Residency & Beyond

Applying to Residency – Understanding the Process

Whether you’re half way through your third year, taking an extra year for research, or just trying to get ahead, many of you are asking questions like: when do I apply to residency programs? When does ERAS open? How do I prepare my residency application? These are all the right questions to ask, and we will cover these below. This article will help give you an overview of how residency applications are structured, and how to stay organized from now until Match Day.

Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) Timeline

Below is a sample timeline from this year’s cycle (Match 2020).

  • June 6: ERAS opens – you can logon to the application and start filling it out
  • September 5: Applicants can apply to ACGME accredited programs
  • September 15: ACGME accredited programs receive applications.
  • September 15: National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) registration opens
  • October 1: Medical Student Performance Evaluations (MSPE’s) released to programs
  • March: Match!

When Should I Write My Personal Statement?

People often ask: When should I start ERAS? Each year the dates are slightly different but the months are almost exactly the same. Let’s explore some of the implications of these dates. The beginning of June is when the system opens, but that doesn’t mean that’s when you should start preparing your application. As soon as you’ve settled on a specialty or handful of specialties, that’s when you should start your application. If you figure out in the first 2 months that you’re dead set on plastic surgery, then there’s no reason to wait until June of next year to write your personal statement. The bottom line is to prepare your application BEFORE June. That way, come June, you can simply open up the application and place everything in.

That being said, notice that you can’t even apply to programs until September, so does finishing your application on June 7th give you any advantage? No, but my motto when it comes to applying is don’t put off for tomorrow what can be done today. Clinical rotations can chew up your time really quickly, so if you’re on a rotation with some time, do it then, because who knows what your schedule will look like in August and September.

How Many Letters of Recommendation Should I Get?

Getting the writing done early also frees you up to make sure the rest of your application is complete. If you’re applying to orthopedic surgery, you’re going to need at least 1 letter of recommendation (LOR) from an orthopedic surgeon, 2 would be nice, and this advice applies to any specialty from plastics to peds. I recommend 3-4 letters total, but any more than that is just a lot to read for the admissions committee. Can you get letters from another specialty? Absolutely. In fact, I like to see letters from an outside perspective, so long as you’ve got a few from the relevant specialty.

When Should I Ask for Letters of Recommendation?

By looking at the timeline above you can see that you don’t NEED your letters until September, when programs can view your application. If you take that approach, you’re running a high risk for delaying your application. Program directors and attendings everywhere are getting bombarded for LORs from June-September. Ask for your letter in the Spring if you can – writers will have more time to write a quality letter, and be less inundated by other requests. Store your letter immediately with a third-party collection service so you can keep it until ERAS opens.

When Do I Take Step 2/COMLEX 2?

The best time to take your Step 2/COMLEX 2 is right after your 3rd year. This is when you’re strongest clinically, and have a strong knowledge base having completed all your shelf exams. For the physical exam portion – take your school’s physical exam test first (most have one) and if you do well, go ahead and take the Step 2 CS/COMLEX 2 PE. If you struggle with your school’s version, take some time to get feedback and study for the licensing version. Your goal should be to have all of your Step/COMLEX testing done by September, so that programs can see a complete application.

Mastering Your Residency Application

The bottom line is that having success with your residency application is all about planning ahead and staying organized. Start your application early and chip away at it over the months leading up to the application season opening. This will help keep you on track and avoid getting stuck in the Summer with too much to do. The more work you do up front the more prepared you’ll be for the application once it’s open.

David Flick MD

David graduated Magna Cum Laude from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California with a BS in biology where he was heavily involved in high school and university level tutoring. He then moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand where he worked as a high school mathematics teacher at an international baccalaureate school. In the two years prior to starting medical school, he volunteered in seven different countries throughout Asia with international medical aid programs. David attended medical school at UC Irvine after receiving the Army health professions scholarship. He served on the admissions committee for four years including working on the selection committee board. He completed a family medicine residency program in Oahu, HI and served on the residency admissions committee. He is board certified in family medicine and now works as a flight surgeon for the Army.

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