While in medical school, I sought out advice from the wives of doctor's that had successfully made it into competitive residencies.* I sought advice as a way to be supportive, but I also think I sought advice because, I am a control freak, and I needed to be involved in the process of applying to residency, in order to deal with the whole lack of control of the process, (but that's a whole other post)!
I am so grateful for the advice of these women, that I would like to pass it on to other medical spouses in hopes that it will lead to a successful match* for some of you.
For anyone applying to a competitive specialty or to a specialty which their medical school does not have a residency program, away rotations* are crucial. There is no way to minimize how beneficial they can be. Both Mr. Dawkter and I agree that he would not have matched if it were not for his away rotations.
Away rotations are crucial for several reasons including:
- They open doors because they essentially try-outs or an extended interview. You have days/weeks to prove yourself as opposed to a 24-48 hour interview visit.
- They are an opportunity to get great letters of recommendation from programs that are not your medical school (and therefore may be interpreted as more genuine because the doctor's have no motive to say great things unless you have done great things).
- They allow you to prove yourself as a contender in your specialty. (For example if you come from a program that does not have orthopedic surgery - you can show that can handle the demanding schedule of such an intense specialty.) Bottom line - programs want to know you can "cut it."
And of course away rotations are valuable because they allow you to learn a lot about a program - more than you could learn about them in a 24-48 interview visit. Mr. D is a perfect example of this - he had his heart set on a program, he glorified that program. After a 4 week rotation there, the husband realized that maybe that program wasn't going to be ranked #1 after all...Anyways, on to my advice regarding away rotations:
For the medical spouse:
- Buy/pack lots of cliff bars or high calorie energy bars and snacks that the medical student can munch on in the stairway, elevator or in the bathroom (there will be many times when he or she will not have time to eat a meal).
- Buy/pack non-perishable meals for them to make quickly whenever they do get home for dinner (like canned ravioli, healthy choice pastas or easy mac).
- Don't go visit the medical student on their away rotation. I say this because if you do they will be torn between spending time in the hospital and spending time with you. If they have any time off, you'll want them sleeping.
- Don't expect phone calls, don't be disappointed when you don't get to talk to them on their away rotations. They should not be seen on the phone while working and they may just be too exhausted to talk at length when they are done fore the day. Most of our conversations were "I just got done, can I call you after I eat... I just finished eating can I call you after I shower.... I'm exhausted do you mind if I go to bed?"
- Send encouraging texts, notes, letters.
- Plan to see each other between away rotations.
- Know that this is only temporary, you will both get through it. It will only make you stronger individuals and a stronger couple.
- Keep yourself busy, take a class, try a new hobby, plan to visit friends - keep yourself distracted!
- Don't freak out if they go a little crazy from sleep deprivation... hopefully they will adjust and it will only last a few days
For the medical student:
- Have the mindset that this specialty is your priority (nothing else) and act consistently with that attitude.
- Never sit, rest, eat, relax, anything when your resident or superior is not sitting, resting, etc.
- Never ask to leave for the day; do not leave until they tell you to leave.
- Don't eat unless your resident is eating.
- Carry cliff bars, energy bars or other snacks in your pockets to snack on when you have a moment: don't expect to get a "lunch" everyday.
- Don't make phone calls while in the hospital; text when you have a second and no one is around (stairwells, bathroom, cafeteria).
- Always ask what you can be doing.
- Try to be helpful rather than getting in the way.
- If you are exhausted, try not to show it, always be willing to help or stay longer.
- Remember that this is not forever - this is just a "try out" in which you will need to make the best possible impression.
- If you start questioning your specialty or something else unusual, don't freak out, you may just be sleep deprived. If this does happen DO NOT indicate this to anyone at the hospital - they should not think you have any doubts. If you do have doubts resolve them later, but do not address them during the away rotation because it may just be sleep deprivation.
- Thank your medical spouse for being so supportive.
Please note that this is just my advice, take what you find useful and disregard the rest.
*Residency is the training a doctor must go through after medical school in order to become an internist, a surgeon, a pathologist, or whatever it is that they desire to be/practice.
*Match is the term used for describing how a medical student is "matched" to their residency program. For an explanation of how match works, click here.
*Away rotations are clinical rotations in a certain area of medicine that are performed at a hospital or academic institution other than where the medical student goes to school.