Hold up... planning for residency even though you just started medical school?!
We know it sounds crazy but if you do a little at a time you will thank yourself later!
So..What can you do early on to prepare for residency applications?
First of all, the single best thing you can do in your pre-clinical years is study for your classes and prepare for STEP 1 (which go hand in hand!). No amount of extracurriculars can make up for low/mediocre grades. Remember--the knowledge you gain in your pre-clinical years prepares you for the rest of medical school and of course, your future career! Your scores will help you get your foot in the door in terms of applying to residency, so take your classes seriously. Don’t forget that everything else is secondary to your performance academically. Disclaimer: STEP 1 will be moving to pass/fail in 2022 and will likely cause some changes as a result. However, STEP 2 will likely become more emphasized and your grades might become even more important, so keep this in mind.
Build your CV starting day one
We mean this both literally and figuratively! Start a document formatted in the style of a CV and start adding activities as you go. Include the position you held, the hours you spent, the dates you participated, and a brief description of your role and your participation in the activity. Trust us, if you do this as you go for every activity, residency applications will be a breeze. Not to mention, it’s always great to have a ready-to-go CV on hand in case you need it for preceptorships, letters, or scholarships!
*Tip: check out our attached CV template at the bottom of this post.
Explore different activities
First year is a great time to join different interest groups, start volunteering, and try out various activities (once you get the hang of medical school of course!). Usually, the first week of MS1 you will be introduced to various clubs and interest groups that you can join. There’s no harm in joining multiple interest groups in different specialties to see what your interests are! You can always drop them later (and most people end up doing so anyway). All this being said, don’t overextend yourself. Part of the difficulty of medical school is learning how to successfully manage your time. You can give yourself some leeway the first semester so you can get used to the workload, new environment, and expectations of medical school.
Focus on a few extracurriculars later on
Once you’ve found the few extracurriculars that you are most interested in (i.e. volunteering, a couple interest groups, research, etc), commit to a select few. It is much better to be passionate about a few extracurriculars rather than be superficially involved in many different ones. Quality over quantity! Ultimately, when you go on your residency interviews they will ask you specifics about your involvement and role in different activities and showing commitment and longevity of service is much more impressive. Plus, if you donate enough time to a particular group/activity, you’ll most likely be in the running for a leadership position later on, which is both rewarding and great for residency applications.
*Tip: if you have a free clinic associated with your school or in the area, we would absolutely recommend volunteering! We had one associated with our school that only took up about 1-2 hours per week and we participated from MS1-MS3. It was such a rewarding experience and we were always asked about it during residency interviews! Plus, it broke up the many hours of studying and reminded us why we decided to become physicians in the first place.
Summer preceptorships, if available
In the summer between first and second year, our school offered an opportunity to do one or two clinical preceptorships that were each four weeks long. I (Catherine) did diagnostic radiology and radiation oncology and Wade did ENT and orthopaedic surgery. This opportunity was so valuable to us because it gave us insight into our potential specialty interests (and not to mention it gave us elective credit to cash in for 4th year!). For fields like diagnostic radiology, dermatology, ophthalmology, anesthesia, etc, that aren’t part of the core curriculum, these preceptorships can be great not only to see if you’d be interested in the field but also for residency interviews to show that you’ve had some experience in the specialty.
Even though some specialties don’t require research, it is great to have on your application and can definitely put you ahead of your peers. Plus, if you decide later on that you want to go into a more competitive specialty, you won’t be restricted by your lack of research. A good way to start is to email individuals in your specialties of interest or ask about research opportunities during your preceptorship (if you’re able to do one). Often, residents and fellows are looking for medical students to help out with projects so that’s a good place to look. Also, keep track of any interesting cases that you encounter (especially in your clinical years) because you can write these up as case reports, posters, oral presentations, etc. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to ask!
It may seem like you have no time at all first and second year but this is really the BEST time to shadow! Even if you just do a little here and there. Often, interest groups can help facilitate this; however, sometimes you may have to organize it on your own. In this case, just email residents, fellows, or attendings! They are usually very excited to have medical students shadow them and they will be honest if they don’t have the time. First and second year are so important in terms of introducing yourself to various specialties because once third year comes around, you are so busy and much of your time is not your own. Even if you think you are set on a particular specialty going into medical school, you might surprise yourself! Always keep your options open because there are so many specialties and subspecialties in medicine that have so much to offer.
Remember, all of these activities and bonuses for your application will really help you be competitive, but NOT at the cost of your grades/scores. Time management is key!
Best of luck!