Planning ahead

The top 3 things you can do to prepare for residency applications in the first 2 years of medical school

You can make your life easier by starting to think about your residency applications as early as the first year of medical school.


To get into medical school, premeds are typically expected to be involved in a number of different activities; these can include hospital experience, volunteering, leadership and shadowing. Students are often misled into thinking they are finally finished with extracurriculars and can now finally focus only on schoolwork.

This is unfortunately not the case, and students do need to keep participating in extracurricular activities throughout medical school to become well-rounded candidates for residency.

Some of these activities are similar to those available to premeds, like leadership positions in school organizations. It’s important to get involved in these extracurriculars as soon as possible, to help prepare for residency applications – they’ll come up faster than you might expect.

Many students are unaware when they enter medical school that they will be applying for their specialty of choice and do not get to simply choose it. While students do get a chance to do audition rotations with some residency programs during their fourth year, most are limited to five or fewer full-month auditions with their schedules.

This means that for the programs that you did not audition at, they will only review your residency application on ERAS (Electronic Residency Application Service) to decide whether to offer you an interview for a position with their program.

You can make your life easier during this stressful time by starting to think about your residency application as early as the first year of medical school.

Here are my recommendations for the top three things you can do to reduce your stress about residency applications and ERAS at the beginning of medical school:

1. Continually update your CV

You should always have an updated curriculum vitae (CV). Many students need an update from the one-page resume they had previously and should begin removing old accomplishments not applicable to medical school. These include things in high school or insignificant college activities.

Update your CV continually throughout your entire medical school career so that it reflects your current and most important activities. You’ll need an updated CV when you apply for certain scholarships, leadership positions, auditions and when you put your residency applications into ERAS. Your CV is a snapshot of what type of person you are and the things you like to be involved in.

It’s also a good idea to have someone who frequently reviews med student CVs, like a program director or your physician mentor, look at your CV. This individual will be able to help you decide which activities are irrelevant and which activities should be stressed more and also provide guidance on overall formatting.

2. Manage your time and keep track of what you do

I recommend creating a spreadsheet with detailed information regarding your activities throughout medical school. While it is great to keep an updated CV, every activity you do should not be listed on your CV. For example, if you volunteer for two hours at a shelter through one of your school organizations, you should record this. However, this is not significant enough to put on ERAS or your CV.

If you have volunteered with this organization 15 times and have accumulated multiple hours, then it may be significant enough to place on your CV and ERAS. However, you should never put anything on your CV or ERAS that you aren’t prepared to talk about or didn’t have a significant role in.

This spreadsheet allows you to keep track of these hours and important information about these activities such as when you did it, how long you did it for, who the contact person is for it, etc. This applies for everything you do, including working, volunteering and research. You never know if/when this information could possibly be helpful for you in the future.

This becomes very important with research as you will need to list several important details in ERAS. For example, if you gave a poster presentation at a conference, you would need to list all the information about the poster as well as detailed information about the conference. If you presented a poster your first year of medical school, chances are you won’t remember the details of that conference three years later when you’re applying for residency.

3. Think about your personal statement

Start your personal statement as early as you can. Your personal statement is something that you can control about your application.

While you can’t change your grades, your board scores or whether a paper got accepted for publication, you can change your personal statement and how programs perceive you. Applicants constantly state that while they feel this should be the easiest part of the application because they are simply talking about themselves, they find it to be one of the most difficult parts.

You can start this as early as the first year of medical school, but it might be easier during second year. During the first and second year I recommend having a running document of just bullet points about yourself throughout your time at school. These are things you’d want people to know about you that are unique to just you.

This could be about where you came from, what sparked your interest in your specialty or what traits you have that fit this specialty. Students can end up with pages of bullet points by the spring of their third year. These students then have a variety of ideas to choose from for their rough draft. During third year you should be beginning a rough draft version of your personal statement, as most personal statements will likely need multiple revisions.

If you are having trouble starting this, I recommend asking your friends and colleagues what qualities they like about you or what they feel is unique about you. Many are surprised at what they find out and how others perceive them.

Applying for residency is an extremely stressful process and time in medical students’ lives. The best way to help your future self is to have good documentation throughout medical school and prepare for the things that you can control. It’ll help make a busy, taxing time a little easier to get through.

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:

Recently matched DOs share tips on applying to residency via ERAS

From intern to third year: Making the most of your residency training

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