An an undergrad, Jeffrey Baron, DO, was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). The hands-on clinical exposure proved to be the catalyst for his passion for medicine. Those four years of EMT experience gave him an advantage, Dr. Baron says, when he started medical school.
“Knowing the names of conditions, medicines and procedures and the clinical aspect of care has been extremely helpful,” he says.
In this edited Q&A, Dr. Baron, now a first-year general surgery resident at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), shares his insights on what medical students can do to prepare for the Match process and what he did to land his top spot.
How many audition rotations did you have?
Five. All during my fourth-year, including trauma surgery and bariatric surgery. For surgery, five is generally considered the upper limit. Everyone suggested I do three or four, but I thought, “I can do more.”
How did you land your current residency?
During my fourth year, I did a rotation at the hospital where the PCOM surgery program has a lot of its rotations. I went in and worked very hard, showing up early, trying to read up on any cases we were doing, staying late for cases if they were available, changing dressings, and doing work that helped make residents’ days easier.
Based on your experience, what are your recommendations for doing well on audition rotations?
Do the homework. Do the reading. Be involved. Be on time. People notice. Even when you don’t think people notice, they do. People are looking. Keep an open mind, but have an idea of what you want to get out of the rotation. You’re really trying to learn the specialty.
It’s advantageous for you to do well and work hard because it will help prepare you for residency. Nothing can completely compare to residency, but getting that feel while you’re still a medical student is definitely important.
What made the PCOM residency stand out as your top choice?
There’s a strong possibility that I will do a fellowship at the end of these five years. That is available through this program. Also, the residents were well-prepared mentally in terms of their knowledge and skill level. They seemed very confident and very sure. The attendings gave them enough autonomy to make decisions to learn to be independent physicians in the future.
What was your approach to securing your letters of recommendation?
They were all from my third year of medical school from places I rotated. I chose letters from two surgeons and one family medicine physician. What was nice about the family medicine letter is that she gave a different perspective. It was more of who I was as a person and who I was as a soon-to-be-doctor in general.
How many programs did you apply to?
I applied to 55 programs. I got intimidated when I realized that I was finally applying to residency. I said, “I really want to do this for the rest of my life and need to apply everywhere to do that.” Apply early. Submit your application on the first day if you can. A lot of programs start reviewing as soon as they start receiving applications. This is within your control, so you can definitely do it.
How many interviews did you have?
I had 14 interviews. I had an epiphany while driving home from one of my interviews. If I stuck with general surgery, I had to feel comfortable going into the ER by myself at some random hour of the morning if necessary. That’s when I knew I’d rank PCOM first.
What was the most challenging part of the process?
Second-guessing myself. Is there something I could do better? Thinking about shortfalls in my application. Constantly looking at it and thinking about it every day and thinking, “Oh my goodness, what else could I put in here?”
And as you’re doing these, you’re still actively involved in medical school, you’re still actively going on rotations, and you’re going to have to go to interviews as well, so you need to plan and work around your rotations to line up interviews.
How is landing a general surgery residency more difficult?
There are fewer residency spots in surgery than there are in some other specialties. And we are looking for people we can spend five years with. With a surgical program, you have a very close interrelationship with the attendings and other residents, just by the nature of the specialty. In your training, you’re learning how to do various procedures and work on a surgical team.
Why did you choose general surgery?
I loved that surgeons take ownership of our patients from when they come into the hospital until they leave the hospital. As surgeons, patients trust us enough to let us make incisions and operate inside of their bodies, and we owe it to them to make sure they have the best possible outcome.
What should medical students focus on now?
Preparation for residency begins in your first and second year. During first and second year, get as much knowledge as you can. Learn from your lectures and learn study habits to prepare for boards. The process helps prepare you for your third- and fourth-year rotations and residency.
I also recommend showing continued interest in the specialty. I was a member of the surgical club at PCOM, I volunteered a surgical association and I went to surgery conferences at school.