How I Chose My Residency, with Help from an App

Sep 15, 2016 · Guest Author

This post comes from Dr. Steven Gangloff, current resident at University of Pittsburgh (UPMC). You may view the original article on Medium.

It’s the beginning of September, which means fourth-year medical students across the world are all buzzing about one thing: residency applications. The feelings of stress and excitement are still fresh in my mind, as I wore these shoes just one year ago. I still remember being inundated with the task of weighing pros and cons between hundreds of residency programs throughout the country to choose my perfect fit. This time, after all, would mark one of the greatest turning points in my career as I had to select the potential training that would ultimately sculpt me into the type of physician I have spent my life striving to become!

Help with the Application

It was early September, and my application was complete, polished to perfection, and quadruple checked for spelling and grammatical errors. I felt prepared, and at the same time hopelessly unprepared. For me, I had poured so much time and thought into deciding which field of medicine in which I wanted to train that when it came time to decide where to train and live for 4 or more years, I was at a loss. It seemed that just as one weight was lifted off my shoulders, I was faced with a new equally important and stressful life-changing decision. When the system finally opened I found before me a massive list of programs all throughout the country, and it was my job to select the ones to which I should apply. I found myself swimming in a whirlpool of questions. Where do I want to live? How important are program clout and name recognition? If a program is “strong” overall, does that mean it is strong in my area of interest? What fellowships do they offer? Where did the residents come from, and where did they go after graduating? I knew that I had a lot of work to do.

I essentially started from the first program on the list, explored their website, and continued forward. Quite honestly, the average university website is a non-objective display of accolades, which makes any program look like the obvious best choice. Program A has the number 1 stroke center in the tri-state area, but Program B has the best patient satisfaction in stroke in that same area? Immediately I could see that this strategy was not going to work.

This is when I thought to use the Doximity Residency Navigator. I had been a Doximity member and used Doximity quite a bit for articles and networking, and when I learned about the tool I decided it was worth a look. I soon found the Residency Navigator tool to be invaluable, as it helped construct the framework for my application strategy and played a big role in my decisions down the road.

When you open the tool, either on your computer or the convenient Doximity app, you are greeted with a menu to select your specialty of choice, and other ranking criteria such as reputation and research output. Doximity collected input from over 52,000 US physicians through their nomination and residency satisfaction surveys, modeled after the US News Best Hospital survey. They combine this with an alumni outcome analysis based on CVs and career paths, research citation h-index, and other parameters to compute and organize a list based on your specifications!

I knew from the beginning that I more than likely wanted to train in the Northeast to be closer to my family. By selecting for these parameters I already had a crafted starting point of programs to consider. Once you have this starting point, you can explore deeper by selecting programs of interest, and the tool will provide further information and pertinent statistics including board pass rates, research publication rate, feeder schools, and more. I often referred to the data on where alumni from each program went for further training post-residency and what they subspecialized in. This saved a massive amount of time over the alternative, which would be scouring each website and tabulating these numbers myself. It is beneficial to know, for instance, that 70% of people who subspecialize from University X go into critical care, as this comments to the strength of the teaching in this area. Even further, there are helpful satisfaction scores and reviews for each program completed by these same alumni and current residents.

What I found very interesting, is that sometimes certain programs are known to be particularly strong or weak in a given field, which would be hard to know prior, and could not be easily parsed by intuition. This reputation sort order did not serve as a strict guideline, but rather as an aid in brainstorming by allowing me to give thought to programs I otherwise would not have considered, based on carefully selected and objective data. This allowed me to construct my initial program application list on the scaffolding of the Doximity’s Residency Navigator.

I was able to submit my application with confidence that I chose a good and balanced set of programs based on aspects that were important to me. From then, it was time to relax and wait for the interviews to roll in.

Help with the Match

After the entire 4-month interview process is over, students must then rank the programs at which they interviewed from favorite to least favorite. I was fortunate to interview at a lot of the programs to which I applied, and thanks to having a well-crafted tool to help me select programs that would be good for me, I ended up enjoying every program at which I interviewed. This was bittersweet, as it meant I would have to rank a lot of programs I liked lower on my list!

Throughout interview season, the Residency Navigator was my constant companion. From this point, I used to tool to remind myself of aspects about various programs, used its information to help craft questions for my interviewers, and referenced the tool often to find contact information for program directors, coordinators, and residents.

When it came time to construct my list, I used Residency Navigator to help refresh my memory of the residents and directors I met, and the things the program offered, I reviewed some of the statistics and data that were important to me, and then I combined that with my overall impressions from the interview day itself to make my ranking.

All in all, the Residency Navigator truly helped me pick the residency program that was right for me. It appears as well that I wasn’t alone, as 75% of medical students last season were reported to have used this tool to aid in their application process! I’m grateful to have had such an information-packed and easy-to-use tool at my fingertips through one of the hardest decisions of my career thus far! Now, if we could just get a Fellowship Navigator…

Steven was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, where he completed his medical degree. He is currently a medical resident of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In addition to patient care, he has interests in bioinformatics and the roles technology play in quality improvement and healthcare.

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