ERAS is your residency APPLICATION. Get it right the first time!
What is ERAS, and why should I care?
ERAS. These four letters will be some of the most important letters that you will encounter, as you pioneer the match. ERAS is the AAMC's residency match portal. It is the software that you will use to apply to select programs around the US. It may seem like a trivial matter to know how to navigate, but it can literally be the difference between matching and not matching. Every year there are horror stories about how an applicant forgot to press the "Submit" button on their application and did not match because of it. They pay thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of dollars for residency interviews and sub-internships. They show up, smile and travel across the country, playing the game perfectly, but due to the complicated nature of the software they ultimately end up not matching because they forgot to press a button. Mind you this is only one severe case that we have had to personally witness, but this is not a case of a lapse of judgment, as it is a declaration of the complexity of the system. There are so many students that upload their letters of recommendation and forget to send them because they thought that all they needed to do was upload them. Which would make sense, right? Wrong. If you do not navigate to a completely separate section of ERAS and send your letters, you may end up falling behind the curve. People have submitted letters a month late after prompting by programs to do so, and it's embarrassing. After the fact, they are told by many other programs that because the entire application was not complete, they have to be wait-listed, and will likely not receive an interview they would have otherwise gotten. Some people do not match because of the complexity of this application software. We want to mention this to students across the country, not to try and scare them, but to prepare them for this process. The match can be done beautifully if played correctly, but is unforgiving if even one step is missed in the process of applying.
Essentials of ERAS:
Letters of Recommendation: If you mess up any portions of ERAS (which you shouldn't), you should choose the three following areas to spend all of your time: Letters of recommendation, Letters of Recommendation, and Letters of Recommendation. These letters may be the only thing that gets you a job interview and a spot within the match. They mean the world to potential programs because they are a subjective assessment of who you are as a person. The reason they hold so much clout is because grades and standards may vary across medical schools across the country. My medical school used the GPA grading system out of 4.0 points. Others use a pass and fail system. In short, programs do not know if you are smart or dumb, unless they look at your letters. Programs are willing to overlook your shortcomings, whatever they may be, if people go to bat for your residency match application. It is important to find letter writers that will write you a solid letter of recommendation. Beware, just because you ask the chairman of a department where you did your sub-internship to write you a letter, doesn't mean he or she will write a good LOR. The worst thing you can do to yourself is submit lukewarm LOR's across the country. A lukewarm letter of recommendation looks like the following:
To whomever it may concern,
This medical student rotated at our program and is interested in our field. (S)he showed up on time and showed interest in various subjects. (S)he will make a fine doctor at whatever program (s)he is accepted into.
Sincerely, Chairman of the Department.
This may seem like an extreme example of a sub-par letter of recommendation, but it happens all the time. In fact, this very letter was submitted to my own application. Luckily this was caught just in time by my medical school and we were able to rectify the situation and find new letters of recommendation before the time came to send out letters. The lesson is be careful who you ask. If you ask a chairman to write you a letter, make sure you have worked with him or her. Look this person in the eye when you ask for this letter and ask: ""will you write me a strong letter of recommendation that will endorse my application into the field of interest?" If they say no then great! You now know you should not ask them for any letters and can protect your application from the treachery above. If they say yes, then even better! If they lie to your face, say yes, and write a sub-par letter, you are in trouble. Thus we recommend you only ask people who know you, and people you trust to write your letters of recommendation.
This brings me to my next point. Now your letter writers, your school, and all of the online forums will tell you to always waive the right to be able to see your letters. I will tell you right now, the only reason I caught the above treachery, was because I was able to look at my letters. To tell you the truth, most letter writers will not even notice that you have the right waived. They don't even have the time to look, or oftentimes don't care. Why should they care, if they are only writing good things? If they truly care about your application, and you as a person, they will understand. If they don't, I would find a separate letter writer. My experience has been that people who truly care about my application will always waive the right. Most people don't even realize the right has been waived anyway. But if someone writes a poor LOR on your behalf and submits it to ERAS, your chances of matching go down drastically. Do not risk it! Plan ahead and find the right LOR writers for you and do this well beforehand and you will have no troubles in the match. The truth is, you really only have one shot at this, because if you have to go unmatched for a year and re-apply, your chances of ever being able to match again are in steep decline. Applying as an unmatched US senior has terrible statistics associated with it, even with a preliminary year under your belt.
If you are an unmatched US graduate your chances are not good. That is why we harp on getting it right the first time. You may think that unmatched US graduates have red flags on their application, and you would be right! But going unmatched after medical school is also looked at as a red flag when applying the second time, and most programs will filter your application as such. Thus your chances of matching the second time around parallel those of a foreign medical graduate (at around 40%). This information was not solely taken from the chart, but from program directors themselves. But even if you do go unmatched, call us, there are ways we can help you even if you've gone unmatched.
Research is tough to do in medical school. You are constantly studying and trying to survive. Sometimes it feels like you are drowning. Who are we kidding, most of the time it feels like we are drowning. But research may be a crucial part of the process if you are applying to competitive fields. There is a secret though. There are ways to put research on your application so that you will have something to advertise on your application, and discuss in your interview, but does not take much work at all. Poster presentations count, case reports count, and submitted articles (not published articles) count too. We can show you ways to get research on your application quickly, if needed, so that you can be as competitive as possible. It is never too late to start. We have affiliations with research institutions, and can get you published as quickly as possible.
Personal Statement: Your personal statement is important in that it gives you a chance to let people know what you have to say about your application. Your application should be like a resume which will be an objective declaration of activities, research, and scores. But your personal statement needs to put all of this together so that programs know why you are knocking on their doorstep. Personal statements are important because they will often be used, as a screening tool, but also as a talking point during your interview. Do not blow this off as many programs have been known to screen because of grammatical errors in a personal statement. I want you to understand, the person screening your application is not the program director, or the chairman. Be thorough and deliberate on your personal statement because in a small amount of cases it could help you, but most importantly, it can be used to screen you. If you need help with your personal statement please contact us.
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