What I Learned Reading Intern Applications This Year

I have served on intern selection committees for more years than I care to count.  Although there are a lot of similarities year-to-year, there are also some interesting differences.  This is my first year reviewing intern applicants at my current institution, and there is always some variability in applicants from program to program.  Below are some observations I have for readers regarding some things I noticed evaluating intern applications.

Types of letters

One applicant had letters of reference (LOR) from two dermatologists, one radiologist, and one oncologist.  This flies in the face of my advice, and I definitely noticed that they didn’t have an LOR from a ‘core’ discipline specialist.  Maybe their medical skills are weak?  Maybe they didn’t work very hard?  Maybe they didn’t structure their senior year optimally?  Maybe they didn’t realize the importance of a LOR from a core specialist?  Regardless, I took note and marked a possible warning flag for the application.

One applicant had no LOR from their own faculty.  They had LOR from faculty at other institutions, a resident at their institution, and a clinician they had worked with for a short amount of time (<2 weeks).  This is absolutely a red flag for me and suggests this person may be difficult to work with.

What LOR say

I tended to skim the LOR numeric scores just for low scores.  The difference between a top 10% and a top 1% I consider meaningless because of grade inflation.  If an applicant has a score in the bottom 50%, I pause and take note of that.  It doesn’t remove them from consideration, but it definitely makes me wonder if they would be a good fit, particularly when we have so many amazing applicants.

The length of the text in the LOR free form sections I also found meaningful.  Numerous letters had one or two sentences describing the applicant.  Maybe the applicant was wonderful, but it was difficult to believe that without much description.  Relying on the numbers, again, is not my preference.  LOR writers who took the time to describe the applicant provided much stronger letters and increased the likelihood I would rank the applicant highly.

There is a section in the LOR which asks the writer to describe weaknesses of the applicant.  There are some weaknesses which I expect (leadership, teaching, maybe even medical knowledge) and don’t worry too much about.  Other weaknesses I consider to be more problematic (communication, work effort, collegiality).  If someone has communication difficulties, I probably didn’t rank them or ranked them very low.  There are plenty of good applicants who are good at communication.  I would rather take an intern who wasn’t as good with medical knowledge but worked hard and communicated well than a brilliant intern who had difficulty communicating with clients or supervisors.

Letter of intent

I was surprised that a strong opening caught my interest and made me really focus on reading every line of the letter in more detail.  I don’t usually go in for ‘gimmicky’ letters, but I liked some openings quite a lot.  Some examples: “As the next step in my career path, I am seeking a small animal rotating internship,” and “My name is X, and I am applying for a position as a small animal rotating intern.  I bring three major strengths to your veterinary medical team.”

The vast majority of letters were either average or good.  There were only a handful of poor letters, and most of those were due to English language barriers.  The average letters are pretty typical and expected.  They describe what they’re looking for, explain themselves as a candidate, and describe their experiences.  They’re fine.  They just don’t grab my attention or stand out.  The good letters tend to be more evocative, provide examples of experiences that developed their skills, attitudes, or knowledge, and tend to be more expressive and use excellent grammar without using thesaurus words.  It’s a difficult difference to elaborate, so have a look at the good and poor example posts I have posted before.

Curriculum vitae

I found it very difficult for an applicant to stand out on the basis of the CV.  I rarely made notes about the CV for good or ill for an applicant.  The most meaningful things I noted on CVs were officer leadership positions (e.g. president of a club) and different experiences (e.g. being on a collegiate sports team, externships overseas).  Some applicants also had numerous certifications on their CV, which I felt reflected their dedication to education (VBMA, acupuncture, physical therapy, etc.).

Not surprisingly, I applied a lot of the principles I have used before when evaluating intern applicants this year.  I had a handful of interesting reflections (such as the difficulty of having a noteworthy CV).  I hope this reflection is helpful for those applying for internships in the future!

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