Thursday, October 21, 2010

Advice from the Doctor's Wife: Saving Money in Applying to Residency

Applying to residency is just another necessary cost or expense associated with becoming a doctor. People spend anywhere between a thousand dollars and $15,000 or more. We were rather fortunate and were able to spend a little over $5,000 in our application process.

I thought I'd put together a post on ways to save a little money in the process.

The most important thing I can say is that although applying is expensive, it's not something to skimp on. You can cut costs on hotels, flights etc., but I strongly recommend you do not try and save money by applying to less programs, or by taking less interviews. (Keep in mind that I say this because I am the spouse of an applicant who was applying to a competitive specialty where not matching was a risk/possibility).

The amount of programs you need to apply to or the number of interviews you need to take is all based on:
  1. What specialty you are applying to (how many programs and spots there are, and how competitive it is) and
  2. How competitive you are as an applicant.

For example we applied to a fairly competitive specialty that only had about 100 programs, and about 200 spots in country. We applied to 42 programs (that's nearly half), received 26 interview invites and took 16 interviews. Whereas an ortho applicant may apply to 65+ programs, and an Internal Medicine applicant may only apply to 10 programs. Whatever your specialty is and however qualified you feel, make sure you apply to enough programs. Even though it might be more expensive to apply to more rather than less programs, make sure you apply to enough programs, whatever that may be for YOU.

The reason I say this is because although it's expensive to apply to more programs or interview at more programs; matching is priceless. To put it in perspective, there is no amount of money that would have been worth saving if Mr. Dawkter would not have matched. Waiting another year, or choosing another specialty would not have been worth any amount of money saved. (Not matching is not the end of the world, but it's not something you want to endure because you were trying to save an extra thousand dollars, especially considering the expense you've already invested in medical school).

So my advice is to spend as much as you need to apply to as many programs and take as many interviews as are necessary for you or your spouse in that specialty.

Here are some ways you can cut costs that won't come at the expense of not matching:

  • Apply to programs within driving distance (driving is MUCH cheaper than flying and can provide flexibility to minimize the number of nights at a hotel)
  • Apply to programs where you have friends and family located and ask to stay with them rather than at a hotel
  • Find out what programs pay for your hotel (In the 26 interview offers that Mr. D got, only 2 paid for a hotel, but we took those. In some specialties most programs will pay for hotels; in other specialties it just doesn't happen)
  • See if your medical school has a program that allows you to contact alumni and stay with them (you can also call the program you are interviewing at and see if there are any residents/medical students you can stay with)
  • Call the home program and see if they have any hotels that offer discounts for applicants
  • Consider staying at smaller chains like La Quinta Inn (they are often cheaper than say the Marriott or Holiday Inn but still very nice)
  • Consider staying at Motels
  • Join Student Universe - they verify your school enrollment and it gives you a discount on travel
  • Join the hotel rewards programs
  • Join airlines frequent flier programs
  • Join AAA - it comes in handy if you have a flat tire or need a tow-truck, and most hotels offer a 5-15% discount for members
  • Consider applying for an American Express Gold Card - it's free for the first year, and provides 5% cash back for all travel (although you may not be able to carry a balance)
  • Don't forget to check out smaller airlines like Southwest that might not show up on travel websites like kayak, orbitz, or expedia
  • Pack snacks to minimize food expenses
  • Try and coordinate interviews in the same cities/states to save costs if it is an option (some specialties or programs allow you to pick from several interview dates, by coordinating interviews you can minimize your hotel costs and flights)
  • Consider flying from one interview to the next rather than flying home in-between
  • Ask family and friends if they are willing to give you their frequent flier miles or hotel reward points

If you don't have the money, consider taking out a Residency Interview or Residency Relocation Loan (either through your school or private banks - I am told that the major banks like Wells Fargo and Citi have them).

For a little more detail on how we saved money by using some of these tricks click here to see a post on my old blog. (Question #2).

Please feel free to add your own advice in the comments below. And as always, take what you find useful, and disregard the rest!


  1. Great post - the only other tip I would say is to allow the med student to be the one to travel. I had grand dreams of going with Rob on his interviews, so far I haven't gone on one and probably won't given the cost of flights lately. It seems obvious, but it's an easy way to save - I figured if Rob loves the program enough and I've already let him apply there (since I did weed out places I refused 100% to move), then I can move there site unseen :)

  2. Thanks for the great advice!

  3. Great advice! I get chills just thinking about it, but it is only a year away!!

  4. Excellent post! And I really like your big caveat that money should not be a reason NOT to accept an interview.

  5. Thanks for all the tips! We have already started to cancel some of ours... scary!

  6. Thanks for sharing all of this. It was very nice to read through and had some things I hadn't thought of. Like Desiree, we're only a year away from this and I just keep thinking it'll be here before we know it! Definitely expensive, but very exciting.

  7. Thanks for this informative post! Definitely will be looking back on this in the next year!


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