May 2014 Resident On Call Q&A

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  • June 05, 2014

May’s Resident On Call, Marissa Orenstein, recently graduated from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and is beginning her intern year in pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is the immediate past president of AMWA’s National Medical Student Division and currently serves as AMWA’s Resident Recruitment Chair. Marissa is excited to be AMWA’s first Resident On Call!

Assisting Marissa is Elizabeth Berdan, MD. Dr. Berdan is the immediate past secretary for AMWA’s National Residency Division and a surgical resident (PGY-8) at the University of Minnesota. She will be starting her pediatric surgery fellowship in July 2015

Q: Any words of wisdom for those of us applying to residencies this summer?
A: This may seem silly, but one really important thing that we do not often consider is to make sure to properly budget for BOTH residency interviews AND the time between the end of 4th year, moving in to a new city and getting your first pay check. Remember that your loans may run out if you don’t budget accordingly. A few other thoughts:
-Talk to recent graduates from your medical school who are currently residents at different programs. It is really helpful to make those connections to help yourself feel more comfortable and ready for the interview day. It also can give you a real idea of the program and its ups and downs. It’s hard to get a feel from a program in 1-1.5 days, so having personal interactions and people you can rely on is great.
– Apply broadly! You never know which program may surprise you!
– Get as many opinions as possible, but also take them with a grain of salt! When people’s impressions of a program are based on such a brief experience, they could have just had a bad day or the resident they interacted with may have had a bad day. Also, it is important to recognize that everyone thrives in different environments and because it was great for someone else does not mean that it is great for you.
– Practice your interview style, either mentally or out loud or even with another person.
– Think about your career goals and be honest with your answers. Have ideas of where you want to be in 5, 10 years.
– Look people in the eye, smile, and have a strong handshake. Sounds basic but you’d be surprised!
– Remember that EVERYONE you meet is part of the interview process. Don’t let your guard down when residents are around. Treat the staff with respect.

Q: Hi Marissa! I am interested in matching into pediatrics, and was wondering what tips you have for getting interviews at top programs? Thank you and best of luck!
A: Thanks! I think that in pediatrics they are truly looking for a well rounded candidate. Board scores and grades are likely a starting point for admissions committees to narrow down candidates as are letters of recommendation and leadership. Another thing I noticed on the interview trail is that programs are looking to find a group of interns with diverse interests. I occasionally felt that I was not very well equipped compared to others in terms of research, but I reminded myself that I had other strengths that I brought to the table and that is why they invited me to the interview perhaps instead of someone who had more in terms of research.
– Your 3rd year clerkship grades are important as well. This is where you synthesize your smarts and patient care.
– Even the ‘non-competitive’ specialties, such as pediatrics, have specific programs that are very competitive. Work hard every day to make yourself a better person, doctor, leader, and scientist. Volunteer, work, and do research in areas you are compassionate about. This gives you passion during your interviews.
If you have any more specific questions or need any assistance, feel free to contact me!

Q: How did your involvement in AMWA help you during your residency interviews?
A: My involvement in AMWA was a crucial aspect of my interview experience. It was how I best demonstrated my leadership experience and gave me plenty of ways to illustrate my strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures.
Paging senior resident, Dr. Elizabeth Berdan: My involvement in AMWA for fellowship interviews was also important. Your involvement in programs/activities outside your field, outside of your required resident duties speaks VOLUMES about your person.

Q: Did anyone ask you why AMWA was relevant today (with close to 50% female matriculates to medical school) on your residency interview trail? Did you encounter any misconceptions or antagonistic attitudes about AMWA on the interview trail? How did you address them?
A: While I did not get this during my interview trail, I heard this plenty from different folks (from attendings to other students) during medical school. It would not be a bad idea to prepare yourself by being familiar with some of the data available (through the Gender Equity Task Force, AMWA NewsFlash, and other outlets) regarding the need for organizations like AMWA to help further women in the higher ranks of medical schools, with attaining equal pay, etc.
Paging senior resident, Dr. Elizabeth Berdan: Some people did ask specific questions about women in medicine, and I know my research (yes, look up the data and be prepared). It’s a tricky subject so I did not get many questions. Most of the questions were from women interested in what I had to say and what my data showed.

