In part 1 of Matching Into Ophthalmology we covered the credentials and scores that you need to get into an ophthalmology residency. What follows is anecdotal information/advice. But having gone through the application and match process, I think it holds merit because there were some definite patterns I saw.
Confession. I didn’t have any research experience. Actually, I guess I kind of did. But it was not related to ophthalmology. And it didn’t result in any publications. Would I have liked more research on my CV? Of course! Did not having research hurt me? Nope. I matched very high on my rank list. I know other applicants who had little to no ophthalmology research and they did fine. You just need to be able to communicate that you are interested in research (another discussion on its own, stay tuned). Bottom line, I would not stress if you don’t have research. There are other components that are probably much more important.
Letters of Recommendation
Now this can be a bad game changer. Having bad letters is a major red flag. Good letters do help, but not as much as bad letters hurt. I will say that I had multiple people comment positively about my letters, but I honestly don’t think it had a significant impact on my match outcome.
These are mostly good if you are interested in a residency at said away-program. The other benefit is it shows your enthusiasm for the field of ophthalmology. Keep in mind that scheduling can be a complete pain in the neck. I ended up doing two different 4-week aways, and I don’t think they measurably impacted my outcome. Indirectly, they helped a little more than normal because two of my letters came from one of my aways.
This might be the most important factor for residency selection and matching. Once you’ve been given an interview, programs just want to know what kind of a person you are. It’s hard to be yourself when you’re wearing a suit, you flew 10 hours with 2 layovers the day before, and you have had fast food for 50% of your meals over the past few weeks. But rule number 1 is don’t try to be someone you’re not! If you’re super talkative, great! If you’re not, don’t worry! It’s much easier to be yourself than to try and be someone else. And while you may worry that your personality isn’t as likeable as that of someone else, there are faculty and practicing ophthalmologists that probably are very similar to you.
Well, now what?
As you read the above, you may feel calmer. Or, you may be a little anxious. If you’re like most medical students, you’re anxious no matter how amazing you are. We tend to focus on our weaknesses and compare them to others’ strengths.
But remember that there is a range. Take Step 1. The average for all matched applicants was 243. I guarantee that some programs have a higher average. But that means that some programs have a lower average as well. Some programs really value research, others may not.
If you are still nervous, talk to your advisors. Talk to classmates. Talk to ophthalmology residents. Let them know what your situation is and ask for advice. Then, focus on the things you can change. If you’ve already taken board exams, you can’t change that. But maybe you can do a 1-month research elective. If you’re worried about your interview performance, look up tips for doing better.
And there are always stories of people who beat the odds and match despite not “fitting the mold” of the perfect ophthalmology candidate. In fact, if you know of any such stories, please post them below! It’s always nice to have some success stories to balance out the medical student neuroses we all suffer from.
And if you have any advice or thoughts, post them below!
Trevor Rosenlof is Firecracker’s Director of content. He’s also a graduate of Tulane Medical School, heading off to start his Transitional Year residency in Knoxville, followed by ophthalmology in Columbia, Missouri.