Field Notes: Advice on Finding a Residency

We have finally arrived. After four years of endless studying, constant testing, and what sometimes felt like never-ending days in the hospital, a new crop of family physicians is about to join the ranks of residents-in-training. We have, for the last six months, hit the road to learn about and explore to our hearts content not just what kind of physician we hope to become, but also where and how. The question of “What kind of doctor do you want to be?” has gradually become, “What kind of family physician do you want to be?”

With the euphoria of Match Day now upon us, I wanted to share a bit of advice to my future colleagues who in a year will also be asking themselves the same questions. As you start thinking about ERAS applications and begin to reflect on the last few years of your academic training, here are a few things to keep in mind:

 

1. Take advice with a grain of salt.

During residency interviews you will have the opportunity to talk with people at all levels of training, from seasoned academic attendings, to program directors, residents, and medical students on away rotations. Each of these individuals has a unique perspective, but each perspective is also subject to their own bias based on their position and level of training.

Interns will give you a view of how hard things can be in the thick of it. It is likely true that no matter which residency you go to, intern year will be hard. A residency program’s issues are inevitably amplified by constant sleep deprivation and 24-hour challenge of being an intern. Second-year residents, with the clarity of having overcome intern year, have since acclimated and grown with experience, in some ways remaining a core of the residency program as they transition into their outpatient rotations. Third-year residents are often the most optimistic, forward thinking, and feel more relaxed as they near the home stretch of their formal training.

Program directors also have a unique view; the long views, of having overseen their residents continuously change and grow through their program. They’ll offer insights that seem grand, if not a little elusive, and have a better feel for the potential of their residents.

 

2. It’s okay if your priorities shift.

Look back on your personal statement for medical school, and again, in your residency application. In between that time, you have gained valuable experience, spent thousands of hours studying and on the wards. If your mission statement has drawn an image of the physician you want to be, experience has colored in the empty spaces between the lines.

Your priorities have inevitably shifted, and will continue to shift as you move forward with your training. That’s okay. The big picture, your big picture, might now include family responsibilities, a spouse, and even a child. You have student debt to account for over the next ten years, and the health care environment into which we are starting our careers has become even more dynamic. It’s okay to take these factors into account before you submit your rank list.

 

3. Find your tribe.

One of my mentors gave me great advice, “Do not take interviews for granted.” It’s admittedly hard to maintain the same enthusiasm further into the interview season, but each opportunity is a chance to find your tribe. Maybe you didn’t find that tribe in medical school or maybe you did, but interview season is an excellent opportunity to determine where you might fit in.

Attending applicant socials will give you a good idea of what the lifestyle for each residency program is like. Are you looking for a program where residents are close and hang out with each other on the weekend? Are you looking for a program that will welcome both you and your family? Or do you prefer to be more aloof, and separate your personal and professional lives?

Finally, I hope this advice will serve you well in the following year as you begin to make these decisions. Graduation gives us an opportunity to reflect and look back on the past four years, but Match Day is the opposite. Match Day is about the future. It is about the future of our careers, how we choose to impact our communities, and who will carry the #FMRevolution torch as we continue to shape the future of primary care.

Author: David Tran

David Tran is a fourth-year medical student at UCI and Co-Vice Chair of the CAFP Student Council.

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