“Hi, my name is Abhiniti, and I’m a visiting medical student.” This sentence was a regular part of my vernacular during my fourth year of medical school, when I went from one away rotation to the next. Each visit was an opportunity to make a lasting impression among thousands of residency applicants; yet, I struggled with how to stand out when I was surrounded by other qualified, intelligent, and ambitious people.
Away rotations are crucial for both applicants and residency programs. The experience is as much an opportunity for applicants to evaluate a program as it is for a program to better understand its applicants. In a time when Zoom interviews and online socials dominate, establishing a genuine connection with a program can significantly enhance your application.
Imagine it is the end of spring, and you’re getting ready for a summer of away rotations. How do you make an impression? How can you make these rotations work to your advantage? I eventually made it through the rotation cycle and have since helped to review others’ applications. In addition to my own experience, I asked some colleagues for their tried-and-true advice. This article outlines how to navigate and excel at away rotations.
1. Understand and Play to Your Strengths
Before you leave for an away rotation, take time to reflect and determine your strengths as an applicant. Do you have extensive ophthalmology knowledge? Are you personable and relatable? Do you have a strong research background? Whatever your strength, use it to your advantage! If you stand out as someone who always helped residents, came prepared with research questions, or demonstrated your clinical knowledge, you’ll be remembered in the best way. If you’re lucky, you might even excel in more than one area. When you focus on highlighting your inherent strengths rather than trying to be someone else, you will exude authenticity.
2. Be Kind to Everyone
It sounds simple and perhap obvious, but be nice to everyone you meet, including the technicians, front-desk staff, patients’ families, and interns. Offer to help the technician move the patient from the imaging area to the exam room. Clarify directions for patients. Ophthalmology departments are generally small, so a little kindness goes a long way. Be the type of person with whom others want to work.
3. Build Strong Connections
A strong connection with a faculty member, resident, or program director can tip the scales in your favor. Many applicants build these relationships over a similar research focus, a strong interest in a particular subspecialty, or even a personal hobby. In turn, the individuals you connect with can vouch for you during interview season. You may assume you need to connect with the prominent faculty members who conduct the interviews, but a true faculty champion can be influential no matter their rank or role in the application process. However, it is still valuable to get some face time with the program director if possible. Find a way to stand out in their eyes: shadow their clinic, spend time in their OR, or see if you can set up a brief meeting with them. The idea is to be memorable, so when you do meet the program director, tie in tips from the first two items on this list.
4. Be Honest About Your Program Choices
Program selection is critical and maybe the strongest predictor for your application cycle. This process involves understanding your future goals as an ophthalmologist, being realistic about who you are as an applicant, and deciding what kind of residency experience you want. Do you want a program that focuses more on research or on clinic? Do you want a large or a small program? Are there specific faculty members whose careers you wish to emulate? Make a list of what is important to you and rotate with the programs that align with your goals. Avoid participating in away rotations at programs where you do not realistically see yourself and be purposeful with your selection.