Megan Boyer, OMS IV (right), couples matched with her fiance, Samuel Creighton, OMS IV. Boyer matched into OB-GYN at UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Creighton matched into emergency medicine at Wellspan York Hospital in York, Pennsylvania.
Words of wisdom

How DO students/graduates matched to their top-choice residencies in 2021

Recently matched DO students/graduates share their insights on audition rotations, virtual interviews, letters of intent and more.

This month, more than 6,590 osteopathic medical students and past DO graduates matched into residency programs via the NRMP Match. 89.1% of DO students matched into residency programs in 39 specialties.

This year’s Match cycle was unlike any other, with students navigating the pandemic, virtual interviews and limits on audition rotations throughout the process. It’s currently unclear how much COVID-19 will impact next year’s residency application cycle. However, it’s certainly possible that incoming OMS IVs will encounter some of these same issues.

The DO spoke with four DO students/graduates who matched at their top-choice residencies this year about how they navigated a uniquely challenging Match season and set themselves up for success. Below, they offer their advice for future applicants.

If you could give one piece of advice to an incoming OMS IV, what would it be?

“Take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK. Applying to residency is a very stressful time, especially during quarantine. It’s easy for your emotions to snowball. Try to be kind to yourself.” —Parker Adams, OMS IV, of Kansas City University College of Osteopathic Medicine’s (KCU-COM) Joplin campus, who matched into urology at McLaren MaComb Hospital in Mount Clemens, Michigan

What specific advice do you have for navigating applying to residency during a pandemic/public health crisis?

Matthew Jones, DO

“I wasn’t sure how interviews would work, so I applied to all programs within a certain distance from home. I have a son and a daughter on the way, so trying to stay as close to family as possible was a big deal to me. I would recommend applying to as many programs as you can afford. I always want to have as many options as possible, so I recommend applying broadly.” —Matthew Jones, DO, who matched into family medicine at Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, New York

Adams: “Get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you can. We may start seeing programs require it for interviews and rotations. Getting vaccinated will set you up for application season.

“Do your best to get out and see programs and make connections. During these times when we can’t go out and network in person, use online tools to connect with people in your desired specialty. For instance, for urology, Twitter is a huge platform for professionals in that field.

“I also host a urology podcast, which I started before COVID but found to be a nice way to connect with others during the pandemic.”

What are your tips for virtual interviews?

“Practice doing interviews, and really look at programs ahead of time. It was still very much like, why do you want to come here? Doing it virtually, when you don’t get to see the town, they can’t really see how much you like it.

“It’s hard to be yourself on Zoom, but it’s important to try. It’s easy to be quiet in a group setting on Zoom, but when I spoke up more, I felt like I was more engaged and learned more about the program.

Anastasia Bjelopetrovich, OMS IV, on Match day.

“Programs would do Zoom socials the night before. During those, I talked about cheese, because eating different cheeses is one of my hobbies. I’d ask, ‘What is the food situation? Do residents get free food?’” —Anastasia Bjelopetrovich, OMS IV, of KCU-COM, who matched into OB-GYN at Grandview Medical Center (Kettering Health Network) in Dayton, Ohio

What goes into a successful application?

“Board scores and your grades are important to programs, but programs also want students who are active participants in their education. Having things on your CV that demonstrate your involvement in your education is very helpful, whether that is research, poster presentations, or involvement in student organizations.

“Talking about your extracurriculars gives programs an idea of how involved you’ll be as a resident and how active you are going to be in their program.” —Megan Boyer, OMS IV, of Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine, who matched into OB-GYN at UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Adams: “Give attention to both your paper application and your interviews. I know plenty of people who are incredible on paper, but they struggle during their interviews. And if you struggle on paper, your exposure to programs will be limited.”

How should students approach their audition rotations?

Adams: “Be aware that the expectations of a knowledge base are fairly low for students. You’re there to learn and attendings understand that. Especially for urology, trying to appear that you know everything can backfire. Your job is to socialize and show that you are a hard worker.

“Run errands for the residents and offer to take things off of their plate. Put in effort and be fun to be around. That’s more valuable than people give it credit for.”

Dr. Jones: “Audition rotations are the best thing you can do to get interviews because you’re basically interviewing for a whole month. Be eager to learn, arrive early and stay late. Be the person they want to work with for the next X number of years.”

How did you foster connections while you were on those rotations?

Bjelopetrovich: “On one of my audition rotations, I told the program director at the beginning that I was looking for a letter of recommendation. I said, ‘I want to work hard and earn that from you.’

“Setting that stage in advance allowed me to work with him more. I didn’t feel weird asking him questions.

“I also asked the residents, ‘When is he on call, can I get into a surgery with him?’ Looking at the schedule and trying to plan your days out is a good way to ensure continuity with working with an attending you’re trying to connect with.”

Did you send a letter of intent? Why or why not?

Adams: “I didn’t send one. I wanted to have the flexibility to change my rank order list at the last minute if something came up that changed things for me. I didn’t want to be locked in to ranking a specific program No. 1.”

Boyer: “Yes, I sent a letter of intent. I wanted to let the program know that they were my top choice and I was really excited about everything I saw there. I think it can definitely be helpful. It’s a great way to continue communication with a program and be very intentional about your goals with that program.”

Bjelopetrovich: “I had mixed feelings about the letter of intent. I did it because everyone was telling me it was the thing to do.

“For some students, it gives them relief to know that they have communicated their plans with the program. But I also saw students get stressed out when they sent one and didn’t hear anything back. I don’t know if I would do it again.”

What sold you on your top choice?

Boyer: “The No. 1 thing I was looking for was really solid educational training and really good hands-on training. I was looking for the opportunity to be really involved early on in C-sections and in minor cases in the OR. I found that in the program I matched into.

“The fact that my program is part of UPMC Health System will also open up research opportunities and offer me the chance to do rotations at different sites. Also, the location is close to home, in an area that my fiance and I are hoping to stay long term.”

Adams: “I was deciding between academic and community programs. With virtual interviews and not being able to go see programs, I leaned toward the devil you know being better than the devil you don’t know. I ranked community programs high because I spent time at those programs. And my top choice was a program where I had done an audition rotation.”

Related reading:

How these DO students matched to their top-choice residencies

What to expect during your first year of residency

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