Sunday 15 May 2011

How to convince programs of your commitment to a specialty

Convincing the program of your interest in the field

There is no greater impact of commitment to a program than showing your interest in the subject of your choice. This is mostly true for specialties like family medicine, psychiatry, pathology and to some extent pediatrics. This is especially true when you are applying for fellowship programs in a medical subspecialty and you have to convince the program that you are absolutely committed to the field and none else. There are many ways in which you can gear your CV towards a specialty specific field. In fact, If your CV is not geared towards the field that you are applying to, it diminishes your chances of matching considerably. You have to make your application stand out and you should be in a position to fill in a niche that the programs are looking for.
Listed below are some ways of making you application convincing to the programs.

1. Working in the field
A. clinical experience – hands on: this is probably the best kind of effort you can do to show how committed you are to a particular field. Imagine if you are applying to pediatrics and as an IMG you have spent 4 months working in a pediatric outpatient clinic, how impressive that sounds for your application? Always keep on a look out for opportunities that can afford you hands on clinical experience. Be it in a clinic or in a hospital, this goes a long way in making a compelling argument as to why the program should hire you, instead of your competitor.

B. Observership experience – This is one of the next best. I say, - one of the, because, beyond hands of clinical experience there is not much to compare between other experiences. I personally as an IMG sought this and shadowed in a general medicine clinic for about 2-3 months. I did not go there everyday but every other day. The key here is to show that you are interested and to present your self in a appropriate manner. Unless you are paying a substantial amount to be there, this is going to be favor to you and don’t make an ass of yourself by being casual, unpunctual, disinterested or rude. There are plenty of sites which list the places where you can obtain ‘Obsies’. I have a few sites listed on - Observership opportunities

C. Volunteer experience – This is actually a great way to boost your resume and can work wonders in you favor. One of the least known facts for IMGs is that people who had volunteer experience did fare much better on the match that those with fewer volunteer opportunities. Check out the post on Volunteerism here Opportunities for volunteering and research

2. Research in the field
A. Basic science research – this is a usually a very good place to start if you are serious about the field of your choice. Plenty of graduate schools are offering courses in the subjects of your choice. People who are interested in Internal Medicine can opt for medicine related subjects (virology, microbiology, immunology, pathogenesis, biochemistry, pathobiology etc), those that want to work in neurology related sciences are more apt for neuroscience, neurocognition, neuropsychology, brain and cognition research etc. Even psychiatry has a good bearing on basic science subjects and a lot of psychiatric and psychological research is done in behavioral sciences. This is very impressive but at the same time involves a commitment of time anywhere from 2 years (Masters Level) to 6 years (PhD level). If you have serious love for the subject then by all means go for this and see where your life path takes you.

B. Applied and clinical research – this is a midway between those who want to do some research and not wanting to commit to hard core bench work. If you can find opportunities to work in clinical and applied sciences then it will be better than not having any research at all.

3. Publications of interest in the field
You do not need to be a scientist to publish articles in the field of your choice. As a reader of specialty specific journals you will instantly recognize there are many options for publications which are not original research and yet are accepted for publication to the journal. These could be letters to the editor, editorial piece, review article, synopsis or even a literary piece remotely connected to the field. Check out the section Poetry and medicine in Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA:

4. Posters and awards in the field
This is of course tied in with the research and clinical aspects of your application. If you have some work, it could even be partially completed; you should make a poster of it. These days, it is very easy to make a poster in power point and place the data as a beautiful poster.

5. Strong personal statement
On other way to show your commitment to the field is to write a strong personal statement. A statement that describes your motivation to do a particular branch is often a good tool in the fight for a residency. There are several sites that help in regards writing a strong personal statement, go through your strong points and highlight them especially in regards to how you will ‘fit’ well with the specialty and the program.

6. Letters of recommendation – this is the final method to show the programs your dedication to the field. If they are convinced that you make a good fit then the chances that you will match are increased manifold. Have a sit down talk with the referee and tell them what this LOR is for. Ask them to include buzz words that will help your application tremendously. Not all referees are clinicians or physicians and sometimes we are required to take letters from scientists or other senior faculty who are not MD and may not be familiar with USMLE/ECFMG and residency match process. Read up about getting LORs here.

Good Luck!

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