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Time Table for Ophthalmology Match (SF Match)

October 19th, 2010 No comments

Applying for Ophthalmology residency can often be very frustrating, because you need to start applying at the beginning of 4th year, but many schools preclude doing an ophthalmology rotation prior to the beginning of 4th year.  As a result, getting letters of recommendation can be rushed/tedious process, but don’t worry most candidates are in the same boat.  Since only a few of your classmates embark on this path each year, often there is little help from the facility and admin office, but fear not, the application process is no different than medical school/college and is easy with a bit of planning.

For an in-depth look at the match please see my sleep-deprived post-call rant and my mildly more coherent post on the interview process.

Time Line: Based on 2010 application
1st, 2nd, 3rd year: If you are fortunate enough to know you want to ophthalmology early, during your first or second year contact the ophtho program director and ask if there is a research project you can assist with.  You will likely be tacked onto a second year resident’s project.  Most projects are very easy, and allows you to get to know the attending and residents, and more importantly they get to know you.  This will put you in a very good position to get good letters of recommendation and a publication is great.
April – May of 3rd year: If you medical school permits, do your 1 month sub-internship (or elective) in ophtho.  This will give you good exposure to ophthalmology.  Let you get to know the staff when few people are doing aways.  The residents are well-seasoned, so the attendings will teach the medical students more.  Do a grandrounds (it actually easy).  Ask for at least 2 letters of recommendation.   And this will allow you to start applying to away rotations in July  (This is key because it will allow you to get letters of recommendation from 2 institutions)
April – June of 3rd year: Get your letter of recommendation from your non-ophthalmology person.  Remember for SF match you need to send the letter (not the admissions office).
May of 3rd Year: Start applying for your aways.  Please see my rant about where to apply.
June of 3rd year: SF Match application opens.  Download the application and start working on it.
July of 4th Year: If you have not already done so, do your Sub-I at your home school.  If you have already done one or cannot get a sub-I at home, do an away.  It is critical that at the end of this month you have at least two ophthalmology letters of recommendation in your possession by the end of the month.  Some programs (notably Tulane, require a 4th chairman’s letter, now is a good time to ask)
Last week of July, 4th Year: Have attendings (letter writers) review your application/personal statement.
August 1st, 4th Year: Target date for sending in application.  Yes, I know SF match’s target is Sept 1st.  But you want your application to go out on the first CD that SF sends.  This gives you time to guilt trip attendings to finish their letter of recommendation.  Early is always good.
August 14st, 4th Year: If SF Match has not sent an automated confirmation letter, call them to confirm they have the complete application.
September 10-14th, 4th Year:  The SF match is infamous for messing up distribution lists.  If a program is important to you, contact the program coordinator to ensure your application made it.  Now is opportune time to express your interest in the program and say that something extra that is not on your application.  Ignore this step at great peril.
October 26: Release date for Dean’s Letters is Nov 1st.  BUT they can be send it early, so the delivery date will be on Nov 1st.
October-December, 4th Year: Interview season
December, 4th Year: Rank List
January 6th, 4th Year: Rank list due – do not change at last minute, SF Match is infamous for being unable to confirm a new list at the last minute
January 14th, 4th Year: Match Day

See not so bad 😉

Road to Residency: On Interviewing

May 20th, 2010 No comments

I hope that my first installment has been helpful and here is my second installment.  Now that you have interviews, congratulations, the hardest part is done.  The interviews are by far the most important factor in good a favorable ranking.  Each interviewer is looking for someone they want to work with, so if you remember nothing else: you need to present yourself as someone fun to work with.

Should I Go?
At first, the thrill of getting invites is simply overwhelming, and you will inevitably schedule every interview.  While the is nothing wrong with going on every interview, it does become very grueling very quickly.  I advise people that 7 interviews is ideal.  It never hurts to have more, but having less is worrisome.  Once you have your seven,  you should have a vague idea what programs you are interested in and which ones you are not.  The programs which you have minimal interest, I would recommend declining the interview.  This saves you time and opens up an interview for someone who wants to go there.

There is nothing wrong with trying to schedule all your interviews and declining them at a latter date, but bare in mind you are taking an interview spot from a fellow applicant, so don’t cancel at the last minute.  That reflects poorly on you and your med school.

