The Whirlwind of Fourth Year: Lessons Learned After a Successful Match

Kathy Chen '16
uvmmedicine blogger Kathy Chen ’16

On March 18, I opened my green envelope in front of cheering classmates and friends at the UVM College of Medicine Match Day celebration, and found out where I am headed for the next step in my medical training. First up is Baltimore for a preliminary medicine year, and then Brigham and Women’s Hospital for anesthesiology. I couldn’t be happier! Having just completed the months of studying, preparation and travel that went into that moment I found out my match, this is a perfect time for new fourth-year medical students to pick our brains. Every student’s experience will be different so I can only comment on mine, but here are some things I learned.

Choosing a Specialty
By the time fourth year starts, most people have chosen one or two specialties they find to be the most interesting. The act of choosing a specialty is very personalized. I came out of third year considering pediatrics as my specialty of choice, and my pediatrics acting internship showed me that pediatrics would be a good fit for me. However, I did a pain medicine rotation in May and subsequently a clinical anesthesia rotation in June, and I loved anesthesiology. Panic ensued as I had already planned my letters of recommendations and my personal statement for my application in pediatrics. Luckily, I found amazing mentors in the Department of Anesthesiology who helped me prepare my application in no time. The specialty lunch during Prep for Practice is an excellent time to reach out to talk to faculty in all specialties you may be interested in. It can be scary to not know if you’re choosing the right specialty at the beginning of your fourth year, but that is one of the invaluable perks of being a UVM medical student. We have three extra months to rotate though specialties we might be interested in or do away rotations before ERAS applications are due.

Bottom line for choosing a specialty:

  • Talk to people in other specialties you “think” you might be interested in.
  • Use the first part of fourth year to rotate through different specialties of interest.
  • Don’t be afraid to explore other specialties or switch specialties. Follow your gut.

The Interview Season
This is a marathon, not a sprint. For most applicants, the interview season can span from one to three months, and interview invites can come quickly through your email within days after submitting your application. I was rewarded for being punctual about responding to invites either by phone or by email because sometimes, more invites were sent out than available interview spots, or preferred dates were quickly filled by other candidates. When I was on my clinical rotations, I informed my attendings and residents that I may need to step out to respond to interview invites, and it was not an issue. (Fair warning, it may be difficult to step out of a surgical rotation if you are scrubbed in.) Some residencies use self-schedulers. It is okay to reschedule your interview to ease your travel plans. And please be courteous to other applicants. If you have an interview scheduled and you do not plan to attend, please cancel so that others (possibly your own classmate/friend!) may have a chance.

I highly recommend going to all the interview dinners. The interview dinners provide a more relaxed environment for you to get to know the residents, the program, and your fit. The interview day is short and any extra time you have to get to know the program can really help you make a decision. If you cannot make your scheduled interview dinner, you can try to ask the residency coordinator to attend a different interview dinner date.  As for interview day, smile, relax, and have some fun.  Everyone loves UVM students!

Lastly, I recommend trying to stay with friends and family during your interview trail. Travel and lodging tend to incur the most significant costs. I stayed with friends of friends wherever I could and not only did I save money, I got to know the residency program and area better, and make new friends. Swallow your pride and ask for help! And although it takes additional planning and time, public transit can save you a lot of money, and help you explore the city. You will thank yourself later when March before graduation rolls around and you have to think about repaying those six to seven percent interest loans in a few months.

Bottom line for the interview season:

  • Respond to invites as soon as possible (within minutes is best).
  • Attend interview dinners.
  • Ask for help and save money any way you can.

Post-Interview Communication
I will be completely honest and say I have no idea how much a thank you letter/email affects your candidacy. That being said, because my mother taught me to do so, I sent thank you emails to all of my interviewers each evening after my interview to thank them for their time, and listed two to three topics that we discussed during the interview so that they could remember me. I also sent thank you emails to the program coordinators because they helped me schedule and arrange my interview day. I received email responses within the next day, months later, and sometimes never. Also, every program is different about their communication policy. There is no right or wrong way to go about it.

Bottom line for post-interview communication:

  • It is up to you to send thank you messages or not.
  • Do not read too much into it if a program does not reply.

Fourth year is amazing.  Although the summer preparation for interview season can be stressful, it is very rewarding. I want to reiterate that every candidate’s interview experience is different and my suggestions are based on my experience. I wish everyone the best of luck on their fourth year and the interview season to come. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

What are your thoughts about this topic?