Don’t wait for love at first sight when deciding which residency program will be “the one.”

Though Christmas just ended, Valentine’s Day candy is already everywhere. But for med students, this represents a completely different type of major commitment they’ll have to make soon—about the list of top choices for residency!

Choosing your residency isn’t a decision to make lightly. This is a major next step in your medical career, offering you not only valuable education and experience but also professional connections that may help you to secure the job you really want. 

Will your program of choice be a match made in heaven? Use our best practices and tips when vetting your options so you’ll be happy with any choice on your rank list.

Match with Goals and Motivations

Doctor working in lab

Much like choosing a life partner, selecting a residency program should give heavy weight to your own goals and motivations. In other words, what do you ultimately want to achieve after leaving med school? What type of setting do you see yourself working in (and being happy)?

By now, you already know that not all programs are created equal. Locations, specialties, and scope of work can drastically vary. Some residency programs may focus heavily on certain practice areas, such as obstetrics or cardiology, while others may be geared more toward general medicine.

Also worth mentioning is the training style of the program. Do you enjoy performing procedures? Have you considered the possibility of practicing medicine internationally? 

Different programs can satisfy different goals and objectives. And like any good med school student, you should be prepared to do your due diligence in comparing programs and their potential outcomes to make sure your goals align. 

Look Beyond Prestige

Pristine stethoscope Med school students feel a certain tingle when they hear or speak the names of John Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, or Duke University. It’s hard to ignore the level of sophistication and grandeur these schools carry, but it’s important not to let glamor overshadow a program that may be a better fit for your goals. 

Ultimately, you should select your residency program based on its ability to facilitate your dreams, not just make you feel good about joining a prestigious program. 

Think with Your Head AND Heart

When you’re making a commitment, which is more important to listen to: your head or your heart? In this special case, it’s vital to follow both. 

First, think logically: what residency program will make the most practical sense for your goals and situation? If you’re considering programs across the country from where you currently are, you’ll need to take into account the costs of traveling to these programs as you’re vetting options. This might include budgeting for airfare, hotels, and rental cars, along with the time it takes to travel and interview. 

In matters of the heart, you must figure out what’s important to you. Do you want to be close to family? Do you prefer being in a beautiful location? Do you want to choose the best program for your selected speciality?

This exercise can be easier said than done, as the head and heart rarely agree on anything. To overcome this challenge, make a list of everything that matters to you, both in terms of practicality and personal preferences. Seeing these things on paper can help you to decide where your priorities lie and figure out the best way to proceed.

Consider the Partnership Aspect

Every good relationship is give and take, and the relationship you’ll develop with your residency program is no different. 

Each residency program should be able to offer you what you need and expect from the experience. This includes knowledge and training in the area in which you wish to practice, professional mentorship from doctors within that practice, and even proximity to the location where you hope to practice.

Even though you’ll be mostly “taking” from the relationship in the form of learning, you should also consider what you’re bringing to the program itself. Will you be able to live up to the contributions of previous alumni? Can you adhere to the strict schedule and expectations from the facility? Are you willing to remain in the student mentality while gaining valuable hands-on experience?

Residency programs are two-way streets that require both parties to be a good fit for each other. Be honest with yourself when vetting your options to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success.

Look at the Alumni Track Record

If you’re still not sure if a residency program is right for you, take a look at where the program’s graduates are now. What type of medicine are they practicing? Where are they practicing? What do they have to say about the program, particularly regarding how it prepared them to venture out into the medical field as a bona fide physician?

Medicine is becoming highly subspecialized, so it’s important to look at the career track of alumni from different residency programs to consider whether your own desired path can be fulfilled. For example, if you want to join a dermatology program with the goal of becoming a Mohs surgeon, you’ll want to choose a program that has a strong Mohs department with a Mohs surgeon who can mentor you. However, if no one from that program has ever gone into the Mohs subspecialty, your desired career path may be a little more difficult (though not wholly impossible).

The Ultimate Goal: Make Authentic Choices

Authentic gazeIt’s not so far-fetched to compare the search for a med school residency program to a romantic relationship. It’s a major commitment that will ultimately impact the rest of your life. And just like you’d try to learn as much as you can about someone before you marry them, you’ll also want to thoroughly investigate a residency program to make sure it will be a good fit for your life goals.

The best practice above all else is to think deeply about what’s most important to you and make authentic choices. When you can follow your head AND your heart, you’ll have a much better chance of entering a residency that will allow you to thrive.