Residency/Faculty Positions: Do Grades Matter?

Nope.  I can say that with 100% certainty for faculty positions.  You don’t submit your transcript for a faculty position in veterinary medicine.  By that point, grades you made in vet school are utterly irrelevant.  For residencies, it’s generally still true, but people still worry about it, so let’s dive in.

I’ve taught veterinary medicine for 16 years as a faculty member, and students have always worried about grades.  Why?  Once you’re in vet school, you’re done.  Just learn the information so you can be a good vet.  Unfortunately, our entire educational system UP TO vet school says that grades matter and they indicate your competence.  Any educator worth their salt knows this isn’t exactly true.  I remember a student who was #1 in their class get to clinics and my intern said of them, “How can they be so smart and so dumb at the same time?”  Just because you can pass an exam does NOT mean you will be a good veterinarian!

So students are conditioned to care about grades.  Some of them say they care about grades because of internship and residency prospects.  Yes, I do think grades matter a little bit for internships.  But not nearly as much as your letters of reference.  Which do you think is better: antagonizing a faculty member to get an “A” in a single class OR getting a good letter of recommendation from that faculty member?  As someone who evaluates candidates, the answer is: the latter.

So do grades matter for residencies?  Not really.  A soon-to-be-published study indicated the order of importance for those evaluating candidates as “[letter of reference] (4.61/5), interview (4.20/5), CV (3.86/5), [cover letter] (3.49/5), GPA (3.06/5), class rank (2.67/5) and specialty grades (2.67/5).”  So yes grades are on that list.  But they are at the bottom of the list.  

In that study, the vast majority of respondents (90%) indicated that they do not use class rank to create a firm cutoff to evaluate applicants.  Several comments were made that grade inflation is a problem and that grades and class rank are poor indicators of clinical performance.  The authors’ conclusion is “ranking data do not remarkably or reliably contribute to applicant stratification and therefore the selection process.”

So just stop worrying about grades.  Yes, do your best, but don’t stress about them.  You know what you should be stressing about?  Showing up.  Working hard.  Getting along well with people.  Being an RFHB.  All the things in the How to Be Successful series.  THAT is how you get a residency, not by being #1 in your class!

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