Scheduling
Just use common sense when it comes to scheduling.  Try to group interviews to make traveling easier.  You should never have to travel twice for prelim and categorical spots.  Prelim programs are usually very accommodating when informed about interviews for a categorical spot.  It is always okay to reschedule (with fair warning).  I would advise interviewing at your top programs first.  Scheduling early demonstrates interest and programs rank applicants on a rolling basis; it is easier to make an impression at the beginning of interview season.

Cheating: Get The Interview You Want
When interviewing for competitive programs, there are very limited interview spots and often more people are invited than can interview.  As a result, scheduling ASAP is of the essence.  Therefore Gmail is a must.  In Gmail, go to settings/filters and create a rule to push any emails from ERAS (or keyword “ophthalmology” for SF match) to your cell phone (see this topic for further help).  That way when you get an interview you get an email and a text message.  Immediately, check your Gcalendar and call the program to set up your interview.  For most of the interviews, I was the first person to call, got my top choice of dates, and the program coordinator remarked on my promptness.

Traveling
My only tip here are be honest with programs if you have any problems.  If your plane losses a wing, if your radiator over heats, or your boat sinks from underneath your feet, do not hesitate to call the program.  They would rather know why your late, then to be left wondering.  In every applicant pool, there will be people who are late for reasons out of their control.  Take a deep breath… or 10 and call them.  If you are even remotely close, they will likely send help and if you communicated they will not hold it against you.  Do not leave home without the number for the program director.

The “Dinner”
If you do not go to the dinner, do not bother showing up the interview.   This is true of multiple reasons.  Firstly, most programs have the chief residents lead the dinners and they take notice of good candidates during the dinner, and the chiefs play a vital role in selecting the next group of residents.  The second would be the very few programs lucky enough to have Dr Wiese or similar program director who invites everyone to his house, talks with every candidate, observes how they fit in with the residents in a social situation.  And lastly, this is one of the few opportunities you have to talk with the residents on a frank basis.  Not all residents are happy with their program and the interview dinner is the opportunity they will use to bash it.   Find a prelim, someone with nothing to lose by talking honestly about the program to relate to them.I  f I recall, I did not stay for the interviews after the dinner for Baylor.

Closely observe the interactions of the residents.  Do they know each other?  Do they know each other’s families? Do they like each other?  or is this all socially engineered.  The truly observant will be lamentably surprised by the residents interactions during the dinner.

How Not To Dress
I think it is a bit sad that I need to mention this, but you’ll be surprised.  Pink hair, pink lycra micro mini with black lace bra showing, and 6 inch pink heels is not okay.  It makes a shunning impression, but not for a working relationship.  Dress to impress.  Guys suites or sport jacket.  Polo shirts are not okay.  Gals, anything classy.  If you think a Hooter waitress might currently be wearing it, put it back.

The Interview
We finally get to the main event.  Each interviewer is looking for someone they want to work with, so if you remember nothing else: you need to present yourself as someone fun to work with.  Start the interview by answering all of their questions.  However, many interviewers would rather react to what you have to say, so be prepared with ‘canned’ questions.  Interviewing is the ultimate in social engineering.  You are going to sit down with someone for 5 minutes who will be tremendously influential on your future. When you walk into their office look them in the eye and shake their hand. firmly Do not be in a hurry to retreat to the nearest chair, take an extra 2 seconds survey the office and commit to memory everything behind you, take note of their hobbies/research/awards, look for pictures of family and what activity is going on in the picture.   Quickly, reference this with your hobbies,  strengths, and just anything you know about to know more about.  In an average office, this will easily give you 30 minutes of conversation.  But be wary, it is not uncommon for staff to switch offices for interviews (to use 1 block, rather than have you trollop around the hospital), so unless you see the interviewee in pictures or name on a plaque do not assume it is their office.  The quicker you successfully steer the conversation away from canned/boring questions and onto personal topics the better impression you will make.  You will also notice, that interviewers want to talk with you and your always the person that the sectaries are knocking on the door asking you to move along,

