When he started medical school, Austin E. Bach, DO, MPH, initially aspired to become an orthopedic surgeon. But shadowing an ophthalmologist changed his mind.
“Ophthalmology is the only specialty where you get a physical view inside the body and can see vessels and nerves without actually opening up the body,” says Dr. Bach, a second-year ophthalmology resident at Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, Florida. “You can diagnose the majority of systemic diseases just by looking into the back of the eye. It’s amazing. Ophthalmology also has a nice mix of surgery and medicine.”
Once he chose his desired specialty, Dr. Bach set out to match into an ophthalmology residency—an arduous task because the specialty is highly competitive. Dr. Bach wasn’t sure how he would match—but he knew he would be pursuing a position in an osteopathic ophthalmology residency program.
“I really enjoy the osteopathic philosophy,” he says. “I’m proud to be part of the osteopathic medical profession.”
Interested in matching into an osteopathic or osteopathically focused ophthalmology residency? Here are some tips for success from Dr. Bach and AOA Trustee William S. Mayo, DO, an ophthalmologist in Oxford, Mississippi.
1. Rock the COMLEX. “It can hurt you if you don’t do well,” Dr. Bach says. In 2014, the mean COMLEX scores for osteopathic medical students who matched into ophthalmology were 571 for Level 1 and 582 for Level 2CE, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.
2. Focus on your GPA. “As you go through the first two years of medical school, make sure you have the highest GPA you can have,” says Dr. Mayo, who notes that one of the residency programs he interviewed with pointed out that he wasn’t in the top 15% of his class.
“They told me that they usually cut applicants who weren’t in the top 15%,” he says.
3. Get as much face time as possible with the residents and attendings in the programs you’re considering. Try to rotate with programs you’re interested in. “You’re going to be spending nearly every minute of the next three years with them,” Dr. Bach says. “They’d much rather pick someone they’re already familiar with than someone they’ve barely met.”
4. Participate in extracurricular activities and research that demonstrate your interest in ophthalmology. This can help you get an extra edge over the influx of other highly qualified candidates you’ll be up against, Dr. Bach says.
5. Consider supply and demand. Residency programs in areas that have a shortage of ophthalmologists may prefer local candidates, and those in areas with a surplus of ophthalmologists might prefer candidates from farther away, Dr. Mayo notes.