Road to radiology

Diagnostic radiology program director shares his best Match tips

Kevin Carter, DO, opens up about research, gold signaling, virtual interviews and more to help guide students hoping to match in diagnostic radiology.

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Navigating the demands of medical school proves challenging at every juncture, particularly during the third and fourth years. Students are delving into the process of selecting a medical specialty while simultaneously learning the complexities of applying to residency through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) platform. A major component of this intricate journey is the Match process, a pivotal step in securing a residency position that aligns with a student’s career aspirations and goals.

Diagnostic radiology has become a notoriously competitive field over the past few years, which may make applicants feel intimidated. Below, Kevin Carter, DO, the diagnostic radiology program director at McLaren Oakland/Macomb Hospital in Michigan, shares his advice on helping your application stand out and his recommendations.

What are some ways DO candidates can stand out in their ERAS application?

It is hard to stand out on paper. You have to do other things to supplement an ERAS application. Everyone applying will have great scores and good letters of recommendation. Unfortunately, DO students typically don’t have a lot of research compared to their MD counterparts. I personally do not put much stock into this. It is better to have one to two projects that you can heavily speak about rather than six or seven smaller projects.

For a community hospital, it is not as important to have a research project. For an academic center, it may be much more important. When students are doing audition rotations, it can be beneficial to write a case report with a resident.

What are some ways DO candidates can stand out in their interview?

The interview is challenging. A lot of programs have moved to virtual interviews. You may get 20 minutes with three different interviewers—60 minutes total. You have to make an impact on the program director within these 20 minutes. It is a turn-off to programs if students appear bored. Those who are enthusiastic and appear engaged are favored.

Additionally, as program director, you get a lot of the same questions, such as: “What are things you value in a resident?” and “Do you foresee any major changes happening in the program or in radiology?” If I were a medical student, I would try to come up with a new question that will push the interviewer a little bit.

The week before, we typically will have a virtual open house so that the more generic questions may be answered. If these questions or topics that I know are covered in this open house are repeated, this is also a turn-off.

If you have done an audition rotation at the program, you may have asked a lot of the same questions anyways, which may leave dead space in the interview. Medical students should try to fill this space with interesting things—maybe talk about what you have done since the rotation. Medical students may be great on the rotation, but have a subpar interview. We know that this does not mean they are not interested in the program.

Do you have any advice for DO candidates who are competing with MD students in applying to competitive residencies, such as diagnostic radiology?

Things I value are people who are from the area or who show great interest in coming to the program. We want to match good residents and keep the people that we train. We look for people with strong ties to the area. The one thing I would ask interviewees is: “Why did you choose our program?” I want an answer with honesty and am looking for someone who has done research about our program. Try to mention something unique about the program.

Some students have reached out to me through Twitter/X, thus allowing us to interact beforehand. This is another unique way to market yourself. I think this is really smart.

What is your top advice for DO candidates applying to diagnostic radiology?

Diagnostic radiology has become more competitive than I have ever seen before. As a DO, it is very important to be strategic. Look for programs that are DO-friendly. Important things to look for are: Are there DO residents in their program? Are there DO faculty?

Additionally, it helps if you have connections to the place that you want to apply to and if you can do something to make yourself stand out. One of the best ways to stand out is through an audition rotation to make yourself memorable to the faculty, residents and program director. We know this is difficult to do because there is a cost associated with this. However, as a program director who sifts through 600-700 applicants each year, it’s easier to remember someone who has done a rotation here.

What do you feel matters the ‘most’ to get an interview—high scores, pre-clinical grades, research, volunteering or something else?

The biggest thing is gold signaling. In diagnostic radiology, applicants can send gold signals to their most-preferred programs. This will get our attention. It is hard to filter through hundreds of applications, but this will instantly grab my attention.

Diagnostic radiology applicants send gold signals to residency programs by selecting and notifying their top-choice programs through the ERAS system. Sending a gold signal demonstrates an applicant’s strong interest in and dedication to the program. Gold signals help programs identify applicants who are particularly enthusiastic about joining their residency. Sending a gold signal can potentially improve your chances of securing an interview.

How can DO candidates network with PDs or APDs in programs they are interested in?

There are several different ways. Do not be afraid to reach out to the program director via email or reach out to residents via email. Find out when they have academic lectures and see if you can attend. If they do not have that, try reaching out through Twitter/X and see what opportunities they might have available.

For example, in Michigan, we have a relationship with Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM). They opened a radiology interest group, and I was able to interact with students there. Events like this will give you a talking point. However, be aware that there is a fine line between showing an appropriate level of interest and being too over the top. You can tell if a person is really interested, but if it is to the point that they are annoying, this can hurt them. You have to be cognizant of this and be able to respect appropriate boundaries.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Strategies for planning audition rotations

How to soften red flags on your ERAS application

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