I know it gets hard, but show interest in responses and when possible ask follow up questions.  The best interviews are the ones where you keep interviewers speaking.
What to ask: People like to brag about their program and in particular their specialty; keep this in mind.
– How does your program rank in <insert interest here>
– How do your fellows match
– What is the break down of fellow matches
– I see you like <insert hobby here>,  I love here <blank>,  where can you <blank> here?!?
Stock Questions:  You should have ‘canned’ answers to these questions
–  Tell me about yourself
–  Why do you want to come here
– Why should we choice you (be graceful,…..)
– What do you think of the state of medicine? Obamacare? (No matter what you argue you better be able to back it up, and no one likes a flip-flopper.. ask Al Gore and Bob Dole)

If the tour is at the end of the day, it is optional.  Don’t worry about not going.  All hospitals are exactly the same.  🙄

Evaluating the Program
This may be the single most important piece of information I am conveying in this rambling dissertation.  Lets face it, you will learn next to nothing  from the tour, interviews, slide shows, and staff.  Every program does their job at putting on a good face and tell you why they are the best.  The problem is figuring out where the masquerade ends and the truth begins.  In my experience there are four ways.  1) The “Dinner” and talking to disgruntled prelims 2) Anything that people are repeating is either really awesome or a problem they are trying to fix.   Ask different people and look for consistent answers.  Most interviewers  are not instructed on propaganda and answer relatively truthfully.  3) Go into the interview expecting lies, they are not hard to find by reading people.  4) How the program acts. Programs in similar classes, act similar.  The best programs do not provide airfare, they do not provide hotels.  These offerings are very expensive and are to compensate.  When interviewing you cannot tell a difference form a program that provides a hotel from one that does not.  So you need to ask yourself why does program 30 minutes away not pay, but this one does.  Incentives from the program need to thought of as disincentives for you.

I highly recommend you record your gut reaction to the program.  The exact feeling you have when you get in the car after the interview.  If it does not feel like a good match, the chances are the program is thinking the same thing.  It is so easy to over analyze later, but your gut reaction is usually right.  I cannot tell you the criteria that need to make you happy.  But your rank list needs to maximize happiness.  So think about location, work hours, happiness of residents, type of people int he program, etc

The Letter Game
There is no correct answer to this, but many programs keep track and thank you letters are noted and can count for you, but not against you.  Remember matching is a courtship.  You need to express your interest and maintain communication.  I highly advise writing timely hand written thank you notes to everyone you interviewed with at your top programs.  And thank you cards or at the very least emails to everyone you interviewed with at programs at the bottom of your list.  If you interviewed with >6 people, I think it is okay to write a single very well written letter to the program director and ask to extend your thanks to everyone else.

Stay in Touch
The interview dance is not done yet.  Around match time, you should be writing love letters.  You should write letters to your top programs.  You should tel your number one school that they are #1.  This should be honest and you should only send one letter proclaiming this.  Candidate and programs are allowed to volunteer how they will rank the other, but it is a violation to ask.

To your #2 and 3 programs, you should tell them they are ‘topping your list.’  Everyone else that you are interested in should get a letter stating you will rank them ‘highly.’  By doing this, you are conveying your interest honestly, and without match violation.

Programs may send you you love letters.  Getting a letter always is a good thing, but not getting it does not preclude you matching at the program.  Not all programs send them, some programs send them to almost everyone.  Alot of letters are frank lies, unless they give you a notarized contract, do not let love letters have too much influence over your rank list

Your Goals
– 7 interviews
– Fit in with the suites
– Weed out misdirection
– Stay in touch

The interview trial is long and exhausting.  At first you have a constant feeling of  jamais vu, your interviews are full of presque vu, and by the end it is ceaseless déjà vu.  Just remember all of these are signs of simple temporal lobe seizures and probably need to be checked out by a neurologist.  Anyways, I’m a bit exhausted, so sorry for any type-Os.  Check back in a couple weeks for Part III: Creating your match list.

Road to residency

May 17th, 2010 No comments

Getting into residency is just like applying to medical school.  When your doing it, it seems overwhelming, complex, and full of pointless essays.  But after matching, you gain perspective and it seems simple.  So here are few tips that I have gained from my match experience.  I would say I was a rather average applicant, but I matched to both my #1 choices in ophtho (SF match) and prelim Internal Medicine in regular match.

