Junior medical students get a lot of information from senior medical students. They are the ones who have gone before and it makes sense that they would seek out their advice on everything from how to study to how to prepare for residency match. Though often the advice offered is sound, occasionally it is way off base. There is one common piece of advice which I would truly love to see thrown into a garbage truck and crushed liberally. It generally goes something like this:
You have to do THIS to get a good residency.
The implication that there is some magical activity that, if not completed, will doom you to being “unmatched” is wrong to the point of harm. The “THIS” part of the advice is generally replaced with “research,” but I have heard other variations. “Attending conferences,” “getting the best marks,” “completing an ironman,” “having connections” or “playing the game” are occasional variations on the theme. They are often consistent with exactly what the senior medical student in question did to prepare for their match. It may have worked for them, but it may not be right for you.
To stop myself for a second: I do not mean to derogate advice from senior medical students because it is generally awesome. However, I would recommend disregarding absolute advice from anyone (including me!) – this just happens to be my example because I’ve heard it so frequently over the years. Just like on your multiple choice exams, the answers with “always” and “never” in them are only rarely correct because there are few absolutes in medicine or in life. Remember, only a Sith deals in absolutes. Err…
Back to the rant. So what should you do to make yourself a great candidate for the match?
Do what you love
This advice was given to me by a very wise mentor many years ago and I do my best to remember it – especially when I am overwhelmed. I find it elegant and profound in its simplicity. I’m sure some of the medical students reading this right now are giving their computer screens the skeptical face:
I mean really, what does “Do what you love” even mean!? Please, hear me out.
We are good at things we love. We can do them for hours on end and somehow not get tired. Doing them leads us to other things that are related that we also end up loving. I don’t have an RCT to prove it, but I’m pretty sure that when we do them regularly we become happier and more pleasant people that others want to be around. Even better, it has been my experience that the more I do the things that I love, the more doors that open for related opportunities. Finally, our passions make us interesting people.
I hope in reading this you can see how some of the benefits of doing what you love would also make you an awesome candidate in the match. When I meet an applicant, their unique passions are the things that I find memorable. And so, I think the trick is not in doing anything in particular, but in finding a way to incorporate doing the other things we love into medicine in some way. While I will admit that this may not always be possible, I think there’s a way to do it more often than we think. My next post will focus on a bunch of examples. To offer one from my own life:
I love emergency medicine, teaching and writing. While I repressed my passion for writing for awhile because I was “too busy,” it came back like a hurricane when I found a way to combine it with emergency medicine and teaching by starting this blog. I write these posts at all hours of the day and night. I write them after long days at work. The only reason that I can post so much is because doing so gives me energy rather than exhausting me. Engagement with my blog has led me to meet people from around the world that are similarly passionate and, I am sure, will lead to more exciting opportunities. Additionally, had I not secured my fellowship prior to starting this blog, I’m fairly confident that my “hobby” would have been an asset on my application.
“Do what you love” is pretty cryptic and philosophical as far as advice for medical school goes. Hopefully, medicine itself is something that you end up loving. However, I think that is more likely to happen if you’re able to combine medicine with your other passions. This picture from thingsweforget.blogspot.com summarizes this entire post pretty nicely:
My next post will be full of examples of how you can go about that, so if this one intrigued you please come back. To make sure that you do, be sure to subscribe to my posts via e-mail (see sidebar), follow me on twitter or follow Boring EM on facebook. I’d also appreciate any efforts to spread this by tweeting/retweeting, e-mailing and facebooking this like crazy!
Thanks for reading!