Learn how real students navigate their way through the medical school admissions process and med school itself with our What is Medical School Really Like? series.
Meet Abby, an MS4 on the residency interview trail.
Abby, thank you for sharing your story with us!
What have you loved most about medical school so far? What are you most looking forward to leaving behind after graduation?
Abby: Now that I am almost at the end of this journey, I love that looking back, you realize just how much you have grown. Medical school has taught me SO much, helping me grow in both knowledge, confidence, and abilities. Honestly, it keeps you so busy and so on your toes that you don’t realize how much you’re growing and changing each day, until you’re almost at the end.
As a fourth-year medical student, now working with third-year medical students and meeting some first-year students as well, it’s incredible to see how much I’ve grown, and really how much medical school does prepare you and instill new abilities and confidence.
It has absolutely taught me to step outside of my comfort zone for the better. It’s just been really fun to look back and reflect on this journey. It doesn’t hurt that I have, of course, also made some close friends along the way, who I hope will stay close to me as we split up around the country for our respective residencies.
Something I am looking forward to leaving behind is the lack of autonomy and sometimes lack of trust you hold as a medical student. At the beginning of your clinical time, you don’t know quite as much, so it’s nice to be more passive, to observe and let the residents take the reins in terms of leading patient care. Nearing the end of medical school and now feeling like I have more abilities and the strength I need to give everything my best shot, it can sometimes be frustrating that at the end of the day, we still have limitations in what we can do and participate in just by being a student. I’m ready to just do it – although I’m sure I’ll regret saying this when I’m a crazy busy intern.
Which clinical rotations have you enjoyed? Can you share an experience that particularly stands out from one of your clinical rotations so far?
Abby: I truly did enjoy a good majority of my rotations, or if I didn’t love the rotation as a whole, I found things to appreciate and cherish. I loved my surgery rotation, and it really helped me solidify what specialty I wanted to pursue.
I was fortunate enough to rotate on our cardiac surgery service for two weeks, where we also have a very robust transplant team. I had the opportunity to fly with the transplant team to another state to procure a heart and set of lungs for a transplant, and scrub into the explantation surgery. It was one of the most incredible experiences. There were additional teams there to procure other organs, and it was fascinating to see the coordination and the process unfold. It was extremely poignant to be there in the room at the beginning of the case – which felt like any other surgical case (there was a patient draped and prepped, under anesthesia, with a beating heart – this was a brain dead patient unfortunately), and at some point during the case, our team literally removed the heart and lungs. There was no more rhythmic beeping on the anesthesia monitor that we get so used to, and it was clearly a very different feel than when we started. It almost felt surreal. But I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this experience, and the opportunity to give something back to our patient, waiting for these organs that would save their life.
What keeps you motivated when things get tough?
Abby: Multiple things. One – keeping my sights set on the future and the things that I want out of life and a career. I try to believe that every rough patch is a temporary rung on the ladder you’re climbing to get to where you’re going.
Two – making sure to take time away to pursue my own hobbies and passions, and taking time to reflect on how far I’ve come and how many difficult times I have overcome to already get to where I am today.
And possibly most importantly, having a support system! I am so grateful to have loving and supportive friends and family who, even if they may not understand the ins and outs of medical training, are always there to listen and encourage me when the going gets tough.
Mentors in medicine and in your specialty are also an important source of guidance, someone to vent to, and to provide constructive advice when you’re dealing with a difficult time related to training.
What sparked your interest in OB/GYN?
Abby: I have oddly enough always been interested in women’s health and reproductive medicine – I recall that even as a child, I would read science books and be particularly fascinated by the sections regarding reproduction and pregnancy. I was just so amazed at the body’s ability to grow another human being and felt like it was almost magical, but somehow realistic at the same time.
I continued to be interested in women’s health and passionate about the subject matter, and just really loved my third-year OB/GYN rotation. I enjoyed labor and delivery, I loved operating and the gynecologic surgery aspect of the specialty, as well as the pathology that you see in an outpatient setting.
There is also such a special place in a patient’s life as an OB/GYN provider – I feel that it is an honor to help navigate women and their families through such a wide variety of emotional experiences in their lives, whether they are the best, the worst, or everything in between.
I also feel very strongly about reproductive justice, women’s healthcare access and education, which I can absolutely include in my career as an OB/GYN. Overall, it was a perfect fit!
How do you hope to influence healthcare policy as a physician?
Abby: This is a great question, and something I am still trying to figure out. What I’m most passionate about is reproductive justice, such as access to appropriate insurance for reproductive healthcare services, access to services in general/availability of services for patients in lower socioeconomic strata, and education of the public regarding general reproductive healthcare knowledge!
How I may influence policy, is a good question, and I’m sure will become more clear as I develop a practice. I think I can start by educating each of my future patients individually and taking the time to explain what they don’t understand and provide resources where I can in a healthcare system that can be difficult to navigate and that doesn’t quite serve everyone fairly.
Overall, I would love to continue educating myself by attending meetings and conferences regarding policy and staying up to date with the issues. I had the opportunity to lobby my U.S. congressmen this past March as well, something I would love to do again. It’s so important to share the knowledge that we have, as somewhat of experts in the field, with elected officials who are the ones creating the policy and legislature. Who knows, perhaps one day I will become more involved with state or local politics myself, or even run for some type of office. 😉
How has the residency application process differed from the medical school application process you went through four years ago? What surprised you the most about residency applications?
