This question comes from Andy, a med student from SGU's class of 2011:
Is there any particular method to scheduling interviews? For example, is it more beneficial to schedule interviews in January so that the program directors remember you or does this not usually hold true? Also, if program offers a prematch, is it recommended that you schedule interviews early in order to fill up those "pre-match" spots?
Methodology for applying to programs and interviewing is fairly dependent on the specialty to which you are applying. However, there are a few commonalities across specialties. First, it is becoming very important to have your application complete to secure interviews in early September – within the first few days ERAS is open. (The number of new residency positions is not keeping up with the number of medical students graduating – this creates a more competitive job market for residency applicants). This includes having your Letters of Recommendation to submit September 1st.
It is also becoming increasingly important to have your USMLE Step 2 CK scores for ranking decisions, which is resulting in the establishment of deadlines for taking Step 2 in December and January of Year 4 by medical school administration. This makes it more challenging for students in very competitive specialties, where students feel compelled to do advanced research and away rotations, to complete all the requirements to become a highly competitive candidate before interview season and ranking. They must plan Year 3 and Year 4 carefully to make everything happen, which means knowing what specialty you want to go into before experiencing all of the clinical rotations in Year 3.
However, when you decide to actually interview, it is somewhat specialty dependent. If you are not doing Early Match, the very late January interviews may be largely reserved for the very competitive specialties such as Dermatology and Plastics. However, several specialties also have interviews in early January. As a rule of thumb, you do not want to be one of the earliest applicants as you will be compared to the ‘model’ applicant since the committee and interviewers have no real candidates to use as a comparison when filling out the rating forms. If you wait a few weeks, you will be compared to applicants that have already been through the process.
However, if you wait until January, many of the interviewers are tired and worn out so we don’t know how that works for or against applicants. If you have a great Step 1 score, then you might want to interview earlier than later so you can brag about your performance and let them see you as the student who made a 99 on Step 1. Then again, let’s say your Step 1 score was not stellar, and you are waiting for your Step 2 CK score to come in, then you might want to wait until January to set your interview so you can push for the fact that you are a great clinician as indicated by your great clerkship grades and your mastery of the clinical sciences shown by your fantastic Step 2 score.
For some specialties, the peak interview months will be November and December. In January, several interviews will be canceled. If you are on the waitlist at a residency program that you are interested in and they get a cancellation, it may result in an interview for you. Set aside money for one or two of these interviews just in case this happens and be sure to keep in touch with your ‘waitlist’ programs so they know you are still interested. We know of a student who recently matched at his top choice in Anesthesiology from this exact scenario – and it was a superior institution to the one he matched.
Now – on to the Pre-match question--- very good question!
Just in case readers do not know… Pre-match (or outside the match) positions are not available to students that are currently enrolled in U.S. accredited medical schools. They are only available to students who are independent applicants: this includes students who have graduated from their MD program, those that are IMGs, and students enrolled in DO programs not participating in the NRMP. If you are eligible for a Prematch position, it is always a good idea to apply for an interview early. Since the rules and guidelines for filling these positions are not governed by an agency, the residency committee could make decisions early in the interviewing process.
Therefore, it would be a good idea to apply for these positions as soon as the opportunity arises and set your interview date early, if a Prematch program is in your best interest. There are several reasons that these positions may have been created, so research these possibilities thoroughly before and during your visit before signing a contract. Also, please be aware, that until you sign a contract for that position, you should continue to interview and not assume that you have a secured position. Many students have been disappointed after a “promise” of a position that did not materialize.
If you are participating in the NRMP (National Residency Matching Program) to obtain a residency and you are offered a Prematch position, you must formally withdraw from the match to take the position. If you are a medical student going through the Early Match or the NRMP, I have included an excerpt from the NRMP guidelines for institutional behavior in regards to offers outside the match below:
"Applicants and programs may express their interest in each other; however, they shall not solicit verbal or written statements implying a commitment. Applicants shall at all times be free to keep confidential the names or identities of programs to which they have or may apply. In addition, it is a breach of the applicable Match Participation Agreement for:
(a) a program to request applicants to reveal ranking preferences; or
(b) an applicant or program to suggest or inform the other that placement on a rank order list is contingent upon submission of a verbal or written statement indicating ranking intentions; or
(c) a program to require applicants to reveal the names or identities of programs to which they have or may apply; or
(d) a program and an applicant to make any verbal or written contract for appointment to a concurrent year residency or fellowship position prior to the release of the List of Unfilled Programs."
Thanks for your question Andy!