Tuesday 29 May 2012

Confidence to Boost Your Residency Chances

Social anxiety is a huge problem for residency aspirants as it limits their avenues for opportunities. Often, the applicant especially international medical graduates are forced to deal with non-familiar social situations in a foreign country and their response to this is colored with anxiety, which places them at a disadvantage. There are a few important way-points in the path to residency which involve social interactions with people you may not be familiar with. Corresponding with programs, USMLE step 2 CS and even interviews are a huge factors determining residency chances and applicants often blow their chances by performing adversely.

In many instances, this shyness or introversion affords benefits which the person is used to. Protection from perceived threat of venturing to social unknowns, staying in the comfort zone, and coziness in perceived stability of familiar situations all provide a support which superficially seems useful.  However, this 'luxury' is something that the residency application process does not take kindly to. The ‘social-lock in’ syndrome prevents you from pursuing new opportunities, reflecting in poor performance in social interaction heavy situations like residency interview and prevents you from networking for self benefit.
Just as you prepare for your personal statement and application months in advance, I recommend that you also prepare yourself psychologically for months in advance to overcome the social awkwardness. This will help you on 4 main levels,

1/  Confidence in corresponding with programs and faculty will advance
2/  Interaction and your impression on departments where you do USCE will improve
3/  Performance in USMLE step 2 CS will be stellar success
4/  Finally, during interviews you will come off as a confident and desirable candidate.

There are several self help guides, site and resources on line but the key components to self improvement is to recognize the weaknesses in your conduct. Do you have a problem speaking to new people? Are you self-conscious of your accent? Is there a habit or a tic that makes you embarrassed to interact? Work on these, just as you would work on your application. Many IMGs forget to hone in their social skills and focus purely on the numbers. If you lack a good personality even a triple 99er will have a difficult time getting a residency, on the other hand, if you are a great person to talk to, have no issues communicating with others and overall are very good company, lower credentials and issues with your application will often be overlooked and land you the residency spot. 

Fig 1: Introversion and residency application

The following are some areas which can help you improve:

1/ Positive emulators
Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.
- Vince Lombardi
Look around you, everyone knows at least one person who is admired and does well with social situations. Study their habits, how do they approach a group, how do they talk, what body language they use which puts the other person at ease? Emulate them consciously at first till it becomes a second nature to you.

2/ Self confidence
One important key to success is self-confidence.
An important key to self-confidence is preparation.
- Arthur Ashe
This has to be inculcated and cannot be achieved overnight. Small things add up to a confident personality. Learn to accept your weaknesses (physical, emotional or psychological) and this will improve your confidence.

3/ Determination
Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.
- Horace Mann
You have make an effort and decide once and for all you will make a change. Once you are committed to self-improvement, that in itself will trigger a positive change.

4/ Communication
We speak with our tongue but communicate with our entire body. Correct mannerisms like bad posture, slouching, annoying tics and distracting habits. Read up about body language and what it conveys to the other person. Learn to seem very attentive to the other person and reciprocate such that people like you instantly. Nail this aspect and there is no interview you will have problems with. You match at the program you interviewed – win and even if you do not match at this time – you made a excellent contact. Win-win.

5/ Practice
Nothing beats practice to hone your talents. This is an acquired skill which comes easily to some folks but can be improved and applied to by others who don’t. Try and get out of your comfort zone a little bit every day and you will soon realize that it is easier than it looks. Make it a habit to have 1-2 lines of small talk with people you don’t know to break the comfort of self isolation. 

Once again, do not overlook these social cues to success, just as you spend a long time working on your residency application, also spend a good amount of time improving your social skill set and it will not go unrewarded.  If you want to receive updates and stay in touch join on Facebook or follow me on twitter!

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