Otolaryngology!

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I never thought I’d say this… but guys, I matched into my top specialty and at my top institution. Starting in July 2016, I will be studying to become an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon (do we have the longest specialty name?)!

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I was literally in tears on Monday of Match Week when I got my email. My best friend CT and I wanted to open our emails together… but my phone wasn’t ping-ing emails to me, so I tried to refresh… and lo and behold, the first words I saw were “Congratulations!” before I started bawling uncontrollably. Now that I’ve matched I feel a little more cavalier about discussing my application process, but basically, if otomatch means anything, I was severely below average for just about everything (my Step scores, my grades/AOA status, my research, my # of interviews). Going into Monday, I had already met with my faculty advisors several times to discuss what to do next year if I didn’t match, and I had mentally prepared myself to participate in the SOAP (scramble). Thankfully, I didn’t need to! And honestly, that news on Monday was enough for me. :)

The days leading up to Friday, I was in a state of anxious calm. Mostly calm but occasionally irrationally thinking that maybe the email was a fluke. My school randomly calls up students, and when I finally held the envelope in my hands, I felt like I really knew that Everything was going to be okay. Match Day was emotional overall; I ended up getting not only my top choice but also the same institution that CT will be going to, as well as a couple of my other classmates. I can’t believe my luck.

Since Match, I have been on a surgery “bootcamp” class that my school offers to help prepare us for intern year. I’ve learned so much from how to respond to a page, how to do pre-op and post-op orders, “palming” a needle driver, and more. The last week of the class, we were gifted the opportunity to be primary surgeon on a simple operation for three days related to our specialty. I got to perform a rhomboid flap reconstruction for a cheek defect with the plastic surgery team, a tracheostomy with the OHNS team, and a neck dissection with a thyroid surgeon. I honestly cannot wait for intern year to begin. I know it will be busy, but I feel so blessed to be where I am, getting to do a specialty I love and finally having the power to take care of others and hopefully make their lives better.

Interviewing for Residency

Ah, shoot, I disappeared again. Well, I have finally finished up my interviews for residency this year. I can’t say that I am an expert by any means, but hopefully this will help answer at least some questions.

What to Wear

I’m not going to lie- this was somehow one of the biggest anxieties I had going into the season. Skirt vs. pant suit? What color blouse? It’s rough for a women, let me tell you! There are just so many options. After having interviewed, I can tell you that basically as long as you look professional, it seems anything goes. I’ve seen both pant and skirt options (just make sure the skirt is knee length and practice sitting down too). Make sure to cut the back seams on your skirt/blazer if they are new; one of my friends saw someone who hadn’t done that and we all mentally cringed. Any dark color seems fine. I would definitely wear pantyhose if you are wearing a skirt suit, and most girls I saw wore a nude pair. Shoes: heels shouldn’t be too high, flats are okay, make sure you’re comfortable walking around. Blouse: I tried to be really conservative but I saw just about everything on the trail, including ruffles, patterns, and bright colors. I really think as long as you aren’t distasteful (e.g. a plunging neckline), it’s okay. As everyone says, you’re not interviewing to show off your fashion sense, but you shouldn’t also feel like you have to suddenly rush out and buy a new closet (which… I did).

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What I wore: simple black pumps with a thick heel around 2 inches tall, nude hose, a new Halogen skirt suit, and a new LOFT blouse. I justified my purchases because the suit was on sale, and I can definitely rewear all of them.

How to Prep

I created an Evernote document of common interview questions, and I BRIEFLY answered all of them with clinical examples. I also had a separate section of just clinical stories that stood out to me so that I could remember them and apply them to certain questions. Interestingly, I got very few of the “common” interview questions, but I would still know how to answer them — why this specialty, why this residency, what makes you special.

Definitely know your application inside out. I reread my app before the first couple of interviews and then eventually got so used to answering the same questions that I stopped. I got asked most about my research but got different questions even then- some just wanted me to explain what I was doing, others asked me to predict what my results would be, one person hardcore challenged the whole necessity of the project.

Day of Interview/Dinner

If you can, I definitely recommend making the interview social dinner, which is usually the night before. It’s a great time to meet your other applicants (and remember, these are your future colleagues!) and the residents in a casual setting. I greatly enjoyed all of mine. I wore a sweater dress, tights, and boots.

The interview day: make sure you arrive early and are abreast of your surroundings if you are unfamiliar with them. I would try to ask the residents the night before about specific directions to get to the interview location. Again, put your best face forward but be yourself. Try to put yourself into the mindset that you too are interviewing the residency; this should help with the ever confusing “do you have any questions for me?” part of the interview. Some of the questions I asked about include the culture of the residency, how evaluations are performed, what are the weaknesses of the program/what would one change about the program, how call is handled. Otherwise, just have fun! Most interviews are very conversational.

Afterward, you can choose to send thank you letters. Some places tell you not to at all. In general, most people sent letters to the program director and chair of department, and maybe someone you clicked with. I don’t think it matters much whether you do.

Well, that’s all I can think of! Feel free to drop questions in the comments, and good luck!

Away Rotations Part 1

These days, it seems like a bunch of medical students are doing away rotations. They offer a bunch of benefits (and harms) — exploring a new city, a new hospital, moving closer to a loved one for at least a little while, and sometimes, they can help you match at a residency program. Now I say sometimes, because if you’re planning on going there, you need to be on your A+ game. Having just finished two away rotations fairly successfully (I think), I’m writing this post to offer some advice to those who are interested in doing away rotations.

