In February, 2,179 fourth-year osteopathic medical students and recent graduates—75% of all participants in the AOA Match—matched into osteopathic graduate medical education programs.
Former NFL player Simon Fraser, OMS IV, is one of them. He matched into his first-choice program: the osteopathic general surgery residency at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Doctors Hospital has been his core site, or the base for most of his clinical rotations, for the past two years. Being well-known to the program likely gave him an edge over candidates based at other institutions, he suspects.
“My being at Doctors on a constant basis, where they could see me over the course of two years rather than just two weeks or four weeks, probably helped my chances of matching,” says Fraser, who attends the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens.
Nevertheless, he remained nervous up until the early morning of Feb. 9, AOA Match day.
“I was still worried because I knew I was ranking myself against a whole crop of fantastic students,” he explains. “I just hoped that I had done everything I could to make myself stand out.”
Fraser, who played for the Cleveland Browns and the Atlanta Falcons, says that a number of traits he honed as a professional athlete will serve him well as a general surgeon and may have helped him secure his residency position.
“For example, knowing the value of teamwork and collaboration is as critical in surgery as it is in football,” he says. “Also, as an athlete, you have to work very hard at perfecting your skills. Similarly, as a surgeon, you have to prepare rigorously for each case, and you are always striving to improve yourself.”
Like Fraser, other DO students who matched into their first-choice specialties and programs are relieved. Reflecting on what they did right, several such students share their match strategies and open up about how they’re preparing for residency.
Kristina Buscaino, OMS IV, ranked just three residencies in the highly competitive specialty of urology.
“Everybody told me that I needed a backup,” says Buscaino, a student at the Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine in Henderson. “But I didn’t have one. I worked really hard toward getting a position in urology. And I made sure that whatever I did, I did 100%.”
To Buscaino’s delight, she matched into her top-ranked program, Detroit Metro Urological Surgery Consortium, which is based in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. She credits her success in part to her early efforts to immerse herself in the world of urology. She worked in a urology office prior to medical school and was able to assist with some urological research. She also served a urology rotation during her third year of medical school.
“I preferred urology over many other surgical specialties because of the continuity of care,” she says.
Alice Chen, OMS IV, also took a nontraditional approach in preparing her rank order list. “I applied to only one program [a neuromusculoskeletal medicine/osteopathic manipulative medicine residency] and put all of my eggs in one basket,” says Chen, who attends the A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA).
But she did have a fallback plan. If she didn’t match into the NMM/OMM residency, she was going to take part in the allopathic National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) match, in which she ranked several physical medicine and rehabilitation residencies that she had interviewed with before discovering OMM to be an even greater passion.
On AOA Match day, the odds were in Chen’s favor: She matched into her first-choice program, an NMM/OMM residency at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York City.
“I’m so excited,” says Chen, who previously planned to pursue PM&R but served an OMM teaching fellowship at ATSU-SOMA that turned out to be “a life-changing experience.”
“Through that, I could see how OMM really helped people find health,” says Chen, a student representative to the AOA Board of Trustees. “And it resonated with why I came to medicine in the first place.”
For other students, the journey to their first-choice residency takes more steps and strategizing.
Andrew Jensen, OMS IV, intends to become a dermatologist. But dermatology residencies are among the few that begin in the second year of postgraduate training and require the prior completion of an internship year, either in a stand-alone internship program or in a generalist specialty such as family medicine.
Jensen decided to pursue a traditional rotating internship at an institution that also has a dermatology residency. He secured his No. 1 choice: the osteopathic internship at Larkin Community Hospital in Miami.
Jensen served a rotation in Larkin’s dermatology residency, which then recommended him for the rotating internship. But he has no guarantee of landing a spot in the dermatology program next year. He’ll have to go through the match again in 2016.
Because dermatology residencies are among the most competitive, he will need to rotate and interview at outside dermatology programs in case he doesn’t match into the one at Larkin. But he is hopeful that he’ll land one of Larkin’s four annual dermatology spots. If he doesn’t match into any dermatology programs next year, he will keep trying in subsequent years.
Jensen first became captivated by dermatology as a premedical student.
“When I was an undergraduate, I worked for a dermatologist doing research,” says Jensen, who attends the Georgia Campus-Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Suwanee. “That experience had a big impact on me because it was my first real exposure to patient care.”
Jensen interacted with patients who had severe plaque psoriasis and were enrolled in clinical trials. “I saw how the condition affected their lives in a significant way,” he remembers. “I wanted to be able to make a difference in this field and help patients like these gain more of their life back.”
No matter which specialty a student chooses, honing networking and interpersonal skills will pay off, those who’ve successfully matched agree.
While residency program directors like to see strong board scores and grades, communication and leadership skills are also important, Fraser notes. Such attributes are best developed and demonstrated through extracurricular activities, he says.
Those who are certain of their specialty from the beginning of medical school can get involved in the student chapter of their osteopathic specialty society and work their way up the ranks into a leadership position. But most students don’t decide on a specialty until their third year or later. For such individuals, becoming active in student government or in the Student Osteopathic Medical Association from the first year of med school can be a way to demonstrate initiative, social skills and commitment to the profession.
Fraser, for example, didn’t decide on general surgery until his third year. So he didn’t have a chance to get heavily engaged in the student chapter of the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons.
But he did serve as president of OU-HCOM’s Student Government Association and became the parliamentarian of AACOM’s Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents.
“Through those experiences, I had the chance to meet a lot of different doctors and surgeons in all different fields, as well as residents and other students from around the country,” Fraser says.
Students have different plans for how they will spend their time between now and July 1, when their residencies begin.
Although Buscaino will be focusing on general surgery and other specialties during her first year of residency, she plans to study urology now to prepare for her second year.
A classmate of Buscaino’s, Brian Jahnny, OMS IV, also intends to hit the books to prepare for his emergency medicine residency at Kingman (Arizona) Regional Medical Center.
“I plan on reading a lot about emergency medicine and brushing up on internal medicine, which will be heavily covered during the internship year,” he says.
Fraser talked with many residents at Doctors Hospital about how they spent their time in the weeks before starting residency.
“Unanimously, they’ve come back and said that they just took time to enjoy the company of friends and family,” says Fraser, who has a wife and three young children. “So we’re going to take some time to get away for a little while as a family.”
‘The DO world’
Roughly half of graduating osteopathic medical students elected not to take part in the AOA Match and will participate only in the NRMP match on March 20, hoping to enter a residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
In the future, there likely will be one unified match, as the AOA and the ACGME move forward with the unification of their GME accrediting systems. But for now, two matches remain, and Fraser, for one, did not even consider a nonosteopathic residency.
“For me, it has been an honor and a privilege to go through the AOA Match,” he says. “I never thought about not doing the AOA Match because I want to be in the DO world.”