The 2017 Match
This post is long overdue and since I haven’t posted into a while this post should make up for it. This is going to be a very big post but I will lay out the process I took in getting into a residency program.
Just from the title you already know that I matched. It was a relief but at the same time it felt unreal. I stayed up all night before match day because I couldn’t sleep. I had probably a total of 3 hours. Around 9:57 AM I get an email with the subject line “Did I Match?” and after seeing that my heart started pounding. You can see from the screenshot of my email how awesome it looks. That congratulations is more than just matching, it’s a symbol of finally reaching a goal that took years of hard work and dedication.
The hard work of getting into a residency program finally paid off and now I can share what I learned with all you readers. Also, I can’t wait to see my name with the MD right after it. Now, I’m officially a doctor. I want to say thanks to the Almighty God, my family, and my friends for all the support over the years.
The Match Day
On Friday, March 17th, at 9:57 AM I got an email from NRMP with the subject line saying “Where Did I Match?”. It was an exciting moment when I saw where I matched. I had a feeling I would match there since that’s where I felt I was welcomed the most. At first I didn’t think I would match there because I thought I had a weak application. However, later on I had a strong feeling about matching there because of how well I connected with the staff and the residents.
Even though I’ve completed medical school I still do not want to reveal where I matched because it will reveal who I am. I prefer to keep my profile private. Sooner or later Saint James School of Medicine (SJSM) will release where their graduates matched. I’m still debating if I want my name on the school’s match list.
St. James School of Medicine
Even though St. James School of Medicine (SJSM) went through a drastic change, like building a new campus and letting go of the Bonaire campus, I still stayed with them. Transferring from one international medical school to another is a big red flag on your application and it should be avoided. Even though they gave little guidance, SJSM gave me the opportunity to be a doctor. SJSM open the door of opportunities for me to be where I am today. SJSM has a lot to do in order to catch up with SGU and Ross, however, they are improving. On medical school forums prospective students ask, can you get residency if you went to SJSM, and the answer should be the same as asking if you were to go to an American medical school, but harder.
Last year, for the 2016 Match, at least 54 SJSM students got residency positions. The year before that, SJSM’s match list was half of that number. So somewhere down the line between 2015 and 2016 the students did something to double the school’s residency matches. Correct me if I’m wrong, but from my count SJSM already has over 260 people who have matched since I started medical school. So let’s see what the numbers will be for this year.
Getting into a Residency Program
The Match process is the hardest and scariest part of this medical education path. You can get the grades, do well on the USMLE tests, and do good in rotations, but you have no hand in if you were to match or not. What’s worse is you can have a lot of interviews and your interview can go well, but you may not end up matching; it’s totally unpredictable. There are also instances where the candidate can think he made a lot of mistakes and yet he ends up matching.
What to Consider for Matching
As a mentioned before, there is no guarantee of matching but you can increase your chances of matching. The way to do it is first be honest with yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you want to do business medicine or clinical medicine? I hope you said clinical medicine otherwise there’s no point of applying for residency.
- What speciality do you want to do for the rest of your life? As in if you want to be a room and study slides as a pathologist, or do you want to deal with primary care patients, or do you want to deal with mental health patients as a psychiatrist?
- Do you have the credentials to get into the specialty of choice? Examples would include high enough board scores and elective rotations.
- Do you have any barriers to overcome? Such as USMLE failures or time gaps during medical school.
- How much can you invest to get into the residency of your choice? Such as how much money can you put in or how much can you wait till you get a residency.
One thing to keep in mind, do not be cocky and limit yourself to just university programs. Everyone wants university programs because the training is overall better, but some community programs are better than university programs. Also, if you are a international medical graduate (IMG) then don’t think you have options, get into whatever you can get.
Figure Out What Speciality is Matches Your Credentials
First get yourself the latest copy of the NRMP program director survey report. This is a very crucial resource which tells us a lot about what program directors are looking for overall. Let’s look at the survey report of the factors which influence the decision of ranking a candidate.
Overall, the number one factor which influences getting ranked high, or getting ranked at all, is how well the candidate interviewed. Which means rocking the interview plays a big role in matching. This leads to the second, third, and fourth factors, which is how good is your interpersonal skills and how well did you interact with the faculty, staff, and residents. The program directors do want the residents’ feedback because the candidate has to work with the residents. If you have already or if you can improve your people skills then you have increased your chances of getting ranked. As easy as it sounds, you’d be surprised how many people don’t do well in that department. Also, let’s be honest, medical school kills our social skills, even to a person who was a social butterfly in undergrad.
