7 Steps for Applying to Medical Residencies

Applying to residencies is a monumental step in our medical school careers and it determines where we end up in the next chapter of our lives. It can seem daunting at first, but it can be a painless (and even exciting!) time if you prepare early.


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Update your CV throughout the year

This will be helpful when you’re filling out the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). By the time the ERAS application open, you will be able to copy and paste your activities into the corresponding sections. The format is standard each year, so you can start preparing well in advance of the September deadline.

Start working on your personal statement early

It’s the one part of your application that you have COMPLETE control over, which is a lot of responsibility. You want to start early so that you have time to let others proofread your essay. I went through multiple drafts before I was finally happy with it. Personally, I only showed it to a few readers because I realized that everyone has a different opinion and you need to have final say.

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Pick your letter writers carefully

Most institutions accept a maximum of 4 letters, but 3 is generally acceptable. Make sure your letter writers are in the specialty you are applying to! Different specialties may have different requirements. For instance in dermatology, it’s preferable to have dermatologists write your letters since it’s such a small field, but a transitional year program may accept letters from all specialties.

Get a professional-looking headshot

It’s important to get a good photo because interviewers will be staring at your headshot when they are discussing and ranking candidates. Make sure you’re wearing a suit and are standing in front of a white or light/non-distracting background. It’ll be obvious if a photo has been cropped, so ask your photography friends for help. Don’t forget to smile!

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Submit your application early and on time

Residencies start looking at applications the minute they are released. Believe it or not, programs can contact you the next day (or even day of). Set deadlines and meet them. It will pay off on the day applications are released to ensure you get considered right away.

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Do mock interviews

Make sure you do some practice interviews with a trusted colleague, mentor or faculty member who will give you constructive criticism. It’s hard to know how we come across in an interview setting until someone observes us and gives us honest feedback. Record or film your practice interview, so you can look back at what you look like, how you sound and adjust accordingly. It can be somewhat uncomfortable to be filmed or recorded, but the more comfortable you are with your interview-self, the easier it gets when you are in real time with your interviewer.

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Respond to interview slots ASAP

Interview slots can get snatched up early, sometimes within minutes. It’s important to respond promptly to interview invites if you want your choice of time or date. I set up a separate email account just for ERAS correspondence so I could keep a closer eye on them and respond sooner.


It’s an exciting time, so try to enjoy it as much as possible! You might get to visit cities you've never been to before and make some new friends along the way. Good luck!

Jenny Wang