Episode 21: Ophthalmology Residency Matched Applicant Live Panel
Three recently matched ophthalmology applicants from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine join Jay and producer Louie Cai to go through their match process experience: from deciding on ophthalmology as a specialty all the way to the jitters of match day.
Transcription by @Michael Venicasa.
[3:10] Why was ophthalmology a good match for you? Hong-Uyen was attracted to the combination of clinic and micro-surgery. Patrick was interested in a number of specialties but found himself continuously returning to his interest in ophthalmology. Chris originally was planning on pursuing cardiology, but switched gears during his second year.
[6:52] How did you ultimately decide on ophthalmology? Hong-Uyen found herself excited to go to work every morning during her ophthalmology rotation at Bascom Palmer and decided that ophthalmology was something she could do for the rest of her life. Jay read about lots of specialties but found himself most interested in ophthalmology after his rotation.
[8:47] How many programs did you apply to? Patrick applied to 60-70 programs based on where he has lived or where his family lives. Chris also applied to 60+ programs and chose his programs after talking to mentors and seeing which were most attractive to him. When Jay applied the average applicant applied to approximately 50 programs.
[12:30] What is the timing for the process of applying? Hong-Uyen suggested applying as soon as possible, on August 15. Patrick waited until near the time of application to ask for letters from ophthalmology faculty, but for mentors from other specialties (with whom you may not have worked with after your clinical rotation ended) he suggested asking for letters early.
[13:43] What types of physicians wrote your letters? Chris suggested two ophthalmology letters + one non-ophthalmology letter. As a medical student it can be difficult to have the same impact on a patient in an ophthalmology clinic versus an internal medicine clinic, and a letter from a non-ophthalmology mentor allows you to show this other side of yourself.
[15:00] How did you manage your interview schedule? Hong-Uyen made a schedule to record her preferred dates for each program. She created a separate email account with its own ringtone on her phone, so that she would know which emails were important and which were not. Chris mentioned that SF Match commonly lists interview dates for different programs when you apply, and that replying to emails very quickly is extremely important. He used Student Doctor Network to keep track of when each program released their invites.
[19:10] Describe the logistics of your interviews (clothing, finances, etc.). Patrick suggested that you want them to remember you for the interview instead of for what you were wearing. He suggested Southwest Airlines since they were more lenient with changes. Chris suggested planning a break in the middle of your interview trail and to plan a “flexible” elective during this time. Hong-Uyen booked her flights 2-3 weeks before the interview to best account for possible changes.
[22:05] How much did the various programs differ? Chris felt that most programs had a similar general format with a “Meet & Greet,” Grand Rounds, Lunch, Tour, Interview Session, and Conclusion. There generally was a social event the night before, which allowed him to see the residents outside of the school. Hong-Uyen felt that if she was unable to go to the social event, she did not want to go to the interview itself. Jay thinks that freeing up the residents during interview days shows that the program cares about their interviews. Likewise, Hong-Uyen felt that food choice was an important demonstration of effort.
[28:50] What were your interviews like? Patrick’s interviews were mostly conversational; the candidates are all excellent, and so the programs care about whether or not you will fit in there. Chris’ “curveball” questions included one program asking him to identify pathology on a scan, and a question about his favorite YouTube video. Patrick found himself very aware of the degree of autonomy at different programs, and Hong-Uyen suggested that it is just as important to look for a variety of surgical opportunities instead of simply surgical (cataract) volume.
[37:30] Many feel that applying to only one geographical area makes you look “uncommitted.” How did geography play a role in your application? Chris suggested not limiting yourself to one area of the country, and that broadening his horizons allowed for great experiences. Jay suggested that if you do have a legitimate geographical constraint, you should talk to your mentor and not let that scare you.
[39:10] How did you organize your rank list? Hong-Uyen used her “gut” and the suggestions of her mentors; she felt that she should have asked more residents about the strength of their fellowship programs. Patrick kept a list of programs on his phone, adding new programs above or below others after the conclusion of each interview. Jay suggested taking notes soon after each interview, on the flight back home.
[43:45] Did you send thank you letters or tell any programs that they were your #1 choice? Chris feels that, even if the school asks you not to send a note, it is important to send a thank you note with a few specifics that you appreciated most about their program; he sent emails. Hong-Uyen also sent emails. Jay felt it important to send a thank you note to anyone with which you connected and that, since programs cannot legally initiate the conversation but can respond once you initiate, these notes open the door for further communication.
[45:55] How did you find out where you matched? Patrick had a shelf exam the day before and went to sleep thinking that he would get an email at 7am and have to wait until 11am for the program to call. He went to sleep between 7am and 11am and missed the call! Chris was ironing a suit for his transition year interview. Hong-Uyen thought that USC had already called all of their matched applicants and was surprised to receive a call from a Baltimore number.
[50:25] What would you do differently to improve your application? Chris found research, academics, and extracurricular activities to be the three “pillars” of the application. He wished that he started research earlier so that more projects could be done instead of in-progress. Patrick suggested that it is important to have a mentor who will help you network and improve your application. Hong-Uyen said that it is okay if you are not AOA or publishing lots of research, and wishes that she realized this earlier.