Behind the Scenes: How I Read a Residency Application

Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

I thought it would be helpful to share my personal process for reading a residency application.  Evaluators will vary widely in what they are looking for, and this is especially true of residency applications.  Others go about the process very differently, but I think it would be helpful to give a deep insight into my process, so you can get some perspective.

First, the residency application is organized in this way: standard application information (entered when you apply through the VIRMP), letter of intent, CV, transcripts, letters of recommendation.

The interesting information in the standard application is the education and references.  For education, I want to know if they graduated from an AVMA-accredited school or not. While I check the class rank, I don’t put much stock in it.  I glance at the references to see if there is anyone I know. If so, I make a note to contact them about the applicant. Unless there is some remarkable red flag- like graduating 10 years ago from a non-accredited program, having no letters of recommendation from anesthesiologists, or having no letters of recommendation from their current employer, I don’t make many decisions from the standard application.

I use the letter of intent as one of the most important ways to categorize applicants.  If the letter is more than one page, I may still evaluate the candidate, but they are fighting a real uphill battle getting a positive review from me.  I will read it in detail, making note of any grammar or spelling mistakes or any odd word or sentence structure choices. Once I decide the person paid an appropriate level of attention to detail to their application, I will read it for content, mostly trying to determine if they are humble, willing to work hard, and get along with others.

After the letter, it is on to evaluating the CV.  Here I check their professional progress to make sure they have the requirements for ACVAA credentials- specifically a rotating internship, which many international applicants do not have.  I make sure they have a clear professional progression. I look to see if they have teaching experience or substantive research experience, since both of those are important for a resident at an academic institution.  I also see if there is leadership experience in vet school or elsewhere in life. I also make sure they have some extracurriculars and make note of those for potential interview discussion inspiration.

The transcripts I ignore unless they are from a non-U. S. institution.  Then I review them enough to understand them and make sure the person didn’t get a batch of Ds or Fs.

The letters of recommendation are most useful from people I don’t know personally.  If I know the recommenders personally, I will reach out to them via email or phone to discuss the applicant.  Mostly what I look for in the letter of recommendation is who the writer is and how they know the applicant and what they have to say vis-a-vis the applicant’s personality.  My theory is I can teach any halfway competent veterinarian but, if they have a difficult personality, I CAN’T change that during a residency.  I want someone who is teachable, engaged, pleasant, positive, enthusiastic, and humble.

At the end, I will usually go back and skim the whole thing to make sure I didn’t miss anything important.  We don’t have many applicants in anesthesia, so I don’t usually make a complicated spreadsheet- I can keep track of the details of all the applicants without it.  Then I sit down with the other faculty and go through each applicant and decide to place them into one of four buckets: do not rank, or rank in one of three strata: top, middle, and bottom.

That’s my entire method.  It works for me but, again, may not be how everyone does things.  Particularly for those in high-demand specialties, I suspect their process is very different.  Talk to your mentors to find out if they think there is something particularly important, and post in the comments with your thoughts and concerns.

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