Applying to residency can be a long, challenging ordeal requiring huge dedication. For the majority of fourth-year medical students, applications are submitted through the Electronic Residency Service (ERAS).
The general process and components of an ERAS application have been written about extensively, including information from ERAS directly, through specialty-specific and professional organizations such as the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP), and by medical schools to provide guidance to their students.
Additionally, we have written about this topic many times here at the Thalamus blog including an overall view of the entire match process, a timeline of important application events, and a program director’s view on interacting with ERAS.
Exclusive tips for applicants
This blog is specifically focused on the important tips for applying through ERAS that no one tells you about. These are the proverbial “pearls of wisdom” that Team Thalamus has learned going through the process ourselves as applicants, managing the process as program leadership, and managing the interview scheduling process now at over 125+ academic medical centers. We have scheduled more than 1,000,000 interviews for over 100,000 applicants over the last half-decade. So please enjoy—we hope that these tips provide additional guidance for mastering the application process and making the experience that much better.
- Use a personal email address on the ERAS application
This may seem silly. Your medical school email address, of course, has worked just fine throughout medical school. We write this because there are several good reasons for using a personal email address.
- Personal email addresses (such as a gmail account), tend to be managed by very large technology companies that have substantial bandwidth and significant uptimes, and are therefore the most reliable.
- Notifications from personal email addresses are nearly immediate and often integrate closely with cell phones and other devices. Having an important message sent directly to a personal email address can mean it will arrive more expediently than those having to be forwarded from school email addresses.
- Institutional email addresses are subject to university and hospital IT guidelines and security policies. Given that such systems are also managing sensitive patient information and are required to be HIPAA compliant, university/hospital email addresses are subject to some of the most restrictive monitoring available. As such, many messages can be blocked without the recipient knowing. While 99.9% of Thalamus email messages are received regardless, many 3rd party emails throughout this process can be blocked inadvertently by IT systems.
- You always have access to a personal email address, so the messages you receive from your application process will always be available. University/hospital email addresses usually expire upon graduation or leaving the affiliated organization.
And perhaps this goes without saying, but MAKE SURE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS IS ACCURATE ON YOUR ERAS APPLICATION (seriously, double and triple-check this).
- Your application photo matters. Provide a good one!
Every ERAS application requires a photo. While there is a push towards blinding of these photos given the recent focus on holistic review, eventually your photo will be viewed by every program strongly considering you. There are institutions that do not look at photos in an effort to eliminate/reduce conscious or unconscious bias and discrimination in the application process. However, once you interview at this program they will know what you look like and use your photo to remember you as they evaluate you as a candidate and ultimately decide where to place you on their rank list.
We recommend the following photograph guidelines:
- Take a professional photo in professional dress.
- Ask family members and friends for feedback. REAL FEEDBACK.
- Ensure your photo looks like the current version of you that everyone will meet at interviews or otherwise.
- Double-check that your photo is uploaded in proper orientation to your ERAS application and other materials (i.e. not upside-down or sideways).
- Programs often use photos to set rank lists. Some programs make powerpoint slides, and others print out photos and post them to the wall.
- This photo will likely be used by the program that you match at in their “Matched Residents” composite they share throughout their program on Match Day.
Finally, we recommend uploading this same ERAS photo to your Thalamus account for the reasons listed above.
In any case, look your best and have a great interview season!
- Each component should add to the value and information of your overall application.
The ERAS application is detailed and thorough in structure. Medical school transcripts, MSPEs/Dean’s Letters, and USMLE/COMLEX transcripts assess your academic performance and testing capabilities. LORs will often speak about your clinical acumen, professionalism, and expected success as a physician/resident. Your personal statement outlines who you are and why you want to apply to a particular specialty.
As a result, each component should provide something novel to your application. So your personal statement shouldn’t be a rehashing of your CV, but rather a narrative that blends who you are as a person with why you will make a great resident and doctor in a certain specialty.
Similarly, when you list your hobbies, volunteering, and research activities within the ERAS application itself, ensure that you provide enough description to denote their meaningful effects on yourself and those around you. However, recognize that meaning can also be drawn out in the narrative of your personal statement. Your application will be reviewed by a very busy program director (other faculty, program coordinators and others), so please ensure that such experiences are written concisely and accurately (i.e. avoid unnecessary elaboration and hyperbole).
While the above tips likely won’t make or break your ERAS application, they may streamline it and alleviate some of the unnecessary burden and anxiety. This was the reason Thalamus was created, to make the residency interview scheduling process more streamlined. Check out how Thalamus works to make applying for residency easier on both med students and programs, and take into account our handy tips when it comes time to get your medical career started.