Rounds to Residency

The Mind of a Residency Program Director with GME Specialist Brenda Thompson

Brenda Thompson shares advice for residency applications: tips for writing personal statements, requesting recommendations, and navigating rotations.

  • [00:48] Brenda’s Background and Roles in Residency Recruitment
  • [05:26] The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • [10:01] Personal Statements, Letters of Recommendation, and Exam Scores
  • [16:29] Tips for Writing About Extracurriculars
  • [21:24] How to Handle Clinical Rotations
  • [26:30] Social Media, Headshots and Residency Applications
  • [29:17] How to Contact Brenda

Chase DiMarco talks to Brenda Thompson, Graduate Medical Education (GME) expert with over ten years of experience in residency-related accreditation, education and other similar topics. They chat about advice for a residency application in 2020, from tips for writing personal statements, and requesting recommendations, to how to navigate rotations

Brenda has often been disappointed when working with medical students who are applying for a residency program. They illustrate the lack of interview preparation and professional development programs in medical school. For example, these students do not know the right kinds of questions to ask during interviews, how to structure their personal statements, or what kinds of materials to upload to ERAS. As an independent GME pundit, Brenda’s aims to help to fill this gap left by medical school education, advising students on how to match into the right residency program in 2020.

ACGME Accreditation

Residency programs depend on the ACGME for accreditation. Student performance, including scores are sent by the residency program to the ACGME. If a given residency program has failing students, they risk being placed on probation by the ACGME, or worse, have their accreditation stripped. As such, the admissions committee tries to get the best students to give the program the best chance of maintaining ACGME accreditation. A medical student wants to impress the residency program admissions committee, but the residency program in turn wishes to impress the ACGME.

Personal Statements

A medical student’s personal statement, letter of recommendation and board exam scores are crucial components of a residency program application. For the personal statement for your residency application, do not be afraid to get help to refine your letter, and educate yourself on best practices. You have control over this portion of your application. Spelling mistakes are especially unacceptable. Brenda mentions that students often make the mistake of using their personal statements to share what they want from the program, instead of to share what they can offer to the program.

Letters of Recommendation

As for letters of recommendation for your medical residency application, it might be better to get a higher-ranking person such as a program director, to write the letter instead of your attending. However, make sure that the writer knows you well, and that they will give you a strong recommendation. It is a major red flag, if nowhere in your letter does the writer use a phrase such as “I highly recommend” or “I recommend without hesitation.” If your letter writer asks you to draft the letter first, then you should use this opportunity to your advantage, and be sure to use the right terminology and information.

USMLE Exam Scores and Clinical Rotations

As for exam scores, a major residency application tip that Brenda offers is that if you failed your Step 2 board exam, try to pass your Step 3 board exam before applying for residency and upload this score to ERAS. If your transcript only lists a failed Step 2 exam, then the residency program might be very hesitant to accept you.

If you are applying for residency during COVID-19, the residency program director might understand that you were unable to get into the clinical rotations that you wanted. However, if you do get into a rotation, do your best to get an A, as a grade like a C is a red flag and requires an explanation. If you could not get a clinical rotation in your desired specialty, it is understandable to the residency admissions committee, but be prepared to talk up the specialty in your application. Be very kind to your clerkship/rotation coordinator, because it is very possible that they might end up being your residency program director, and could veto your residency application later on. More generally, be nice to everyone, as the medical world is very small. Being difficult to work with can come back to haunt you years later.

Extracurriculars and Connections to the Residency Program Location

Regarding extracurriculars, Brenda urges students to consider the location of the residency program when listing down their hobbies. Residency programs want to maximize the chances that you will accept their offer if you do get in. If you have family connections to the area, then they know that you are more likely to accept the offer. But if you do not have family connections, then hobbies that make sense to the location can increase your ranking. Using Denver as an illustration, listing snowboarding and skiing as your hobbies makes sense, whilst listing fishing and swimming does not. Instead of sending a generic personal statement to all your residency programs, try to tailor each one to the location to which you are applying. Furthermore, the ACGME now has standards for physician wellness, so the residency admissions officer wants to make sure that you are able to achieve these standards.

Connect with Brenda on LinkedIn or email her at [email protected]. You

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Chase DiMarco

Chase DiMarco is an MS, MBA-HA and MD/Ph.D-candidate. He is the founder of MedEd University, a free medical education resource, the host of the Medical Mnemonist & Rounds to Residency podcasts creator of several medical education platforms, and CEO of FindARotation clinical rotations service.

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