As you begin your third year of medical school, what are you doing to prepare for the residency match? Chances are, you’re up to your eyeballs in rotations and exams and everything else that goes into the third year of your medical degree. Chances are, you’re not really thinking much about your personal statement or future residency application.
Keep a journal – starting now
Not to sound like a BowFlex commercial, but what if I told you that spending just five minutes a night would take hours of stress and hassle out of the application process for you? And what if I told you it would cost you nothing, other than those five minutes?
Look at it this way: you’re in the midst of a rotation. Every day, you’re seeing different cases, learning new information, and watching attendings do amazing things that you dream of doing yourself someday. Right now, it’s all fresh in your mind. If someone asks, “What did you learn today?,” you’d be able to give them an answer without hesitating.
But will you remember these specific experiences so well next June (or July, or August, or even September) when you sit down to write a personal statement for your residency application? How many interesting details can you remember from your life six months ago? How many attendings impressed you back then, and can you remember exactly what they did?
Time and again, when I begin working with a residency applicant, I watch them struggle to recall the insights they’ve gleaned over the previous few months. More often than not, they end up scratching their heads and agonizing over their faulty memories until they can dredge up a compelling example or two. If they had taken a few minutes daily to record these details while they were still fresh, this task would’ve been so much easier for them.
What to keep track of in your residency essay journal
Here are three things to watch for during your rotations and then record that will get you in great shape for later.
Watch your attendings.
What is something your attending did today that struck you? This could be anything, from how they reacted to a patient’s nonverbal cues or defused an upset family member’s anger to how they communicated with other health professionals. Write down the details of the situation so you can recall them later. If what you saw today differed from what you’ve seen in other rotations, think about whether the variation is due to the specialty or to the individual’s style. And make critical judgments – did anything you saw about this physician or today’s tasks make you think about the kind of doctor you want to be?
Watch your patients.
Observe how patients and their family members act and respond. Do they ever surprise you? Which cases have really piqued your interest? You might already be keeping a case log, and if so, that will help supply the medical details when you want to write about specific patients. But your personal statement will be richer when seasoned with the personal details that aren’t recorded in case logs.
Since what you write is private, use this space courageously. What did you do well? What did you not do so well? What were the things that interested you, and what bored you silly? Not only can writing all this down help you to critically evaluate your educational progress, but it can also give you some insights into your future. What is pushing you toward certain specialties and away from others? How are your actions today helping you to envision the kind of doctor that you hope to be?
Be kind to your Future Self and start recording these stories today. If you can get into a routine of spending five minutes a day jotting down what you’d like to remember later, you’ll have an immensely easier time next summer. And as an extra bonus, by looking through the things that you’ve recorded later, you’ll often discover patterns emerging and themes that you can use in your personal statement. Your Future Self will be so grateful!
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Since 2001, Cydney Foote has advised hundreds of successful applicants for medical and dental education, residency and fellowship training, and other health-related degrees. Admissions consulting combines her many years of creating marketing content with five years on fellowship and research selection committees at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She’s also shared her strategy for impressing interviewers in a popular webinar and written three books and numerous articles on the admissions process. Want Cydney to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!