Let’s go slow at first because it gets hectic very quickly once we start throwing around terms and you are trying to get letters of recommendation, write a personal statement, figure out what specialty (or specialties) you want to apply to, and craft a fourth year schedule that let’s you apply by September with everything in place. Here are a few basic terms that you will encounter during the process:

  • Program: Program is short-hand for the residency program of a particular specialty. Applying to a program means you are applying for a spot in the beginning year class of that program and that you intend to complete the residency and graduate from the program.
  • Program Director: This is typically an attending physician in the specialty you are applying who is in charge of the residency program for that specialty. A program will have a Program Director (known as a PD) and typically one or more Assistant Program Directors (APD) who assist the Program Director. You will definitely meet the PD if you interview at the program.
  • Program Coordinator: This is an administrative assistant who works to organize all the little details of the program. They deal with the nuts and bolts of the residency program such as reminding you about certification, paperwork deadlines, etc. The main way you interact with them is through scheduling interview, asking questions about interview day, and they are the gateway to the program director. Be nice to these people as they may not be directly interviewing you, but rude behavior, witnessed unprofessionalism, and anything you say can be relayed to the PD and torpedo any chance you have at getting into the program.

The most important part of the application process is making sure you are able to submit your ERAS application before ERAS sends applications out to programs. What is ERAS?


ERAS is an application service that combines information from various entities (you, your school, USMLE/COMLEX, etc.) and distributes the combined information (your application) to the residency programs that you indicate. It is a lot like the medical school application program you used whether AMCAS or TMDSAS.

You can technically submit your ERAS application at anytime from the moment it opens all the way through the interview season which runs from roughly October until January, however, it is common knowledge that YOU SHOULD UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES submit the application before ERAS transmits applications to programs. ERAS typically transmits data to programs in mid-September meaning that this is your deadline to get things uploaded and submitted.

What exactly do you need to submit your application?

  1. A decision about what specialty you want to go into:
    This can get complicated if you can’t decide or if you decide you need a “backup” specialty. For example, if you want to go into plastic surgery but you don’t feel you are a strong candidate you might decide to also apply to general surgery programs. This decision can be as simple or as complex as your want to make it. We make the assumption that you are applying to one specialty for the sake of information about the process of getting into residency.
  2. Your personal statement:
    On average, probably one of the more difficult and time-consuming tasks you will have during the application process. There are thousands if not millions of resources out there about personal statements. Just know that it is important and anything you mention in it is fair game for questions during the interview trail.
  3. Letters of recommendation:
    You usually need at least three and each specialty has their own little quirks about letters of recommendation. Some specialties want letters written by people in specific other specialties, while other specialties only want to hear from people within that specialty. You need to research the ins and outs about the letters of recommendation for the specialty you are applying to.

  4. Your fourth year course schedule: Chances are you haven’t had enough interaction with attendings to ask for all the letters of recommendation you need. Also, you may need to complete away rotations as either an official or unofficial prerequisite to applying to a specialty. You will need to arrange your fourth-year schedule to ensure you squeeze in the rotations that get you exposure and letters of recommendation to complete your application. Again, different specialties have different expectations but if you are applying for dermatology and haven’t done a dermatology rotation by the time you submit your application...we’ll leave that up to your imagine how that might look to a program.
  5. Inputting your past education and work history:
    Just like your medical school application, you will need to enter in details of your past education and work history. It is time consuming but required so just do it.
  6. Photograph:
    You are required to submit a photograph with your ERAS application. Some medical schools will hire a professional photograph and let you sign up for a time to have your photo taken. You might have to seek out a photographer on your own or you may decide to take some other route. We simply defer, as always, to your medical school’s recommendations about what you should do concerning this requirement.
  7. Selecting your programs:
    You will submit a list of programs through ERAS to accept your application for review and for consideration for interview/residency. You can apply to as many or as few as you want. Fees definitely apply so keep that in mind for your budget as September starts approaching. Programs can not see who else you applied to and you will have the option to assign specific letters of recommendation and personal statements to programs (more about that under the letters of recommendation and personal statement sections).

Beginning in early June, the ERAS system will open, and you will receive log on information from your medical school (it requires a special “token” to get access to the website). Once you have access, you can start entering information and uploading to your application.

Here are a few more pieces of information to be aware of concerning pieces of your application:

Now! On to the interview trail!

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