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A physician offers his advice to graduating medical students left wondering about pandemic residencies

Medical students applying to residency programs—consider these tips on networking and mentorship to guide you.

A physician offers his advice to graduating medical students left wondering about pandemic residencies
[Photo: Arseny Togulev/Unsplash]

Over the course of the past several months, people around the world are trying to find some semblance of “normal life” during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the physical distance, we have adapted rapidly. Virtual meetings and digital hangouts have given us a new perspective on human connection.

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While educational endeavors have digitally adapted on many fronts, it hasn’t been as simple for the country’s future first line responders—medical students. The coronavirus-induced physical estrangement has resulted in delays in medical licensing exams, removal of inpatient clinical experiences, and the loss of audition rotations—all key components of the residency application process for medical students.

Furthermore, virtual interviews for residency positions will likely sweep the country in the fall and winter as residencies work acutely to modernize these processes in the digital space.

The end result is a growing need for training program designers and medical students to optimize efficiency during the residency application process. Programs are paving new ground in the online realm as they work to develop simulated experiences for students who, in the pre-coronavirus world, would have spent time at those institutions in person.

Training program faculties and residents are increasingly creating social media accounts with the collective goal of being able to increase engagement with prospective applicants.

As the tapestry of virtual experiences and outreach continues to evolve, there will be a greater need for fourth-year medical students to strengthen their networking skills.

In more traditional times, students could develop relationships with mentors quite easily with faculty at their home institution or during their away rotations. These experiences were helpful to plant the seeds of mentorship, to demonstrate interest in a particular residency training program, to increase knowledge about various programs, and to share experiences related to the application process/residency training. In the current landscape, however, a lack of these opportunities means that developing and honing networking skills is more critical than ever.

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In light of this, here are some tips for networking.

Stay grounded, and remember to be kind

Regardless of your position, kindness will take you farther. This will encourage people to want to work with you in various capacities. Irrespective of the situation, staying grounded can help you keep a cool head to better leverage opportunities.

Ask mentors from research projects to make introductions

Especially in the world of medicine, communities are small. Your mentors may be able to connect you with individuals at places that are of particular interest to you. Do not hesitate to reach out to people to help facilitate these connections.

Connect with others thoughtfully

But what if you don’t have these types of connections? Understandably, it can feel daunting when you don’t have mentors or other faculty connections at your fingertips, but just remember you are not alone! This is where having a focused approach to engaging faculty and residents you don’t know is helpful. Take the time to carefully identify which individuals you want to connect with by purveying online profiles and research interests. Additionally, garner more information by talking with fellow students or residents to best identify which faculty are the most receptive to student outreach.

Once you have identified the right people you want to try to connect with, send a short—albeit professional—email with the goal of setting up a time to have a more formal conversation.

Send a cold email

What is the best way to send a cold email? We would recommend that you do not share extensive details about your life, including extensive personal and professional accomplishments. Make it short and sweet—acknowledge that the recipient is likely very busy and let them know how appreciative you are of them taking the time to ready your email. Here is an example of a concise, effective email:

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Dear ____,

My name is Your Name, a rising fourth year medical student at _____School of Medicine. I want to first start by thanking you for your time.

I am considering a career in ______ and am interested in your clinical and research interests, specifically your work on mechanisms of ankle arthritis development. I wanted to know if we can set up a time to virtually meet via Zoom or Face Time in the next 1-2 weeks or whenever is convenient.

Thank you so much for your time, and I hope that you and your family are staying safe.

Sincerely,
Your Name

Set up face-to-face conversations with those you connect with (even if virtual)

Social-distancing measures may make it challenging to have in-person conversations, but it is imperative to have virtual meetings (i.e. Zoom, Skype, Face Time). It’s ideal to have an agenda in place during these conversations: you can discuss your background, mutual interests, research ideas, and opportunities for shadowing. Be respectful of their time, be professional, and discuss things openly, including questions you have.

 Stay connected

Even if your initial meetings don’t lead to clinical opportunity or a research project, nurturing these young relationships can help them blossom into mentorships over time. Reaching out once every two to three months to these faculty or residents, just to say hello or to see how they are doing, is a great way to facilitate growth of these connections.

As students move forward through this nebulous time, it’s important to remember that your fellow classmates, advising deans, and faculty are working together to make this as smooth a process as possible. Seek the perspective of those around you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Whether it’s through networking or other measures, there will be a way to find clarity amid all the overwhelming news and uncertainty.


Additional contributions from Dr. Jonathan Kaplan and Dr. Matthew Varacallo, orthopaedic surgeons and cofounders of Orthomentor.

Amiethab Aiyer, MD is an assistant professor and chief of the Foot and Ankle Service, in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Miami/Miller School of Medicine in Miami, FL. Amiethab is a cofounder of student mentorship platform Orthomentor.

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William N. Levine, MD is the chairman of Orthopedic Surgery at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. He has been on the faculty at Columbia since 1998.

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