Getting Started:
The first step is picking your path.  It is important to settle on one career choice.  Each program wants to think your only interested in that program and will go into that specialty.  If you’re applying to several specialties, they will lose interest fast.  This is not an issue for most, but if you are the fence, cancel your next rotation and start doing Sub-Is until you find what you love.

Getting Your Stuff Done:
You can NEVER have your application done soon enough and never count on anything done.  I would recommend asking for letters of recommendation at the end of each rotation; especially if you think you did well.  It is always better to have too many letters, and when your application is due you do not want to waiting on that last letter.  Even if you asked for a letter of recommendation 6 months ago, do not count on it being done.  I recommend two months before the opening of that match you contact each person you have asked, and politely inquire if they have written the letter.  If they haven’t, do not lose touch with.  Contact them weekly until it is done.  The same is true for every other aspect of the application.  Never assume something will be done because someone has reassured you; this is your future not theirs.

You will be surprised in the delays that you will face.  I had 100% of my applications done prior to SF Match (early match) opening, and because of clerical delays I missed deadlines for schools for ERAS programs, despite having 100% of my letters, pictures, essays, etc done.  You need to check your application status constantly and contact your Dean’s office daily.  Be a bother!!!  I checked every other day and as a result, I missed deadlines, and by the time I complained to the Dean it was too late.  Don’t let this happen to you.

In addition to getting it done, programs see early applications as interest.  They will only pick a limited amount of applicants to interview.  So have your application on top.

Doing Aways:

Think of your aways as interviews.  Towards the end of third year, you should make a list of programs that you will appear at the top of your match list.  These are the schools were you should do aways.   Aways are a great way to get to know a program and the best way from residencies to get to know you.  Programs care more about how you fit in than your grades, your step 1, or anything else in writing.  The program has to work with you for years, so “Fit” is extremely important to residency.  As a result the residencies where you are most likely to match are 1) Your home program 2) programs in the same region 3) programs where you have done aways.

When you do aways, it is needless to say you need to know interest above and beyond the typical student and be nice to everyone.  The sectary that keeps losing your paper work, is already part of the department and her musings mean more than your application, so be graceful!

If you did not do an away, all hope is not lost, keep reading.

Communicate Early and Often:
Most of the programs that you are applying to have no idea who you are or why you are applying.  This leads to predictable results.  When you make the list of programs you are applying for, you should write a letter/email to every program director and tell them briefly why you want to interview at their program, list your personal ties to the area, and another information that you think is remotely relevant.  This will open doors to programs that you would not haven been asked to interview at.

When invites begin rolling out, do not wait for invites, contact programs you have not heard from.  Reiterate your interest.  This will get your application looked at again and will demonstrate your sustained interest, this can move your application up in the ‘pile.’  If you did an away, this is a great time to contact professors, which you developed a relationship with.

Finally, ‘no’ does not mean ‘no.’ If a program you really want to go to turns you down.  Do not take it lying down!  Decisions can be over turned.  Call the sectaries, relate to them (let’s face it, nurses run the hospital and assistant directors run the admissions office).  Talk with the program director; ask why your application fell short.  Your interest is something that < 1.0% of applicants show.  Hopefully you did an away, this is a good time to contact professors to talk with the chair and program director on your behalf.

Types of Letters:

There are 3 types of letters of recommendation
1)    Personal Letters:  These are typically written by young enthusiastic attendings.  These demonstrate your character and you should have at least one
2)    Famous Letters: These are written by the famous/well-known attendings.  The more well known the letter-writer the less personal these letters are.  These letters are often standard forms fill out by secretaries.  These letters, while not glowing, carry a lot of weight.  The letter states that Dr. X endorses you.  You should have 2 of these letters.

  1. There are various degrees of fame.  Any program director’s letter will carry weight and will be well received by other program directors.
  2. A legend in the field, Dr Wiese, Dr Sabiston, or Dr Kaniski, their letters are worth more than their weight in gold.

3)    The Elusive Famous + Personal Letter:  The best of both worlds, there are a few of these floating around each match.  They are golden tickets for interviews.  Don’t hold your breath for one, but use it if you got it!

