Residency Application Tip: Make the most of your away rotation

It’s been a while (happy July!) but I’m back this week with another residency application tip. Today we are talking about away rotations. I see a fair number of students coming through on away rotations. I think as a student I thought of away rotations as something that could really help me, but as a resident I’ve seen away rotations really hurt applicants, so we are going to talk a little bit about some do’s and don’ts to make sure your away rotation helps you instead of hurting you.

First of all, think of your away rotation as an interview. Every minute of every day is an interview. If you do something that is perceived as foolish, or even worse lazy, people end up thinking “If this is how he behaves on an away rotation, when he is supposed to be on his best behavior, how is he going to act if he matches here?”

That means that even though it’s a pain, you really do need to make sure that you show up early every day, stay as late as the residents (or until they voluntarily dismiss you), and volunteer extra effort for any projects that need to be done. Yes, it’s hard. It really is. But when we have students on away rotations who ask to leave early, who show up late, or who appear to be trying to “coast” on doing just the minimum, it really makes a bad impression.

I’m not saying that you are doomed if your car breaks down. We all understand that things happen. But you need to appear to be 100% focused on your work. You should be to “go-to” person when something extra needs to be done. If you aren’t interested enough in a program to want to do that, of if you don’t think you can keep that up for the entire time that you will be there, you may want to consider staying home.

Read and prepare in advance for the rotation. Think of common questions that you might be asked. Make sure you can answer any question that might reasonably be asked of a 3rd year medical student and be prepared to answer them, and then some. Again, this is your opportunity to show that you are above average. Coming unprepared looks really bad.

Finally, it’s important to have some insight into your application. Do you look really good on paper, but get a little awkward in new situations? It may be better to take a “less is more” approach.

On the other hand, if you don’t look so hot on paper, but you are going to come totally prepared, work your hind end off, and make a great impression, then an away rotation might be just what you need to get the residency you want.

If you aren’t sure, ask a preceptor that you trust, or ask a few residents that you worked with closely. I bet they’ll be able to tell which group you fall into!

Happy travels!

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