Faiz Tuma, MD, MME, MDE, EdS, FACS, FRCSC is an Associate Professor of Surgery and Associate Program Director at Central Michigan University College of Medicine.
The answer is simple and complicated at the same time depending on the perspective. Acceptance into general surgery program may become a natural outcome to a well-planned preparation in the few years before applying. In other words, preparing to apply to general surgery should start as early as possible and planned for adequately.
The first and most important point is the genuine desire to become a surgeon. This should be based on thoughtful and comprehensive planning of a future career. It is crucial to know if you really want to be a surgeon and join, and why. The stronger motives behind your decision the more likely you will be perseverant. Most successful candidates prepare for the program from their early medical school time. There are common elements that most programs look for in the candidates such as high interest, exam scores, research activities, and interest in education. However, several other factors are variably considered by various programs. Factors like assertive personality, school of graduation, future place of practice, likeability, perseverance, tolerance.
Criteria for High Ranking
Few important points to consider when applying:
- Exposure to surgery: Candidates are preferred to have sufficient exposure to surgery indicating that they chose this specialty based on adequate awareness. It would be weird to express interest in surgery without being involved in surgical services. Exposure can be an elective in surgery during clerkship. Performance and grade in the rotation are general looked at with attention. Honor is expected. It would raise a question mark if the grade is below Honor.
- Letters of reference: These are routine requirements of a good candidate. They are preferred to be from surgeons with a key role in surgery training such as clerkship director, program director, chairman, or known educators to validate the letter content. The letter should be directed specifically to surgery programs with specific performance highlights. Avoid generic letters that may not give the impression of genuine evaluation.
- Research experience: Most programs welcome candidates who can participate in research activities in the various roles. Be prepared to describe your role and participation in research. Having your name in a publication or abstract is the minimum. It is preferred to have your name as a first author in a study with various research skills such as some statistics, scholarly writing, and submitting manuscripts. These additional skills may help the program in improving their scholarly activities which almost all programs need.
- Interest in education: As a good resident, you are expected to teach medical students and junior residents. In addition, interest in education will likely lead to good learning skills. Interest in education cannot be claimed by words. Taking a couple of courses or workshops in education or having some knowledge of education principles will give a better impression about the interest in education.
- Future planning: Candidates who have a future vision of their subspecialty planning give a better impression. However, it is better that candidates have flexible minds and plan to use the residency to refine their ultimate plans of subspecialty.
- Interview: This is a very important part of the application. It plays a major role in ranking. Interviewees make a final impression based on how candidates present themselves. There are several ways to prepare for the interviews. Unfortunately, many candidates come with scripts of what to say in the interview. Even though this reflects preparation efforts, but it does not help the interviewees to know your personality. Therefore, use all preparation points as materials to create your thoughts around rather than scripts to say during the interview. It is important to be clear, well-spoken, honest, humble but confident, spontaneous with good communication skills - both verbal and nonverbal. Tips and training on interviewing can be extensive and are beyond the scope of this article.
- USMLEs score: Many programs use the USMLE or COMLEX score as a filter of the initial applications. Programs receive hundreds of applications each year. They offer only about 10% of the applicants an interview. Therefore, the USMLE or COMLEX score is used as the first filter and as a result, you should make sure you prepare.
It is important to understand what perspectives of the programs. As a potential resident:
- You will work within the program intimately for 5 years, so it is crucial to be a nice person who is easy to get along with.
- You will provide patient care, so reliability, trustworthiness, and efficiency are important as that will save the team significant efforts/time and prevent serious problems.
- It is crucial for the program to have the highest board exam success rate. Therefore, programs want to be sure that you will pass the final board exam without difficulty. Programs should have a minimal of 65% passing rate.
- All programs have research publication requirements. They will appreciate someone with research and publications skills, not just having your name on a couple of published articles.
- All attending faculty like to have teachable/learning resident who shows improvement after teaching and feedback. Attain this learning attitude and if you have a story to show that, use it in the interview.
In summary, check why and how bad you want to do surgery then prepare as early as possible. Build your case as a reliable, contributing, achieving, successful, and professional resident and future surgeon that can be easily identified as such.