How to Get into the Program You Want:
1) Aways away away
2) Communicate
3) Letters of recommendation
4) Never let anyone tell you what you cannot do.  Your grades, your step 3

Remember, that there is nothing magical to the match.  You pick programs that appeal to you and programs pick applicants that appeal to them.  Programs want people that want to go to the program and will fit in.  Their best bet is picking from regional programs.  They have so many suitors that they don’t need to pursue every applicant.  Most pick the people they will interview based off of med school, did they do an away, letters of recommendation, and a few facts from their cover sheet.  Most do not read essays until the day-of-interview and only to tease out a few talking points.  This means that the majority of responsibility for getting an interview lies with the applicant and how they court the program.

I can unequivocally say that my prospective works and feel free to contact me for any help 😆

Tulane: The highs and the lows

May 13th, 2009 No comments

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Huriccane Katrina

Since graduation is only 3 days away, I feel a bit reminiscent about my medical education.

My class’s medical education began like none other.  Just as the class of 2009 was settling in and preparing for its first exam, Hurricane Katrina manifested itself in the Gulf of Mexico.  Many people in my class panicked (rightfully so) and others planned on weathering the storm.  I was one of the latter.  I bought hurricane supplies (hurricane mix, rum, vodka,.. the essentials).

However mere hours before the storm made landfall, I was convinced by track of the storm and a friend at the Sewerage and Water Board to evacuate.  So decided to leave with the clothes on my back and drive to my Uncle’s in Northern Florida.  Over the next few days, I was glued to the TV and watched the horror unfold as the city I called home slipped below the water.  I was left not knowing what would become of my medical education, what would happened to many of my friends that stayed int he city, and where I would go next.

Over the course of the next month, the class of ’09 was left to speculate and rant on an online with very little information and communication from the administration (mainly since all TU’s servers/website/listservs were destroyed).  I did my best to pass the time by catching a 12 lbs large mouth bass, catching butterflies and other insects for my entomology hobby, and spending time with my Uncle.  One afternoon when I logged onto the internet, I was shocked to find out the entire TUSOM was moving to Houston and would operate from Baylor’s campus.

At first, I was vehemently opposed to this plan.  I had other accommodations lined up, and I was not convinced that two medical schools would co-exist without sacrificing our education.  However, I soon learned that Tulane even in the purgatory of Houston is better than any medical school anywhere else.

I moved to Houston with only my car and my fishing clothes that I brought to my Uncle’s.  I used my government Katrina bailout (Katrina Card) to buy clothes, a bed, and eveything else that was left in NOLA.  I failed to obtain housing through TU’s housing match system and through pure serendipity found a house through my Dad’s colleague’s sister.  The house was in an amazing neighborhood, however was in a state is some disrepair.  A friend/roommate and myself spent the first couple days removing the carpet that the last renters let their relieve themselves upon for many years.  We did many other miscellaneous repairs, while attempting to study for an anatomy exam at the end of our first week in Houston.

Much of the remainder of our first year was similar ad havoc on a condensed time table.  However after a couple months, I realized that we were getting a fantastic education; we had our TUSOM professors driving/flying in for a lectures and we had the benefit recruiting the best of the Baylor staff to fill in the gaps.  We had lectures for Tulane giants like Dr. Leon Weisberg and then followed by Baylor’s Dr Debakey (who trained at Tulane in the 1930s with my Grandfather).  We were very fortunate to be among the last classes that both of these legends taught.  And perhaps even more important, the heart and soul of TUSOM followed us to Houston.  Tulane is medical school where people want to help one another, we go out and have fun as a community, and we do not need an excuse to have fun.  From day number one, we stood in stark contrast to Baylor,… we enjoyed medical school, I do not feel like Baylor students did.

Like most of my other classmate’s, first year was very hard on a personal level.  In October, I when I was able to return to New Orleans, I found out I had been extensively looted.  I lived on the 13th floor, there was no forced entry, and the management company rented generators to power the elevators so “cleaners” could “clean the refrigerators.”   I wanted to (and still do) settle this with the building’s or contractor’s insurance company, however, the management refused to answer my questions, and I had to hire lawyers to follow up on the looting.  Four years after the looting, the case is currently awaiting trial.  The biggest lose occurred at the beginning of 2006 when my Uncle, whom I stayed with during Katrina, passed away.  This was a very depressing event for me.  My close friends know the other problems my family was littered with over the course of first year.

