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Constructing the Perfect ERAS Experience Section

Tips and tricks for the ERAS medical residency application

So you’ve made it through your basic science curriculum and even survived your first year of clinical experiences! This is an exciting time in your medical education where you begin to look forward toward residency and that means yet another application. The good news is that the Electronic Residency Admissions Service (ERAS) looks a lot like your old friend the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). This means a familiar format of demographic information, educational background, experiences, and a personal statement. In this article we’ll focus on making sure your experiences section is top-notch!

Getting Started with ERAS – The Easy Part

ERAS breaks your experiences into 3 neat and easy categories which you’ll select from a drop-down menu: work, volunteer, and research experiences. You’ll need to include some basic information about the organization, your supervisor, and an estimate of your weekly hours amongst other items. You are allotted 1020 characters to describe the activity, and 510 characters to tell us why you left it. Let’s tackle that writing.

Description

1020 characters is a good block of space, so focus on about ¾ of that space devoted to a clear description about what you were doing, what role you played, and what you accomplished. Use a few sentences at the end to reflect on what you learned and what you took away from it. Keep in mind the whole time that you’re applying for a residency position – that means that lessons learned should be applicable to the practice of medicine at least, and hopefully specifically to your specialty of choice.

Why You Left

Applicants often struggle with this part, but there’s no trick question here. If you were engaged in a project and you completed it, well there you go. If you had more time to devote to an activity in years 1 and 2 but then needed more time for your clinical rotations in year 3, simply state it that way. You should not need to use up the character count for this unless there were special circumstances for walking away. Don’t overthink this one.

To Bullet or Not to Bullet

This is a common question amongst applicants. Should you write out your description in bullet form or paragraph form? I will tell you that I prefer the paragraph form but perhaps a better answer is that you can do both wrong. If you go with bullets, don’t make each bullet a paragraph. If you go with paragraph form, you need to use complete sentences. I prefer the paragraph form because you can be more reflective. Consider that most applicants will have many similar activities – like participating in an interest group for example. Let’s look at 2 approaches to illustrate a few advantages of the paragraph form:

Applicant A:

  • Member of pediatrics interest group
  • Participated in group meetings
  • Attended lectures about pediatrics cases
  • Volunteered at events for promoting interest group

Applicant B:

For 2 years now, I have been an active member of the pediatrics interest group. I attend group meetings to learn more about pediatrics, listen to lectures from pediatricians to get an up-close look at practicing pediatrics, and help promote the group. Not only have I formed strong friendships and collegial relationships with my fellow members, I have also had a chance to evaluate my own strengths and weaknesses and thoughtfully consider if pediatrics is the right specialty for me. The lessons learned from my membership have bolstered my performance on rotations and I hope will make me a stronger pediatrics resident in the future.

Notice there’s just so much more you can say with a paragraph. Suppose both applicants had the exact same resume and both chose bullet form. How would the program director decide which was a better applicant? Choosing to write in paragraph form allows you to identify and highlight all the unique aspects and attributes of your application, so as to help you stand out.

But Wait, There’s More!

ERAS breaks off publications as separate and has individual entry sections for the following items:

  • Peer reviewed journal articles/abstracts
  • Peer reviewed journal articles/abstracts (other than published)
  • Peer reviewed book chapter
  • Scientific monograph
  • Other articles
  • Poster presentation
  • Oral presentation
  • Peer-reviewed online publication
  • Non-peer-reviewed online publication

These sections are relatively straight forward. You’ll be asked to fill in boxes for the title, the authors, editor, and other details. There are no spaces for description or reflection, so it’s just about listing what you’ve got.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this short article helps you sort out exactly what you’re up against with ERAS and how to make the most of the experience section. Make sure you double check your work for spelling and grammar issues and proof your application in PDF form before submitting!

David Flick

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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