Q: Do you have any tips for approaching physicians for letters of recommendation for residency applications?
A: This was probably one of the toughest things for me when I was preparing to apply for residency. Letters of recommendation (LORs) are certainly important because that is the easiest way for program directors to see how you work. However, you are asking someone to write a letter about your strengths at approximately the same time as you are writing your own personal statement. If you are like me, it was extremely difficult for me to sit there and talk about myself, and it made me feel terrible about asking someone else to do that for me! On an away rotation, I had an attending approach me about whether or not I was planning to ask for a letter from the head attending. I told him that I was not yet sure, as I had worked with so many different physicians that I did not know if that one doctor would be able to do it. He literally said to me: “Wow Marissa! For being so on top of things, I really would have expected you to have this together. Of course you need to ask him for a letter. You have worked hard and you deserve it”. Needless to say, I was embarrassed. However, this experience showed me that I needed to be a little more bold if I wanted people to speak on my behalf. I did end up asking for the letter and the lead attending responded very positively and said he would incorporate the thoughts of the other physicians. With that said, it is also important to make sure that you are asking the people you have made the best impressions with. Sometimes they may not be in your specialty – and that is okay! I think that shows that you work hard despite not being in the exact specialty of your choice. I personally had 2 pediatrics, 1 internal medicine and 1 chair letter.
Paging senior resident, Dr. Elizabeth Berdan: Yes, ask the head people and the nationally recognized people. The higher they are the better. That being said, they should have SOME knowledge of you too. People like to read LORs from people they know or recognize. However, this is not always easy and by no means necessary to receive great interview offers and match successfully.

Q: Hi Marissa, I am a rising M2 at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. I was interested in knowing what advice you had about doing research in order to match into a competitive residency and about your views on publications and how important they are in order to match to a residency.
A: Hi there! That completely depends on the different specialties to which you are applying. Unfortunately, there is no “MSAR” for residency programs and the specific data is harder to understand with respect to what different programs are looking for. The best way to understand this is through asking residents in your particular specialty what their experiences have been. Feel free to contact me and let me know what you are applying for. I can try to link you up with another AMWA resident in that field! From my own personal experience, I had worked on a research project throughout medical school. I was not published by the time I applied, interviewed, or matched.
Paging senior resident, Dr. Elizabeth Berdan: Research does matter, but not as much as we think when we are medical students. If you LOVE it, do it. If it’s a passion it will show. Publications are important. Even poster presentations (every medical school would have a poster session) count! Remember what you do/did as a medical student also counts when you apply for a fellowship.

Q: What’s a good method for researching potential residency programs? Is it a good idea to research all the programs that a specialty offers? What are some things we should be looking at when researching residency programs?
A: The best ways to research programs are through input from the program director at your institution, students from your institution who are now matched at programs in your specialty (they can comment on their program and others they looked at), and through FRIEDA. FRIEDA is an online publication by the AMA that has some information on programs. Honestly, it is not a be all end all and is not nearly as detailed as the MSAR but it can provide at least a starting point.
I really think that the most important thing you can do at this early stage is try to identify folks at your institution who are in that residency. They can give you some insight into the program. Ultimately, however, your feeling when you are at the program is the most important. You want to pick the best and most supportive environment for you and your style of learning. Not anyone else! There are also other important aspects including: what is the teaching style? how hands on is the program? is it a large or small program? (these questions are the ones that will have different answers for everyone! I personally decided that I would be better in a large program. I wanted high volume and work load. I didn’t know this until after having gone through a few interviews). Some more simple and universal questions: are the residents happy overall? how well do the residents work together? are they people you could see yourself working with for 80 hours a week for the next 3-7 years and being happy with that?
Best of luck! Feel free to contact me with any more questions!

Marissa Orenstein is beginning her intern year in Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Marissa previously attended the University of Miami for both undergraduate and medical school and is very proud to be a “Double ‘Cane”! Marissa has served her university in many leadership capacities including Co-Director of the UM Department of Community Service (DOCS) program which is an entirely student run endeavor to provide free health services to local underserved communities through 9 annual health fairs and 2 weekly clinics. She also represented her school as an OSR Representative to the AAMC and served as the Student Government Class of 2014 Vice President. Marissa is a member of AOA, Phi Beta Kappa and the Iron Arrow Honor Society.

Thank you everyone who submitted questions and to Marissa Orenstein, MD, our Resident On Call. Please continue to submit questions and look out for the answers the first week of every month on the AMWA Blog!

Parin Patel

Parin Patel

Parin is an OB/GYN resident at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She's been an AMWA member since medical school and has co-authored multiple Position Statements, worked on improving healthcare through AMWA's Preventive Medicine Task Force, and served on several committees. This year she hopes to increase resident involvement as the division's Recruitment Chair. She enjoys working with all of the inspirational AMWA members and promoting women's health.

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