Family Medicine Program Director Survey
Let’s look at the Family Medicine speciality for the survey since most Caribbean medical students match into that. The first figure shows what directors look at when selecting the candidate for an interview. The number one factor among 167 program directors (n=167) is the USMLE Step 1 score (at 90%). After that it’s the USMLE Step 2 CK score (at 89%). And thirdly, the letters of recommendation comes into play to be selected for an interview.
Now, after getting the interview let’s see the next figure on what factors affect the ranking of the applicant for Family Medicine. Look at the figure below. The number one factor for ranking an applicant is how well he or she interviewed. Then the quality of interview skill and how well he or she interacted with the house staff. This is similar to the overall statistics for all specialties.
Use the Program Director Survey Wisely
Now that you have the survey information, use it to your advantage in getting into a residency program. Look at what is your strongest factor in your ERAS application and match that to the specialty of your choice. But let me give you heads up, out of everything you should be very good in your interview after you are invited. You must have the confidence, honesty, and the sincerity when you talk to the program director and to the rest of the staff. I used the survey to figure out what specialty that I have a chance in. Luckily, the specialty which I match into the most also correlates to the strongest factor on my ERAS application.
Getting to the Residency Interview
I had several interviews but I will emphasize on the interview of the program I got into. I drove to the program’s State on the day of the interview dinner, which was a bad idea because I was exhausted. After arriving at my hotel, I had only two hours to get rest and to get ready and that made me anxious. I felt as if I was going to screw up at the dinner. It took me a while to get my mindset together before I went to the interview dinner. Since my interview was in December in a Southern state, it was kind of chilly so I wore something semi-casual such as a red sweater with brown pants.
The dinner was at this French bistro restaurant so, I was already impressed by the program. The atmosphere was soothing with low lighting. I walked in without any nervousness. I was too tired to even care what they think, but my hair looked good though haha. Before I thought getting into a residency program requires impressing the residents, but after going through so many dinners I just didn’t care.
Residency Interview Dinner
At the dinner there were two residents, an intern and a senior resident. There was also four other candidates, two American students, and two IMGs. And yes, there was alcohol there, but only few people were drinking. The dinner was quiet at first and I was getting bored so I asked random questions that had nothing to do with the program like “so, do you fish around here?” or “where do you guys party?”. I had gone to enough interview dinners to know that the typical questions will bore the residents. The typical questions includes “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”, “what do you like about the program?”, “how is your performance assessed?”, “what made you choose this program?”. I think residents were asked that many times and so I decided to spice things up. The dinner was paid for by the program and I thought it was good overall.
Arriving for the Residency Interview
The next day I showed up to the health science center of the program; each floor of the health science center is a different department. When I got to the meeting room, I saw everyone was already there waiting for me. By that time I thought I would never be ranked because I thought I was late, I was too nervous to even look at the time. Before we started the interview a third year resident took us for a tour of the university’s health science center and the hospital. I had unorthodox questions like “so does the program offer health insurance with flex plans?” or “as a resident, do you have to follow a curriculum to teach medical students?”. I asked the same questions when I got interviewed by the attending doctors.
I thought getting into a residency program requires impressive questions so I would look interested. However, I had to think about the questions once I got there because this was my first visit. You can find questions online but they are overused and they are too generic hence, they are useless.
The Residency Interview
I was the first one to be interviewed and I always had the question in the back of my head, “why would they choose me?”. I thought they would choose someone over me so I was less nervous than I should have been. Overall, I was just myself and expressed myself naturally. To be honest, it was smooth sailing until the program director interviewed me. I was so nervous because she had a stern focus view on me and I stuttered on my answers. She asked about my personal statement and my struggles and what my goals are. The program director and the associate program director both asked me introspective questions like “demonstrate a situation when you had to choose between following the rules and making the patient happy?”. There were a lot of introspective questions.
I still recommend avoiding Caribbean medical schools if you can, but if you are already enrolled in one then keep going till you reach your goal. Some SJSM students transferred out to other Caribbean schools, but was it worth it? I don’t think so, unless you never registered with ECFMG. If you transferred out before registering for your USMLE Step 1 then it’s safe for you. However, if you already registered with the ECFMG then stay with your school. When you register with ECFMG then you have to list your school and that becomes part of your permanent record.
You Reap What you Sow
At the end of the day, you get out of what you put it, as in, if you work hard and have commitment then you will get residency, period. Just because someone went to an American medical school doesn’t mean they are smarter than a Caribbean medical student. Caribbean medical students have to work harder because they are not spoon fed. After graduating, getting into a residency program will still be hard so stay vigilant and don’t stop till you reach your goal regardless of the hardships you may face.
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