Monday, March 7, 2016

Getting into Radiology Residency

After having gone through the Residency application twice (urology and radiology), I wanted to share a few words of wisdom from my own personal experience for those who you are applying for residency in Radiology:
  1. Research at the right institution helps a lot. Over my five years at UCLA as a trainee, I noticed a disproportionate number of radiology residents have done research at NIH (or have a PhD), at least one to two every year. The research is always the same mentors too at NIH Radiology (Brad Wood, Peter Choyke). I did a research year at NIH but in the Urologic Oncology Branch.  Taking a year off to do research can help boost your application tremendously. NIH has extramural and intramural programs for medical students. When I did my year, I did the Intramural Research Training Awardee (IRTA) or Cancer Research Training Awardee (CRTA) for NCI. Also, get in touch with one of the radiologists at your institution and do a research project with them starting your third or fourth year of medical school. Look them up on Pubmed to make sure they've published and most importantly, they've mentored medical students before. 
  2. Medical student etiquette on rotation in radiology. There are both interventional and diagnostic rotation for med students.  If you are asked to present during your rotation, it's important to shine. In general, when you're on service, the way to get people to like you is:
    • Be present. You being present around attendings. You don't have to say anything smart; just be present shows your interest. You can do that by being on rotation (not leaving randomly because people notice), attend all conferences,  staying behind to help out (if you are on a procedure rotation).
    • Ask for advise and people's thoughts. People like giving advise. 
    • Be engaged (don't surf on your phone or space out even if you think it's boring). If there is a fluoro study or a biopsy, go along with everything.
  3. Find a mentor and advocate. I don't have a full proof strategy for finding a great mentor. I think there is a component of luck and fortune. When I was applying to urology, I attended the national meetings and look through the handbook of the speakers and deliberately attended lectures held by individuals who I wanted to meet. Afterwards, I would approach them and discuss their lectures, etc. Not infrequently, I would encounter them at a later time in my training and the second encounter often furthered our relationship. Often, the best way to build a relationship with an individual who you want to be mentored by is to do a research project with them. The project allows you to directly interact with the mentor on a more personal basis. Hopefully, you work hard and leave a good impression. Be careful, because if you flake out or do not follow up, you can also leave a very negative impression and can ruin your opportunities with the individual in the future. How do you find a good mentor? This is the Million dollar question. I don't know for sure. I think a lot of it is based on gut feeling that you get when you are talking to a prospective mentor. When I was applying for radiology, I found my mentor through a friend who had referred me to the individual. I think approaching a senior resident or at least someone who is familiar with the field and / or the department is one good option for finding an adviser. I think it's also really good to have more than one mentor because you learn different things from different people. Seniority is also important. Often, I found that more senior faculty have more influence in the application process compared to more junior faculty.
  4. Be mindful of those around us. My program director told me that often times he noticed medical students and residents forcing themselves into subspecialties that they think they should be in. He told me that people should be more open to their surroundings and be mindful of the feedback. For example, if you find that people love to be around you and enjoy your presence, you might be a people person and may fit in a managerial role. If you find that others rate you highly on your teaching skills, maybe your calling is in education. Basically, being receptive to the input from those around you can really help you decide what it is that you might be best suited for long term. A friend of mine told me an analogy about an orchid. An orchid is very temperamental and will not thrive if the soil is unfit. However, in the right environment, the orchid will blossom into a beautiful flower. In the same way, finding the niche and environment where we thrive can make the difference between being happy or non-so happy. 
  5. Be okay with whatever the future may hold for you. I know this a lot easier said than done. After I left urology, and had to apply for radiology, there was a period of about 16 months when I didn't know what my future held in terms of my medical training. About nine months into this process, I came to the realization that I was going to be okay. Even if I didn't get into radiology, I  will figure out away and get into another residency program. Once I accepted that, life was still hard but got significantly easier for me. In addition, coming to this acceptance also permitted me to relax. Often anxiety and stress lead us to say or do things that do not leave the best impression on other people. Adopting the belief that everything will work out and life doesn't end if I didn't get into the residency program I wanted allowed  me to be more natural around people. There is a really great book called Pitch Anything. One of the many things I learned from that book is being desperate can sabotage your position and chances. When we're stressed and anxious about our future opportunities,  we become desperate and we undermine and totally undervalue our worth.

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