04 May 2015

Yr 4 Perspective of a Med School Wife: Me

Scott had his last day of medical school in April! I had my last day of work last week! Can you believe I am already writing my fourth year perspective?!

Yeah, neither can I.

I was not quiet about my feelings for this last year. Even with the emotional struggles of first year, this year in medical school would be ranked as my least favorite. Many of my friends had moved away from Oregon to be closer to families. Rotation scheduling, residency applications, and the match were stressful for me and Scott. On top of that, Scott only spent about ten weeks at home during this last year with a few weekends sprinkled throughout the year. But we made it! We're going to enjoy a month off together before graduation, and then on to residency and living in the same city together again!

Family Medicine in Milwaukee, WI

My Responsibilities
While Scott was traveling the country for rotations and board exams, I continued to work full-time in Corvallis. It is pretty incredible that I have been able to work at the same organization for the entire time Scott was in school. Working kept me busy and preoccupied while Scott was studying or out of town.

Since I finished my graduate degree last June, I found myself with more empty, dark apartment time than I would like in the evenings. I used that time to read, watch Downton Abbey, practice playing the organ at church, and continue my investigation on how nutrition plays a part in my autoimmune disease.

Supporting My Husband During Year 4
Internet research is a talent of mine, a talent that was fully utilized for Scott's benefit this year. Since COMP-NW requires that the scheduling of fourth year is done all by the student, I helped Scott walk through the process of applying for audition rotations. The school gave Scott some instructions, but together we created a spreadsheet of possible residencies and gathered the materials needed for the application.

Researching a list of possible residencies was easier after Scott had finished his first audition rotation. It happened to be a great audition site, so the experience gave him a better idea of what kind of residency he would enjoy. Scott knew from the beginning that he would like to go into sports medicine. We had originally assumed that the best residencies for entering sports medicine would be ones with connected sports medicine fellowships. However, we discovered after his first audition rotation that some of the most preparatory experiences were available at unopposed residencies that may not be connected to a fellowship. Searching residency websites for options that met these qualifications and had significant sports med experience as part of the curriculum was my task.

When Scott was on his audition rotations, I would ask him questions every day about how he felt about the site as a potential residency. How did he like the faculty? Did the residents seem happy? Did he think he would like the curriculum? These conversations helped prepare Scott for residency applications and interviews.

My research and organization skills came in handy again when we participated in the SOAP following the allopathic residency match.

In April Scott came home from his last away rotation. The last time he had lived at home (besides a few weekend visits) was September. Looking back, it's pretty incredible that we never felt like our relationship suffered during these away rotations. We talked almost every night on the phone. I asked a lot of questions to get Scott talking about what he had done during the day, even though hospital talk makes me squeamish. I had no problem talking about myself or what I'd been thinking about that day. When Scott's rotations were a little closer to home, we would make an effort to spend weekends together when possible.

Residency Applications
Applications for DO residencies begins in August of your fourth year, and the application for MD residencies typically begins in September. Last fall I wrote in this post about our experience applying to family medicine residencies with sports medicine experience in the curriculum. After a tedious search of residency websites we came up with a list of ten residencies that we felt would provide Scott with enough experience to be a candidate for sports medicine fellowships. Of the ten, we were hopeful that Scott would get an opportunity to interview with his top four favorites.

Residency Interviews
Interviews take place from October to February of fourth year. This time of year was particularly stressful for us, because on top of interview prep, Scott had to worry about scheduling required rotations with his obstinate school.

Scheduling interviews and travel was complicated as Scott had rotations planned through mid-December and only had four weeks of vacation time to play with all year. Scott interviewed with six of the ten programs, with his last interview taking place before Christmas.

COMP-NW provided an online resource for students to prepare mentally to answer residency interview questions.

The Match
Even though securing our residency was not the easiest of tasks, we are incredibly happy with the results. I described our match process in detail in this post.

Advice for Significant Others Beginning Year 3
If you are finishing your third year and your student hasn't already scheduled rotations for Year 4, check out my post about scheduling. I updated that post last fall with tips on what I think we would have done differently if we had had a second chance to schedule fourth year. Scheduling rotations can be incredibly stressful for your student. Scott had an idea for what he wanted his calendar to be, and then it was completely thrown off when each audition program came back with different dates. Encourage your student to be flexible and try to {be better than I was and} refrain from showering your student with questions about what is being calendared. Students have little to no control over the process.

Also, it doesn't hurt to remind your student to get all health records and immunizations up to date during the spring before their fourth year. These are required for audition rotation and residency applications, but it is difficult for your student to schedule a physical and shots when they are on away rotations. Best to do it now.

As for applying for residencies and what to consider for the match, there a couple things that you can learn from our experience. First, don't limit your residency application by location. We had hoped to stay west because both of our families live on the west coast. But when it comes to applications, you want to keep your options as open as possible; because it is more important that your student matches into a residency that will provide the training needed than where you live for three or four years. Travel may be expensive, if you are applying across country, but it's just something to take into account. Second, if your student is focusing his/her application on family medicine residencies, make sure it is clear in the application how committed your student is to the specialty, a priority rather than a back-up plan. Letters of recommendation should be from family physicians and essays should clearly communicate your students commitment. Competitive family medicine residencies want students who are committed to family medicine. We were probably not as clear as we should have been. Lastly, even though you hear that you shouldn't talk about ranking with residency programs, you can and should frequently mention it with favorite residencies. We didn't know that other students talked openly to their residencies about how the student ranked them ("Your program is ranked in my top five," etc.).

Fourth year is the worst, at least it was for us. Plan a vacation after your student's last rotation, before graduation, to celebrate your accomplishments!