Deciding which medical school is right for you involves myriad considerations, including how your decision will affect your chances for an excellent residency match.
These nine tips will help ensure you are successful when that exciting time comes.
Delay Your Decision About a Medical Specialty
You don’t have to make a decision about a medical specialty until after you start med school. In fact, you can wait until you begin your third year before deciding.
Why is this important? Because competition for residency slots is tight, so it will serve you well to carefully weigh your interests and goals against the residency landscape.
Since the mid-1990s, the number of U.S. medical school graduates has outpaced the number of residency slots in most specialties, and it is unlikely that the U.S. Congress will approve an increase that expands the number of residency positions outside of primary care specialties like family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics.
What’s more, the number of new U.S. med schools is growing — at least 30 since 2006, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges — and classes in some older schools are getting larger, further increasing the competition for a stable number of residency slots. As a prospective med student, you should not expect these factors to change in the next five years.
Find Out When You Can Start Shadowing and in Which Specialties
If the medical school you select allows you to shadow in many specialties during your first year, you’ll benefit greatly. The first year is often the easiest, allowing extra time to sample popular specialties such as internal medicine and pediatrics, as well as less-sought-after ones such as cardiothoracic surgery and radiation oncology.
Students at med schools that are members of the AAMC have free access to the association’s Careers in Medicine program, which offers a variety of surveys, assessments and comparisons you can use to discover which specialties meet your needs.
Discover How Students Score on Board Exams
You’ll want to ask not only how students score on the United States Medical Licensing Exam, or USMLE, but also how school officials help their students prepare for the USMLE. Most med schools require students to take Step 1, which will be pass/fail beginning in 2022, and many require students to take Step 2 Clinical Knowledge. Step 2 Clinical Skills was discontinued last year.
Increasingly, residency programs are requiring that students pass the boards before they even offer them a residency interview. Ask to see the pass rate for Step 1 and the average Step 2 CK score for the students at med schools you are considering.
Review Match Lists for Multiple Years
You’ll want to see match lists from potential med schools to see at which residency programs recent graduates placed and to verify that they matched into a large variety of specialties.
Remember that some med schools focus on producing primary care physicians while others have much higher percentages of graduates who go into very specialized areas. This may indicate where there is strong mentoring for particular specialties. Consider which schools cover the range of specialties in which you might be interested.
Ask About Residency Interview Preparation
How do the med schools you’re considering prepare their students for residency interviews? At a minimum, the schools should offer special coaching opportunities or the chance to participate in multiple mock interviews with physicians in your specialty interest. Although most official residency interviews were completed through a video format in the last two years, it is anticipated that some will return to in-person.
Find Out About Residency Interview Days
You’ll want to know whether or not med schools allow you adequate interview days during clinical rotations. If an interview will be in person, be sure to factor in travel time and potential overnight stays.
Ask About Career Advising
Be sure your potential medical schools offer adequate career advising from year one through the residency match, beyond what the AAMC offers online. You’ll want to get specifics as to how they will help you, from finding physicians for you to shadow in year one to reviewing your personal statement and curriculum vitae.
Besides general advisers, you will want to ask about specialty advisers. These physicians can also be helpful in recommending where to do elective rotations in hospitals where you might want to apply for residency. Although not available since the onset of the coronavius pandemic, electives in outside hospitals will return and you will want to know if students graduating before 2020 were successful in obtaining them.
Inquire About Faculty Support
Are the faculty at your potential med schools helpful about writing well-deserved letters of recommendation? You’ll need strong letters, preferably from faculty in your specialty interest, for your residency applications. You’ll also want to find out from fourth-year students if faculty were helpful in contacting the residency programs of interest on their behalf.
Discover How Well the Schools Connect Students
You’ll likely form close relationships with your med school classmates, but it can be more challenging to form strong bonds with students who are years ahead of you.
Find out how well your potential med schools connect students, especially graduates, to the next senior class. Why? These connections can not only help you establish your professional network, but also provide valuable insights and support for residency interviews.
As you contemplate medical school, your list of considerations is admittedly long. By following these nine tips before selecting your school, you’ll be much better prepared when the time comes to apply for your residency.
More from U.S. News