I’ll be breaking this post up into two parts — first, what to do before you get to your away institution, and then part two will be what to do once you are there.

Should I do an away rotation? This is something for you (and your adviser) to discuss. For most of the uber competitive specialties, it’s almost “required” for you to do an away rotation. For the less competitive fields, many argue that away rotations end up hurting more than helping. If you are dead set on going to a certain program for whatever reasons (e.g. your fiancee has a job in that city), you probably should do an away rotation. Otherwise, I think most people do not need to do an away rotation.

How do I apply? VSAS, affiliated with AAMC, is the site that most institutions use for away rotations. I say most because there are some institutions that have their own application for away rotators (off the top of my head, I know that University of Alabama and Thomas Jefferson University do). You log in with your same ID and password for you AMCAS if you happen to remember that. You can find a variety of different rotations from your typical 4 week sub-internship to more “fun” rotations like medical disaster management. Most institutions open up their applications in May; however, you can look at what they require earlier than that. Almost every school requires its own immunization form (some require titers, others just documentation that you have had a vaccine), and some require combinations of background checks, urine drug screens, LORs, etc. Make sure you have everything prepared as soon as possible since away rotation applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

I’m not sure what the “right” answer is for how many to apply to. I was planning on doing two, and maybe three, so I applied to five institutions. I got accepted at all of them (to my knowledge, it’s not usually “hard” to get accepted at away rotations) and then picked the ones that worked best with my schedule (some institutions overlap their rotations with others, so you need to plan accordingly). Make sure that if you accept an offer or reject an offer that you do so in a timely fashion to be professional (at least 2-3 weeks in advance of start date). It appears that most places get back to you within one month of applying.

I’ve been accepted; now what? My biggest stress prior to going away was finding housing. Oy, what a nightmare. Here are some of my tips:

  1. Rotating room — this website was designed for away rotators. You can trust that most of these places are fairly reliable since you cannot list unless you have a university-affiliated email address. You can search by institution and then by hospital. I used this service to both find a place for me to sublet and to list my own apartment. I had no issues with either of them. I did not think many people would want to stay in my apartment, but I actually got four inquiries, so I can only guess that lots of students use this site!
  2. Craigslist — everyone knows craigslist, right? Unfortunately, one of the places I went to rotate at did not offer much on rotating room, so I was forced to resort to craigslist. You have to be smart on this website is all I have to say. To weed out sketchy people, I look for good grammar/spelling in the post, lots of pictures of the actual room you will be renting, and at least some information about the people who live there (roommates or whoever you’re subletting from).
  3. Use your connections — I ended up not being successful with this but one of my classmates was able to find both of his places through his church network. If you know friends (or friends of friends), ask around and see if anything is available. Residents are also good resources since they come from all over. If your school has an alumni network that you can get in touch with, that is another place you can look for someone to stay with.

Once I found my housing, I tried to figure out logistics. The way I ended up doing payment was I paid half of my rent (through paypal) upfront to “save” my room, and then I paid the remainder once I arrived at the location. I also asked for additional information like laundry, parking, where to buy groceries, etc. We also discussed rules of subletting, how to pick up keys, etc. The last thing you want to worry about on an away rotation is housing, believe me, so try to get this all sorted out before you go up there.

Transportation — at one of my rotations, I was going to be located within walking distance to the hospital, so I opted to fly there. At the other rotation, I would spend time at several institutions, all separated by at least 10 minutes, so I knew I would have to bring a car down. I don’t have much advice on this except plan, plan, plan.

Packing — I have such a love-hate relationship with packing. On the one hand, the planner geek in me goes crazy. On the other… well, the planner geek in me goes crazy. I always start out with looking up the weather for where I’m going to go, and then I try to think of what I expect my rotation to be like. Since I am applying for a surgical specialty, I had a feeling I would spend a majority of my time in scrubs, so I packed less “nice” clothes and packed my trusty Dansko shoes and two clean scrubs (I wasn’t sure if I would be able to wear their hospital scrubs or what so I wanted to be prepared). I packed a couple of what I call “normal people clothes” to wear if I ever had time off, and more on that later but I do not recommend wasting luggage space with this if you can. Do not forget your white coat, obviously, and try to get it as clean as possible. My white coat picked up some nasty stains over third year, so I actually went and bought a new one online to bring to my away rotations. Bring medical supplies as needed — I left my reflex hammer at home since I doubted I would require it (and I did not). And then otherwise, make sure to pack you usual toiletries, medicines, etc. Some places will interview you while you are there — if you can, ask your rotation coordinator about this sneakily, although most tell you upfront. If you are going to interview, make sure you pack interview attire!

Since I rotated over the summer, I knew I wanted to pick warmer weather clothing. I tried to pick colors that would complement, so the palette I ended up going for was roughly black, camel, pink, cobalt blue, yellow, and kelly green. For shoes, I brought flip flops for casual wear, clogs for the OR, and then two pairs of comfortable shoes that I could wear both for the clinic and outside the hospital (I went with brown loafer flats and black flats).

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Feel free to ask any other questions below about aways! Part 2 will go into the meat of rotating away, so stay tuned.