Memoirs from the Match (2009)

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News
UPDATED ON:
January 10th, 2011

By Caleb Richards

To Future Applicants in Radiology

The following document describes my experience in the match for Radiology in 2009. I hope you future applicants can find some use in it as you go through the match. It’s a very exciting process, as you will have the opportunity to travel, visit different programs, and catch a glimpse of what your future might be like as a resident at different places. So congratulations on making it this far! The following months going through this process will definitely be something to remember!

How Many Programs to Apply To?

This is variable. Some might be constrained to applying to certain cities or region for family/relationship reasons. Others may pan-apply (applying to a very high number of programs across the nation). The rationale behind pan-applying being that if you throw out enough applications your chances of getting an adequate number of interviews will be increased. I applied using the “rule of 1/3′s.” This means that 1/3 of my total applications were to programs I thought were lower tier, 1/3 at programs that were more middle tier, and 1/3 at programs that were top tier (MIR, Duke, Mass Gen, etc.). One thing I would advise is not to let finances deter you from applying to more programs, especially at this stage in the game. The cost of doing 10-20 extra applications is small relative to what you’re going to spend traveling anyways. If it turns out that you get more interviews than you can go on, then you can always cancel (with as much notice as possible, this is common courtesy to other applicants on wait list). I’ll sum it up with this, I’ve met applicants that wish they had applied to more programs once they don’t have many interviews rolling in, but I haven’t heard anyone complain that they should’ve applied less, as they have plenty of interviews to choose from. Specifically how I applied is detailed below.

Radiology

Programs applied to: 30
Interviews offered/accepted: 16/11
Interviewed at: UT Houston, Baylor Houston, Baylor Dallas, UT Southwestern, Texas A&M-Scott and White, Ochsner Clinic, U Alabama at Birmingham, Virginia Commonwealth, U New Mexico, U Florida Gainesville, U Arkansas

Transitional

Applied to: 8 (JPS, UTH, Baptist Alabama, Chattanooga, Hawaii, Carillion (Virginia), UT Memphis, Missouri)
Interviews offered/accepted: 4/4

Prelim

Applied to: 4 (UTH, UTSW, Baylor Houston, Hawaii)
Interviews offered/accepted: 3/1

Important Advice

This is probably the most important advice I can give to future applicants: do not apply to too few 1st year programs, and accept everywhere that you are offered. I had the mindset that since I was a radiology applicant I should have no problem matching to a 1st year program. I was wrong, and ended up having to scramble for a preliminary medicine year. Prelim programs are competitive too, so just make sure you’re throwing a good number of applications out there. I also feel like only applying to “cush” transitional and prelim programs hurt me. Of course, those programs have a reputation as being nice, so everyone else will be applying for them too, making it even more competitive. Something you might consider is applying to a few programs that you know will be hard, thus less competitive, but in a location that you’re prepared to be in. On scramble day, the majority of programs available are hard surgery prelims, and in undesirable locations on top of it. I think if you apply to a few hard programs, then rank them last, you will at least have that as a last resort, and it will be better to fall that far on your rank list and be in a location you’re prepared to be in, as opposed to scrambling to a hard program in a horrible location. I actually was really lucky in scrambling into a prelim program close to home, so that worked out for the best. I will tell you that scramble was the worst experience of my medical school life, and hope none of you have to go through it.

Also, I felt like there is some regional bias, meaning a program in North Carolina is more likely to interview a person from surrounding states rather than someone from another region with equal statistics. I had most success getting interviews in programs in Texas and in our region. I also applied to transitional programs, in Hawaii and Virginia, which was not realistic in getting an interview to begin with, given that my grades were not outstanding. However, like I said earlier, I have no regrets in spending the money to apply there.

What is the Interview Day Like?

I usually flew or drove in to an interview the day before. Unfortunately, not many programs paid for hotel, so be prepared to spend a little bit of money there. Some do offer discounted rates, but that’s about as good as it gets.

The night before the interview most programs had a social, usually at a bar or a restaurant. I really recommend going to these if you can manage it. It’s a good way to see what the residents are like outside of work, if you fit in with them, as well as find what are things they like and dislike about the program. Also, some interviewers asked if I attended this on my interview. Maybe they used it to gauge interest. However, later on in the season, it was so hard to get fired up to go to socials. I was so tired of traveling and asking the same questions at that point that I did skip out of a few. One thing I’d be cautious about is directly asking a resident what they dislike about the program. Sometimes that came across the wrong way when I asked, and I figured it just wasn’t worth asking anymore. I eventually learned that I could sit back and wait for someone else to ask and pick up that information. Usually that kind of stuff will make its way around so you will find out negative information on a program before it’s all said and done.

For the interview day, I think trying to be relaxed worked fine for me, even though that was really hard the first few interviews. However, do try to display some manners, as no one can fault you for that. Sit up straight, have your hands in your lap, make eye contact, and most importantly, smile. Introduce yourself to residents and be friendly. The way the day is laid out is you usually have breakfast and listen to a presentation, then do 3-4 interviews with faculty or a chief resident, noon conference or go out to lunch (I prefer going out to lunch over conference any day), then finish off the afternoon with a tour. After that, pack up, head to the airport, and on to the next place.

As far as what we talked about in the interview, I remember every person asking me about what I listed in the “interests” section of my ERAS application. Had I known they were going to do that I would’ve listed something a little more interesting than fishing and running. If you put an interesting thing there, it’s sure to be a good conversation starter. Also, my personal statement was brought up very often. I think that interviewers probably get bored from hearing the same answer for why people want to go into radiology, that personal statements and interests are much better to talk about and easier to get a true idea of someone’s personality. Just something to keep in mind. However, you will be asked at least once in an interview day as to why you’re applying to radiology, so be prepared.

How Much Does Interviewing Cost?

Of course this is highly variable on how many flights you take, if you can drive to programs, etc. I ended up spending around $4,000-5,000. But consider I’m from Texas and could drive to a lot of programs and did not have to take many flights. Some things I did to cut down on cost was to use Priceline.com’s “name your own price” function, where you basically bid on a hotel or car. I really did save some money on cars and hotels using this, however, some of the hotels I ended up with were pretty shady and run down.

Making the Rank List

There is no right answer here. Each person is going to have to decide how location, prestige, education, benefits, gut-feel, and all that stuff meshes together to formulate your list and pick your perfect program. In the end, I felt it was really hard to distinguish between places as far as educational experience goes, and ended up ranking on where I thought I’d be the most happy. Four years is way too long of a long time to be unhappy. But everyone is different, and you will have to decide what you value most. Let’s say in the worst case scenario that you match at the dead last place on your rank list, then you should stop and realize that you just matched into a residency for one of the most difficult specialties to match into. Be proud!

Where to Get More Information

From my experience, the best place to get information is from your program director at your school, radiology residents, and fellow classmates who are applying. Combine all of that together and you should get a pretty good review on all the programs you’re interested in, and get advice on applying. I know that there are websites that applicants, including myself, will get on during the match process to get more information and reviews on programs. Ultimately visiting these sites just scared me even more about the process. So I’d be careful about the information you hear on there, and take it all with a grain of salt.

Best of luck to all of you, and enjoy your experience with the match!

Caleb Richards