I went to the 2017 ACOG Annual Meeting Residency Fair, where I talked with residency directors and senior residents about what they are looking for in their incoming class of interns. Here is what I learned, starting with seven tips for applying to an Ob-Gyn residency:
1. Do well on your USMLE, steps 1 and 2.
One of the best things about being an Ob-Gyn is that you get to be both a surgeon and a primary care doctor. So, if you are having trouble choosing between these two fields, Ob-Gyn is the only specialty where you can do both. On the flip side, one of the hardest things about the specialty is that you have so much to learn. As a result, residencies look at your USMLE scores to make sure you are up to the task. In the 2016 NRMP program Director Survey, 91% of residency program directors cited USMLE Step 1 as a highly important factor, while 83% cited Step 2 scores as highly important.
The 2016 mean scores for applicants who matched to Ob-Gyn residencies were 229 (Step 1) and 244 (Step 2). These are not as high as surgical specialties, but higher than many primary care fields. Some programs even have cut-off scores (below which they will not invite a candidate to interview). Focus on doing well and make sure your scores are on par with successfully matched candidates. If not, you may need to apply to a wider range of programs.
2. Make interview day count.
Smile and act respectful of everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the shuttle bus driver. Your behavior speaks louder than words, so make sure you show that you are humble and grateful for the opportunity to be there. Along the same lines, if you don’t know an answer to a question, say so. Show them you can handle being in a stressful situation (an interview) and still be friendly, respectful, and open to advice. To evaluate this skill, some residencies will ask difficult questions on interview day, to see how you respond under pressure. As one program director told me, “We don’t expect interns to know everything. In fact, if an applicant seems to know everything, that’s a bad sign. We want residents who are ready to learn, ready to work hard, and are able to accept criticism.”
3. Show them you are a team player.
Things can be slow on L&D, then suddenly, ten patients show up in active labor. It’s not uncommon for residents on other rotations to run over to L&D to help out. Make sure your statement of purpose shows you are the kind of person who is willing to pitch in when needed. As a resident, I often found myself mopping the O.R. floor and taking out the trash to get it ready for the next patient. While not all programs want you to do janitorial jobs, they do like to know that nothing is beneath you. Describe a time when you contributed in an unexpected way, not just for credit, but because that’s who you are. And remember that the nurses and support staff are a vital part of the medical team, and helping them out when things get busy can be highly appreciated. If you respect the roles of everyone caring for the patient, your sense of teamwork will shine through.
4. Demonstrate your ability to communicate.
As one residency director said, “You can be smart and know your stuff, but if you can’t convey it to others, your knowledge doesn’t help us much. We want residents who are comfortable having difficult conversations with patients and colleagues.” As an example, in my program it was the intern’s job to consent patients for cesarean sections. This sometimes had to be done in an emergency, while the patient was being wheeled down the hall to the O.R. Being able to explain the risks of surgery to someone under enormous stress requires you to stay calm and use precise language. Your personal statement and interview can both demonstrate your ability to communicate your thoughts in a clear way. You can find out if your school’s pre-med advisor offers mock interviews and take advantage of it. If you think you are at risk of becoming tongue-tied, you might consider getting extra practice. For guidance with your statement and/or preparing for interviews, we are available to help. Just contact us at Accepted.
5. Get a great letter of recommendation.
Ob-Gyn residencies rely heavily on letters of recommendation. As one residency director stated, “I can tell a really great letter from all the average ones, and that’s the applicant I’m most interested in.” Another director told me, “When a department chair goes to extra lengths to write a special letter, I know they’re doing it for a reason. That person is a special applicant in my mind.” To get an outstanding letter, you can connect with a faculty member in your chosen specialty. Let them know about your interest in their field and offer to help with a research project. Or you might spend extra time shadowing them on a difficult case. While the outstanding letter does not have to be from your program director, it helps to have someone with clout arguing for you. And remember, letters often reflect your interns’ and residents’ impressions of your work ethic. If you were not working as hard as you could have on your rotation, the letter will show that.
6. If you do a sub-internship, work hard.
Going back to tip #5, if you don’t think your letters of recommendations are as good as they could be, you might want to do a sub-internship and get a better one. The key is, be willing to work as hard as your interns (or maybe even harder). As one program director said, “Doing a sub-I can either help you or hurt you. If it doesn’t go well, we don’t know if you were just having a bad week, or if that’s who you are.” In my own experience, I did a sub-I and landed a great letter and a spot at that program for residency. If there is a program you really want to go to, doing a sub-I can help. It has the additional benefit of showing you what a hospital is really like and how they treat their residents. You might decide that you still want to go there after a sub-I, or maybe you will realize that it’s not the program for you, which is a good thing to find out now. And that leads us to the last tip…
7. Be yourself.
Each residency is different. You might be a great fit at one program, but a poor fit at another. Learn as much as you can about them before interview day and be honest in your essay and interviews. You don’t want to change who you are to fit their needs, but if you share the same goals, you should express that. They will feel more comfortable bringing you on their team if you have similar values and preferences. One director said, “An applicant who sounds great on paper, but does not gel with our residents on interview day, will probably not be selected. With such a small group of residents, interpersonal differences can make everyone miserable.” Another director stated, “Applicants should have lunch with and hang out with residents. After the interviews, we all get together to discuss candidates. The residents’ opinions are strongly considered.” One senior resident had this to say. “Spend as much time as you can with the residents. If they invite you to go look at their call room, go see it. Make sure you plan extra time on interview day, in case opportunities come up.”
You might not know what a program is really like before you get there, but on interview day you will get a sense of whether you can see yourself going there. As one director told me, “Your residency is like a second family. You are going to spend more time with us in the next four years than with anyone else in your life, so we want to make sure you will be happy here.” Another director half-jokingly likened interview day to speed dating. “You should go there with the assumption that you are both checking each other out.” And just as in dating, the best advice for meeting someone new is to just relax and be yourself.
In addition to the tips above, each residency is looking for unique features in their incoming class. Ask what they are looking for, and you may be surprised. Here are a few characteristics that were mentioned by different programs:
1. We are looking for more male residents.
2. We always try to get at least one DO intern, because they bring diversity to their program.
3. We look for residents who are ready to function independently.
4. We want residents who plan to stay in the area.
5. We highly consider residents who are interested in working in underserved or rural areas.
6. We want our residents to be interested in doing research.
7. We like our residents to have balanced lives. We want to make sure they won’t burn out half way through.
Above all, while you may not be the right fit for every program, you will be the right fit for one program, and that’s all that matters. The residents at ACOG all told me their program was the only one they would have wanted to go to, and I have to agree. When I remember my own residency days, it strikes me as a boot camp (internship) followed by a tour of duty (the next three years). Not everyone got along all the time, but we would all go to bat for one another in a crisis. Your co-residents will “have your back” when things get scary, and you will form bonds that last a lifetime.
Suzi Schweikert is a former UCSD School of Medicine adcom member who has mentored students in healthcare programs for over 20 years. She has a BA in English Lit from UCLA, an MD from UCSD, and an MPH from SDSU. Want Suzi to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
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