the specialty you’re considering. The 2014 NRMP Program Director Survey shows that 63 percent of program directors value leadership qualities. Joining a student group is an excellent way to learn about a field, show initiative, and demonstrate your commitment to the profession. Better yet, if your school doesn’t have a group, start one! Then add the activity to your applications for residency programs.
    Stand-out tip: Haven’t decided on a specialty? You can still become active in your medical school’s student government or in a student-run organization such as the American Medical School Association.

  • Pursue a dual degree

    If you have an interest in the big picture of health care—especially health care finances—you may want to consider getting a dual degree in public health or business administration. It could also make you a standout when it comes to selection for residency programs. Some residency programs rank dual degree students higher overall, even in non-business attributes.
    Stand-out tip: When group projects and case studies are the norm, as they are in MBA programs, it can help mold you into a better leader and problem solver in med school as well.

  • Be a medical volunteer

    Residency programs are attaching greater importance to community service, whether it takes place close to home or internationally. Fifty-four percent of residency program directors indicate community service as a factor in selecting applicants for interviews. With that in mind, you’ll want to make medical volunteer work a prominent part of your CV. Volunteering allows you to work with diverse patient populations, develop an understanding of various cultures, and learn about health systems and approaches to medical care in other parts of the nation or world.
    Stand-out tip: If you have an interview with a residency program, you’ll probably be asked to discuss the volunteer work you stated on your CV. Be prepared to talk about the vision and mission of organizations where you’ve volunteered, and their impact on constituents and on you as a volunteer.