Ask the expert: What should program directors and coordinators look for when pre-screening candidate applications?

Residency Program Insider, September 15, 2009

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The interview season is in full-swing. Pre-screening applications to pick out the top candidates is a lengthy process, but it’s imperative that you be thorough to ensure you get the best candidates. Keep the following in mind when reading through candidate applications:

  • Account for all dates listed. If there is a break in chronology of work and education experience, look for the reason. Was the applicant studying for the USMLE? Was he or she working, and if so, where? Was the applicant on medical leave or involved with caring for a family member? These are typical reasons for a gap and are usually explained within the application materials. Look into any unexplained breaks.
  • The personal statement is the only part of the application that is candidate-driven.
  • How candidates express themselves will give you insight into their personality and their reasons for going into medicine, so do not skim over this document.
  • Look at what hobbies or extracurricular activities that applicants are interested in to get an idea of whether they work well in teams and have manual dexterity and problem-solving skills. For surgeons, manual dexterity is crucial. Any hobbies that require fine motor skills will lend themselves well to the potential residents’ ability to control surgical instruments and manage those instruments in small spaces. Additionally, most physicians work and interact with multiple caregivers. Hobbies or an interest in team sports shows the ability of the potential resident for working well with others.
  • Read letters of recommendation (LoR) and MSPEs closely, as they will give insight into any problems or issues the candidate had during medical school. Usually, issues with authority or communication skills can be gleaned from these documents. Some LoRs may give insight into an applicant’s ability to deal with adverse events or managing an intense workload. Some MSPEs may indicate reasons for leaves of absence or breaks in training. Pay attention to who the LoRs are from—there should be LoRs from the department chair and faculty from the clinical specialty to which the applicant is applying.
  • Do the application materials show that the individual has the characteristics and aptitude to become a physician in your clinical area? Identify characteristics you think physicians in your specialty should possess. Assess whether the applicant displays those same qualities.
  • The transcript should reflect appropriate ratings or grades for courses that affect the clinical specialty for which the applicant is a applying.
  • If the candidate is in the United States on a visa, consider the limitations of that visa and how it may affect factors such as start date, end date, fellowship opportunities, etc.

This week’s question and answer are from HCPro, Inc.’s The Complete Residency Program Management Guide, by Ruth H. Nawotniak, MS, C-TAGME.

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