For third-year medical students, an important part of medical school is rapidly approaching. After jumping over the mountain-sized hurdle that is Level 2 or Step 2 and going from crawling to walking on core rotations, the next stop on the road to becoming a physician is choosing elective rotations.
The Visiting Student Application Service (VSAS), now also known as Visiting Student Learning Opportunities, is the service most third-year medical students use to apply to elective rotations for their fourth year. Near the halfway point of third year, a number of medical students know what specialty they are interested in and start using the extensive database provided by VSAS to find the right electives for them.
For me, this was a long, expensive, and methodical process. Although every student is going to have their own approach to handling VSAS and elective rotations, here I will share my approach for those who may find it useful. Here are my 5 tips for applying to electives on VSAS:
1. Take the time to make a game plan.
While applying to elective rotations is not as intense as applying to residency, you should still have a game plan. After all, this is a big stepping-stone toward residency itself.
More importantly, VSAS costs money! Figure out what electives you would like to do, as well as when and where. Is there a specific elective or hospital you want to be at early on in your fourth year? Do you have space for an elective in a specialty that interests you other than the one you are pursuing?
Do not forget to take into account your school’s graduation requirements as well as the role these electives are going to play on your residency application. Remember, you want to show progress as you go through fourth year, and you are going to need letters of recommendation. Make sure your electives are arranged in a way that will give you the best chance for success.
Also, remember to have all your vaccinations in order and up to date!
2. Prepare a short personal statement.
You probably thought this was something you would not have to do for a few more months, right? Wrong! A lot of institutions on VSAS require a personal statement or letter of interest along with your application.
Even the core VSAS application has a ‘Short Bio’ section, where you can include details about yourself. Prepare a short personal statement that you can use when applying to electives.
I recommend always adding a sentence or two about that specific institution to make it more personal. By doing this, you will simply have to add the statement to each application, rather than fumbling to create one and wasting time later.
3. Explore the ‘Institutions’ tab.
This is something I did not pay much attention to initially, and I wish I did. At the top of the VSAS application, there is a tab called ‘Institutions.’ Clicking on it will give you access to all the hospitals and locations that are on VSAS.
Searching through these will provide you with helpful information about things such as when applications are accepted, additional fees for certain institutions, and when you can expect to hear back about the decision on your application.
While it may add some unfortunate depth to the application process, this is still invaluable information to help keep you organized and prepared.
4. Keep track of all your applications.
In addition to the ‘Institutions’ tab, VSAS also has a ‘Tracking’ tab that shows you all of your applications and (if available) the status of those applications.
While this tool is useful, as a neurotic medical student I found it much easier to make my own spreadsheet. I broke this spreadsheet up into the block schedule created by my school. From here, I listed all my applications for each block as well as the status of those applications.
While some may view this as excessive and unnecessary, I found that it was way easier to keep track of what blocks I needed to fill and what options I had to fill them.
5. Look beyond VSAS.
Do not get me wrong, VSAS is an incredibly useful and helpful tool for finding elective rotations. However, not all institutions use VSAS. Some prefer to use their own application service and are even free to apply to!
While there is no specific document or website listing these institutions (I can provide a list of the ones I found to anyone interested), it may be worth your time to do a quick search for them, especially if you know you want to stay in a specific geographic location. I ended up getting several elective rotations this way.
Go forth and apply
Hopefully with these tips, you will be better prepared and feel more confident about finding the elective rotations that are right for you. Best of luck!