Simrin Atwal, DO, comes from a close-knit family in California. It was a major reason she stayed in the state for undergrad at the University of California-Davis and for medical school at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine (TUCOM).
But applying for residency offered a new opportunity. Dr. Atwal decided that she was ready to spread her wings beyond her comfort zone. However, family also played a large role in her residency search.
Now a first-year resident at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, Dr. Atwal says her program is one big family.
“There are definitely friendships between attendings and residents,” she says. “I did an audition rotation here, and I loved it.”
In this edited Q&A, Dr. Atwal shares the strategies she used to land her residency and how you can best prepare to match into pediatrics.
How many audition rotations did you have?
I did three. They were all in pediatrics.
How did you land your current residency?
I did my interview a week after my rotation and I also kept in contact with people in the program after my audition rotation. I got to know the residents and the program director. I came back and met with them again before I did my rankings. I felt like I fit in.
What was your approach to securing letters of recommendation?
I asked for letters of recommendations from where I did my audition rotations. We see the evaluations that come from our rotations. If a physician gave you a good evaluation, that’s a good person to ask.
I thought it would be beneficial to have pediatric attendings write the letters, so I ended up getting one from each rotation. One thing I learned is that they look for letters from other fields because they want to make sure we’re well-rounded applicants.
How many applications did you send out?
I sent out 80 applications. I applied to a lot of programs in the Midwest. Wherever I had family close by, on the East Coast, in Texas, and near Chicago, I applied to — and broadly because I wasn’t restricted by location.
How many programs did you rank?
I ranked 10 programs that I had interviewed with. Ten programs was my goal and comfort number, so I was pretty happy about that.
What was the most challenging part of applying for residency?
The ranking process is pretty stressful. I was tired halfway through my interviews and I didn’t really want to do more, but at the same time, I had to remain focused.
When I was putting my list together, I knew what my first choice would be and what my last two would be, but I wasn’t as sure about the order for those that fell in the middle. That part was also difficult.
When I put my list in, I had to realize that I had no control after that point. And we have to let go of control, which is hard. Then you’re waiting. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be happy to be in a pediatrics residency.
What personal practices helped you land your residency?
I think it was staying in contact with the residents. I genuinely enjoyed being around them, so I kept in touch with them. After my interview dinners, I added them on Facebook. I’m like, ‘I like it here and I think they like me, and how do I make sure they don’t forget about me,’ so I added them as a way to just “show up.” It’s an easy way to stay in contact with people.
What do you think applicants should focus on?
Have an idea of your end goal and look at the program and ask, ‘Is this program going to get me to that end goal?’ Also know that it will all work out in the end. Even if you don’t match.
Where’s a good place to start?
Find people who are doing what you want to do and ask them lots of questions. I looked at where my former Touro classmates had gone for residency and got an idea of what was possible.