Abby: The application process itself was easier, in terms of the sheer amount of data you need to enter into the application compared to medical school applications. All of the grades that AMCAS had us self-enter, triple check, all of the secondary essays – none of that exists for residency applications. You send in your basic information, letters of recommendation, personal statement, list of activities with explanations, and your institution mostly takes care of the rest. One application goes to all schools.
The biggest difference is the expense and the time commitment once you get to interview season, which I think is one of the the most surprising aspects. You do expect ahead of time that it’s going to be expensive and draining, but you don’t fully realize until you’re in the thick of it. It varies by specialty, but it’s not uncommon to attend 15-20 interviews (i.e. I’m going on over double how many medical school interviews I attended), each encompassing travel, a pre-interview dinner necessitating accommodations for the night before, a day of socializing and being on top of your game, then sending multiple thank you notes or letters of intent, and possibly even traveling back to do a second look at the program. The cost builds, and it’s frankly exhausting especially if you’re flying all over, and even more so if you’re trying to juggle going on interviews with still completing clinical rotations for school.
Another surprising element has been the competitiveness and the stress of the process. I hate to say that it’s stressful, since it’s also an exciting process, but it’s an extremely stressful process, especially for those who are couples matching or have a geographic restriction.
There are definitely good surprises, but certainly also sad surprises along the way in terms of where you get offered interviews and what you had perhaps hoped or dreamed about before starting the process. But, I also try and trust that whatever happens, happens for the best – the match usually has a way of working out, even if it’s what you didn’t expect.
How are you preparing for residency interviews?
Abby: I am sure this is an answer that varies from person to person. There is no one right way to prepare for interviews, but there are certainly things that I have done in preparation that I would highly recommend and encourage.
In the days leading up to the interview, I will closely research the program. I pay close attention to the curriculum, the facilities, schedule of the residents (if available), opportunities for experiences I feel are important to me, salary and benefits, as well as where the faculty and residents are from and where the residents are matching to fellowship. Everyone has different priorities when researching programs, so really ask yourself what is important to you and look for those things.
In addition, be prepared with a few questions to ask at your interview and to ask of the residents the night before, as well as be prepared to answer why you want to be at this specific program. It can be partly for personal reasons (i.e. proximity to family) but you should also be prepared to discuss aspects of the program that are desirable to you.
Another thing I would recommend is sitting down before any of your interviews start and have a mock interview with a friend or colleague, or just go over some common questions and answers you might expect. While you can’t anticipate everything (I have certainly gotten caught off-guard by difficult questions), you should prepare answers to some of the more common questions, even if you don’t end up getting asked (for example – tell me about a time you had to work on a team, what are your strengths and weaknesses, etc. etc.).
In addition to this, look over your application carefully and know it well! Be prepared to explain your involvement in your research and experiences – anything you put on your application is fair game to discuss during an interview.
Congratulations on your recent engagement! How does having a partner who is also a physician affect your experience as you apply for residency programs?
Abby: Thank you so much! I think it’s a double-edged sword at the moment. Although he went through the process of applying to a different specialty, he has been through the process, so he understands the toils and tribulations. He understands exactly what I’m going through, and I certainly have a shoulder to lean on when things become overwhelming, or if I just want to vent. He’s absolutely been an invaluable source of advice, comfort, and wisdom throughout this process.
However, his status as a resident has certainly been a source of stress during this process as well, given that residents are not very flexible partners when it comes to following you to wherever you may land. Being completely transparent, he has multiple years to complete of his program where we are currently, and I think that both of us feel like the fact that we may be separated for a few years due to my match result is so out of our control – it’s quite stressful. We can only talk about all of the options and possibilities so much before it really weighs on us, since we are both so intertwined in this process. However, we do have faith that whatever the result is, it is for the best in some way, shape, or form.
What are your top 3 tips for residency applicants?
Abby: It’s so hard to pick just 3 tips, this is definitely a process that comes with way more than 3 “top” tips!
- Seriously think about investing in some travel essentials, especially if you will be flying or traveling all over the country – namely, a nice garment bag, good luggage, TSA pre-check if you’re flying, and a portable steamer.
- Think long and hard about which programs to apply to, and when it comes to making that list, get plenty of advice from others who have been through the process, as well as medical school advisors. How many programs to apply to depends so highly on the specialty you’re applying to, your grades and board scores, other experiences, and more. At the end of the day, don’t apply to a program “just because.” You don’t know who might invite you for an interview and who might not. Although over 50% of U.S. MD students generally match within their top 3 choices, there are plenty that do not. You need to be prepared to match at any program that you send an application to (that then ultimately invites you to interview), so choose your list carefully.
Another wise word about picking programs – caliber and big names aren’t everything! There are so many different types of residency programs that are all excellent choices and offer different things. In addition, other personal factors come into play (geography, proximity to family, etc.). Don’t let anyone shame you out of applying to certain programs that may not be as prestigious, if you’re genuinely interested for another reason.
- This is a stressful process. Even though pretty much all medical graduates go through it, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that it’s a breeze! It’s absolutely okay if you need someone to talk to or a little bit of extra help during this time. There are certainly some happy surprises and sad surprises during this process, and with that comes a whole roller coaster of emotions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or even a counselor or somebody else to chat with and help you process everything that’s going on. Keep in close touch with your mentors in medicine as well, who may be invaluable resources to ultimately help you decide on a rank list, or may even be willing to reach out to desirable programs on your behalf.
Do you have questions for Abby? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Medical School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Abby by following her on Instagram.
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• Family Practitioner, Author, Advocate: An Interview with Dr. Alexa Mieses, a podcast episode
• All You Need to Know About Residency Applications and Matching
• 7 Tips for Matching at an Ob-Gyn Residency