Top Tips to Improve Your Residency Application

Medical students and graduates alike are preparing their medical residency applications. The stakes during residency recruitment are high, and students have asked how to increase their chances of getting an interview.
Here are some tips from program directors so you know what they look for and what makes an applicant stand out.

  • Make your medical residency essay more personal

    Of the hundreds of applications that come in each year, it is hard to find a personal statement that is spectacular. Often, personal statements are written in a way that makes a student seem indifferent or uncomfortable. A standout personal essay will most importantly convey why you are interested in medicine. It makes it apparent why you are willing to go through all the hard work required to become a physician. The job of taking care of people when they are scared or in discomfort is not for everyone, so you should state why you specifically are cut out for this field of work. Also, you should state why you are particularly interested in the medical specialty you have chosen.

  • Try to avoid making senseless errors

    Unfortunately, we see dozens of medical residency applications each year that have errors. There is enough you can’t control on an application, so you don’t want to risk making a negative impression with things you can. Furthermore, you will have weeks or months to prepare the application, so there is no reason to submit an application with preventable errors. People in the dean’s office of your school should be able to proofread your application or suggest someone who can proof it for you. Even a trusted friend or family member will do, as it helps to have a fresh pair of eyes look it over.

  • Don’t shy away from your hardships

    If you have academic difficulty that you have worked through, like an exam failure or a class that was retaken, you may want to briefly mention what this was like for you and how you overcame the challenge. That will show more about your character and resilience than presenting a picture perfect facade. Get some advice on which issues in your record should be mentioned in your personal statement and which can wait for the interview day. If there was a leave of absence or other gap in your record you may want to use the statement to explain this as well.

  • Cheating is only cheating yourself

    Although this next piece of advice should go without saying, do not cheat. Do not copy someone else’s personal statement. Do not exaggerate about your experiences or accomplishments. Some program coordinators paste every personal statement into a web search engine to see if there are similar versions on the internet. If you are caught in a misrepresentation, you obviously will not be getting an interview, let alone an acceptance letter.

  • Inauthenticity is easy to detect

    Why do applicants stretch the truth or mention things that are not that familiar to them? In some cases they feel they must cover for a deficiency. We face one example of this at our Family Medicine program. Family Medicine is not the first choice specialty for some applicants. If the applicant decides not to say that Family Medicine is their second choice, they must interview and describe their interest in the specialty in a way that does not feel right. Even if they know the specialty well, they may not be able to honestly express their enthusiasm for the type of work that family doctors do.

  • Give yourself that extra admissions edge

    So what can you write on the application that helps? If you have good grades and test scores that will certainly stand out. If you have average scores and grades, you need to put some thought into expressing who you are so you can stand out amongst other medical students. Many people describe their decision to work in medicine in personal terms. Some people describe aspects of their medical school training that have shaped their decision. Some people review how they have been a reliable asset in work situations when they have worked in a group. Above all, don’t follow a formula or simply mimic what’s worked for someone else. Present yourself in a way that rings true to you, and it will be best received.

To review, the application summarizes and presents your academic achievements. The personal statement in particular is a place to express your motivation and any special experiences that have influenced your development. Get input from people who are good at editing and writing. Get input from faculty who know the specialties you are applying in. Do not misrepresent or overstate anything as you will be discussing the application over and over during the interview season.