Needless to say every member of the class of 2009 was overburdened between medical school, Katrina, and their personal lives.  These events deeply impacted/changed every person who went through them and I believe will make us better humans and doctors.  And I believe we were lucky to have had the opportunity to do it as a class.

At the beginning of second year, we mercifully returned to New Orleans.  NOLA was full of hope.  For the first time in many years, many people were investing in the city.  Many new buildings broke ground, plans were drawn up for some very ambitious projects , and many people were hoping the city would have a true re-birth.  Oddly enough at the same time, most people had not returned, most stores/schools were closed, and many intersections still had blinking lights.  Over the course of second year, people slowly returned, schools/restaurants re-opened, and the omnipresent reminders of Katrina were slowly painted over.  Our second year was more-or-less like the education we would have received pre-Katrina.  And of course at the end of second year came the angst that every medical student feels when preparing for the first step.  I took my Step I, May 28th.  I took it early because I used our 2nd year finals to prepare for the test and I figured why not get it out of the way and enjoy the summer!  I have no regrets about Step 1.

Third year is were our educations began to get interesting again.  At this point in time, people were flooding back to New Orleans.  About 85% of the city is gone, but 2/3 of the pre-Katrina population returned.   (Most of the destruction includes projects and low-income housing/neighborhoods. )  Needless to say this creates some very interesting legal and medical problems.   On my first clinical rotation, I was shocked/appalled to learn about the complete lack of mental health clinics in a city suffering from PTSD with continuing trauma and the revolving door or psychiatric hospitals.   Katrina syndromes were notable among classmates and ever-present in the community.   I then proceeded to surgery where on my first week I made my first three diagnoses of neurosyphilis.  After congratulating myself on having the balls to speak up and get an RPR done, I had reflected on how collected the attendings/residents were and that neurosyphilis as common/boring as a cold.  I soon learned that AIDs ,  PML, G/C, and Hep are assumed in all of our patients will proven otherwise.  I have cared for several patients with active TB!  Though all of 3rd/4th year, I was able to see pathology, perform maneuvers, and see operations that friends at other medical schools have never heard off.  One thing that every Tulane graduate will take with them is the knowledge of how to work up any patient and keep an open mind that it could be anything!

Since there is an abundance of ‘pathology’ in the community, there has been an amazing outreach from the students at Tulane.  The students have successfully started a student clinic, created healthy living programs, early health education for children, and help with countless other programs.  The students do this not for school credit, but in their free time because they want to.  I must point out the ‘pathology’ is not a post-Katrina issue, New Orleans has long been a very underserved community and Tulane has lead the efforts to eliminate everything from plaque to yellow fever to AIDs to mental illness.

I take alot of pride in my education at TUSOM and most of education was from the patients I was fortunate enough to care for during my clinical experiences.  The most amazing thing is that my class saw relatively little compared to what was common at Charity Hospital pre-Katrina.   As an undergraduate, I was able to visit charity on several occasions.  I remember walking into the Charity’s ED with a 12+ hr wait.  People pulling at your coat begging for help and thinking this is America?  I cannot imagine what it must have been to be a resident in such a place.  Hopefully, LSU (who manages Charity) will see the way through Louisiana Politics and see fit to rebuild a better Charity for the people who really need it (this is a whole other rant).

For anyone considering a medical education at Tulane, I do not think is a better place.  Tulane will make you a great clinician, it offers a patient population like none-other, and it offers a fantastic community.  There are times one wished the adminstrationw as more proactive, and there are good and bad rotations.  Our Medicine program is amazing; other schools contract Dr. Weise (the Program Director) to re-organize their programs to mirror Tulane!  And I can honestly say that even our weakest program (OB/Gyn) has made tremendous strides over the past year and has quite a bright future.  I hope my brother stays at Tulane for medical school and I challange other medical schools to match education and community TU offers.

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