And I’m back! I’ve been busy completing my applications for the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS)
Having survived the CaRMS 2011 Application Submission Deadline, I was going to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this stressful experience. Overall, I think I did most things well but could have done many things better. Thankfully, you only apply for residency once… (hopefully). Here are some of the lessons I learned.
1. It’s Ok to Highlight Your Best Traits! – It definitely felt strange having to sell yourself. It was like applying to medical school all over again, but this time with more on the line. List all your accomplishments, talk about strengths mentioned in your clerkship evaluations, describe all the activities you did. You want to put your best foot forward, not shoot yourself in the foot. Don’t be afraid to brag and boast as much as you can, but do it discretely.
2. Start Planning Early – It’s never too early to start planning. First and second year medical school is a great time to start thinking about residency. Know which specialties you want to apply to and which cities you could live in. Keep track of all your leadership, volunteer and research activities. Update your CV annually. It was able to complete the activities section quickly because I had carefully recorded all my activities and interests in the years before.
3. Be Organized- When the Applicant Web Station (AWS) went live and all the program descriptions were up, I spent an hour creating a master excel sheet to help me stay on top of things. I listed all the programs I was going to apply to along with their descriptions, requirements, essay questions, number of references needed and personal comments.
I also created a checklist of things to be done, a tracking sheet for my references and a timeline of the whole application process. This streamlined my application and enabled me to concentrate on the task at hand, without worrying about what to do next.
4. Get the Best References Possible – Ask all your preceptors you did a rotation with to write you a strong reference letter. That way, when it comes time to apply you’ll have more referees to choose from than required. Ask months in advance. Send your referees packages with your CV, evaluations and clear instructions.
A good reference letter is one that highlights your strengths, is written by someone who knows you well and from someone who has some influence. Don’t be afraid to ask for a reference letter from someone you didn’t spend a lot of time with, often times you only need a day or two to impress someone. Also, ask all your referees to complete their letters online. It’ll save you money and a lot of stress wondering if your letter has arrived at the CaRMS office yet.
5. Take a Professional Photo – Good lighting makes a big difference. You are applying to a professional job, look the part! Plus you can use this photo for the next twenty years or so… at least that’s what all my residents and preceptors seem to have done.
6. Milestones are there for a Reason – Milestones are suggested dates of when parts of the application should be completed. They are there to remind you to not leave everything to the last minute. In general, they mark out a good timeline to follow. If you keep up with them, you’ll be pretty stress free.
7. Don’t CRaMS! – Unfortunately, milestones are only “suggestions” and I found myself cramming a lot of writing in the final week of the CaRMS application. Suffice to say, it was a stressful final week.
8. Get Some Rest – Coupled with the fact that I was still on clinical rotations, I ended up sleeping less than 5 hours (sometimes 3-4hrs) a night during that last week. If you can, I suggest taking a week, either the final week or a week or two before, off to get your CaRMS application done. Also, don’t stay up writing when you can barely keep your eyes open. I’ll guarantee you will write better and grammatically correct sentences after a good night of sleep.
9. Get a Second (Non-medical) Opinion – Ask your friends and family to look over your application. Does this letter represent who you are? Does it sound like the person they know? Try to avoid getting too many classmates and other applicants to look over your stuff. They will have their own skewed view of the CaRMS process and may not offer you the best advice.
10. Don’t Go Looking at Other People’s Applications – The more applications you look at that aren’t yours, the harder it will be to be yourself. You’ll be influenced by what they are saying in their letters or how they have formatted their application. Focus on your own application and your true self will come through.
Just ten simple tips to make the whole CaRMS application process a bit smoother. Actually the whole process was pretty straightforward minus the personal letters. Speaking with residents, they say it’s a lot better for the R-3 match because all your previous documents are saved in the CaRMS systems. Plus most fellowship and +1 years only requires a one-page letter and you apply to fewer schools. Oh how I don’t look forward to CaRMS round 2.