Tips and tricks to make the most of residency matching

October 31, 2018 onboardMD Team

Newly-minted residents give you an inside look at the best and worst of the matching experience 

To someone who has never been through it before, residency matching can seem like a strange and complex ritual—there are a million things to consider and another million pieces of advice to heed. But who better to give you insights into how residency matching really works than those who have just gone through it?
 
From the strategies that helped them get where they wanted to go, to the things they wish someone had told them before they chose their electives and ranked their programs, to the heartbreaking truth about Match Day, we asked a group of residents from different backgrounds and specialties to tell us everything they learned during residency matching—including the very best part, which they unanimously agree is “the most fun thing you’ll only ever want to do once!”
 

PART I: STRATEGIES FOR MATCHING SUCCESS

Start wide, finish narrow.

“Apply broadly at first and keep all of your options open. You'd rather be turning down interviews instead of wishing you had more later.” 
PGY-1, Family Medicine
 
“I applied broadly initially and got many offers for interview, so I was able to narrow that down and focus on interviewing only at my top 7 programs.” 
PGY-2, Family Medicine
 
“Try everything. I always had the idea of becoming a surgeon in the back of my mind, but I thought I wasn't cut out for it (pardon the pun) until I experienced it and found that nothing else compared to it.”
PGY-1, General Surgery
 

Don’t underestimate the importance of electives. 

“Electives are the most important part of matching to the specialty and program that you want.”
PGY-1, General Surgery
 
“Plan your electives as early as possible, including going out of province for electives, which is important for demonstrating a genuine and earnest interest in the specialty of choice.” 
PGY-3, Psychiatry
 
“For away electives, there are group pages on social media for finding affordable accommodations while traveling. Often it is other medical students who are also traveling, who will rent out their apartments to elective students.” 
PGY-1, Urology
 
“You want to ensure that you fit in well where you match; electives are the best way to get an idea of this.” 
PGY-1, General Surgery
 

Rely on residents. 

“The best people to ask for advice are current residents who have been successfully matched to your program of interest.” 
PGY-3, Psychiatry
 
“Residents want to know that they can work with you for the next 2-5 years. They want to know that they can get along with you, that you’re hard working and also teachable.”
PGY-1, Urology
 
“Speak to as many residents and staff as possible about their experiences. They might not have applied to the same specialties or locations that you're interested in, but each person will likely give you a pearl about the process.” 
PGY-1, Family Medicine
 
“Don’t be afraid to ask residents about their specific pros and cons. This will help you decide your ranking process but also give you things to write about in your personal letters.” 
PGY-1, Urology
 

Interview prep is about more than knowing the answers. 

“Get used to talking about yourself!” 
PGY-3, Psychiatry
 
“Prep for interviews the same way you would prep for an athletic competition. Visualize the way you want it to go.”
PGY-1, Family Medicine
 
“Explore the cities you’re in for electives to see if it’s somewhere you could see yourself living.” 
PGY-1, Urology
 
“Make sure to get to know not only the program but also the city it is located in. This might be somewhere you will be spending the next 2-6+ years of your life and there is definitely a life outside of the hospital. Plus, it is a good way to show your interviewers that you are truly interested in joining their community.” 
PGY-3, Anesthesia
 
“Programs are making an investment in you. It is easier for them to select applicants that they know.” 
PGY-1, General Surgery
 
“Keep a journal of interesting stories or patient interactions, it's nice to have specific examples during interviews.” 
PGY-1, Urology
 

PART II: THE THINGS NO ONE WILL TELL YOU

It will make you doubt yourself.

“Do not overestimate your desirability—this was a harsh but real statement from a career advisor to my medical school class. However, be sure to also be kind to yourself and to be confident. You made it to where you are for a reason. Everyone experiences self-doubt and questions their plans.  Sometimes opening up to someone about your worries and hearing they're stressed about the same thing is hugely cathartic.”
PGY-1, Family Medicine
 

It’s expensive (really expensive).

“Travel and accommodation expenses for electives and residency interviews (if you are lucky!) can really add up. Senior medical students would benefit from considering the increased costs of going through the CaRMS process when setting up their financial plans.”
PGY-3, Psychiatry
 

It can be heartbreaking (really heartbreaking).

“I wish I would have been prepared for how hard Match Day was. I was very happy with my result, but it’s heartbreaking when your classmates get the specialty they wanted, but it’s in another province, or the classmate you thought was a shoe-in for their specialty of choice but got their second or third choice instead—and worst of all are the classmates who poured their heart and souls into the match process and didn’t match.”
PGY-1, General Surgery
 
“Match Day is a very emotional day for all sorts of reasons. For some people, it's the culmination of several years of effort and feels like a consecration. For a few, it is an incredibly traumatic experience that will lead to a lot of questioning. For most people though, it is somewhere in between. You will probably be proud of what you accomplished but also slightly terrified of what lies ahead. While you may be really happy with your match, you may have to mourn other options that you were also contemplating.”
PGY-3, Anesthesia
 

PART III: THE BEST PART OF RESIDENCY MATCHING…

…is most definitely the interview tour!

“The best part of the match experience was the tour. You meet so many people, and, if you’re lucky, these people who you just traveled across the country with will be your future colleagues, not your competition.”
PGY-1, General Surgery
 
“I loved traveling around the country and meeting medical students, residents, and attending physicians who shared the same interest in my specialty of choice.”
PGY-3, Psychiatry
 
“The Interview Tour was certainly one of the most exhilarating and exhausting experiences of my life. It was really great to meet other anesthesia hopefuls from across the country and flying from city to city every day made me feel like a rock star.”
PGY-3, Anesthesia
 
“The best part of the process was the CaRMS interview tour itself. Meeting lots of like-minded individuals, socializing into the wee hours of the night at bars and pubs, then putting your best foot forward early the next morning, just before traveling to the next location to do it all again! It's the most fun thing you’ll only ever want to do once!”
PGY-1, Family Medicine
 

What should I do next?

If you’re looking for more guidance to get you through the residency matching process – like, say, advice on how to come up with a solid financial plan to cover all the costs – our team of MD experts is always available to help. 

About the Author

onboardMD Team

onboardMD Team
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