10+ YEARS’ EXPERIENCE
With over 10 years’ experience in guiding candidates in applying for medical residency, and having critiqued and edited 1,000+ ERAS applications during that time, I have seen firsthand just how far the way in which you fill out your ERAS application goes in communicating to program directors the kind of resident you would be in their programs.
Are you thorough in your work? Do you take care of every detail? Are you efficient and compelling in your descriptions, making your information as easy and engaging to read as possible?
DEMONSTRATE YOUR CHARACTER
All these characteristics are ones you can demonstrate through how you fill out your ERAS application. It communicates how you will approach meeting, diagnosing and caring for the program’s patients, and working with the attendings, your fellow residents and others in the health care team.
In this article, I will cover the details residency applicants commonly overlook as well as answers to common questions that relate to the ERAS application.
After you’ve covered the basics discussed in this article, sign up for our ERAS Application Editing & Feedback service, which comes with two rounds of review, so we can provide you our expert advice tailored to your particular application.
STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WISELY
One of the first items residency programs will see is your email address. Have you gone for one hosted by a common domain like gmail.com, hotmail.com or yahoo.com? Does “dr” or “md” or something similar appear somewhere in the email address?
Consider Your Domain
If you are going to use a non-public domain (e.g., a work email address), ensure: (1) it is the email you check most regularly and easily; and (2) it will not expire before the match.
Even if you do have such an email address, consider switching to a public email domain like gmail.com, hotmail.com or yahoo.com. It comes across as more personable and approachable.
For international applicants, when considering which email domain to use, make sure to select one that will provide reliable communication with programs in the U.S. Certain domains, like hanmail.com and qq.com, often experience issues when communicating with correspondents in the U.S.
Do Not Use “Dr” or “MD”
Everyone applying for residency is a doctor; you don’t need to state that in your email address. Doing so can come across as insecure. To put it another way, you are not more of a doctor than the program director is.
If your email address includes “dr” or “md” or something similar, then get a new email address that doesn’t.
STEP 2: GET YOUR MAILING ADDRESSES RIGHT
When it comes to your present and permanent mailing addresses, the first question is: Are they, or at least one of them, in the U.S.?
Second, are they spelled, capitalized and punctuated correctly?
Do not skip over these details.
Use a U.S. Address
Make sure you have a present mailing address that is in the U.S., if not also a permanent mailing address in the U.S.
If you are an IMG or otherwise not in the U.S., then find a way to get here. Even if you are here for only a few months for observerships during interview season, having your feet on U.S. soil shows commitment to being here, and allows you to list a U.S. address as your present mailing address.
Making a more permanent move allows you the even greater advantage of having a U.S. permanent mailing address.
Spell, Capitalize and Punctuate Correctly
DLA Editors & Proofers
1700 post oak bvd
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DLA Editors & Proofers
1700 Post Oak Blvd
2 Blvd Place, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77056
STEP 3: CHECK YOUR PHONE NUMBERS
Use Only a Mobile Phone Number
Ensure you list your mobile phone number as both your Mobile # and Preferred Phone #. If you have more than one mobile number, choose only one and the one you will be sure to have with you and check frequently, and list it as both the Mobile # and Preferred Phone #.
You want to come across to program directors as fully available to them.
Do not list an Alternate Phone #, Pager # or Fax #. Those are remnants of a time before the existence of mobile phones.
Use a U.S. Phone Number
As with the recommendations to be in the U.S. to be able to provide at least a present mailing address in the U.S., come to the U.S. to ensure you can list a U.S. phone number as your Preferred Phone#.
If you are in the U.S. and don’t have a U.S. mobile phone number, get one.
Format U.S. Phone Numbers Properly
Make sure your phone numbers are formatted appropriately and in an easy-to-read manner. Use ###-###-#### for the format of U.S. phone numbers.
Do not use ######### (this is lazy and hard to read), ###.###.#### (this was a trend that became a cliche) or (###) ###-#### (this format is increasingly antiquated).
You do not want to come across as someone who is not thoughtful and professional in these details.
8774544957 or 877.454.4957 or (877) 454-4957
Make International Phone Numbers Easy to Read
If you have an international phone number, break it up into small even segments separated by spaces for readability.
And make sure, of course, to include the country code.
338774544957 or +33 8774544957
+33 874 544 957 or +33 87 45 44 95
STEP 4: WORK, VOLUNTEER & RESEARCH EXPERIENCES—THE HEADER
For each work, volunteer and research experience you list in your ERAS application, put as much information in the header for the experience as possible. The “header” means the organization, position, supervisor, country, state/province, city and average hours/week.
Completely fill out all fields for each experience, even if the fields are marked as optional.
Put as much contextual information as possible in each field, as appropriate, to remove the need to put it in the description.
For example, for the position, do not just put “Observer.” Put “Internal Medicine Observer” or “Observer, Internal Medicine,” or put “Dept. of Medicine, Jones Hospital” instead of simply “Jones Hospital” for the organization.
By doing this, you avoid having to state in the description information that can be communicated in the header (e.g., that it was a position in internal medicine). This will allow your description to get directly to the point.
Use a Consistent Format for Positions
If you choose one format for a position (e.g., “Internal Medicine Observer” instead of “Observer, Internal Medicine”), use that same format for all such positions.
For the experience locations, use City and State (two-letter abbreviation) (e.g., Chicago, IL) for organizations in the U.S. or City and Country (e.g., Cairo, Egypt) for organizations outside the U.S.
For the names of supervisors who are doctors, choose either “Dr. First Name Last Name” or “First Name Last Name, MD/DO” but not both (e.g., “Dr. First Name Last Name, MD”) or a mix (i.e., using “Dr. First Name Last Name” for on experience then “First Name Last Name, MD” for the next experience).
Provide the complete supervisor name (i.e., at least “First Name Last Name”) for all experiences except where you were your own supervisor. If you were your own supervisor, leave this blank.
Put average hours/week for all experiences except for one-off events (e.g., a health fair lasting just one weekend).
STEP 5: WORK, VOLUNTEER & RESEARCH EXPERIENCES—THE DESCRIPTION
Do Not Repeat Information
Do not repeat information in the description from the header.
Use Sentence Fragments
Each item of your description should start with a specific past participle or present tense verb. You are the implied subject of the verb; therefore, the subject should not be stated explicitly. It should not be a sentence.
Do not use weak or vague verbs (e.g., worked). Be as specific as possible about the actions you took or take in the experience.
Use Spacing, If You Want, Not Bullets
Most descriptions work best when run together in paragraph form. Longer descriptions (e.g., longer than 4 lines) are sometimes easier to read when broken into smaller paragraph blocks.
They are not easier to read as bullet points. If you are inclined to use bullet points, put the vertical space to break up the longer description and simply leave out the bullet (whether an actual bullet or a hyphen or similar) at the beginning of the item.
Focus on You
Keep the descriptions focused on what you did. If describing a research experience, for example, do not talk about what the project or lead investigator was doing as something separate from you. Instead, describe what you did within that project.
Start with what you did and state that it was in support of a project investigating whatever it was investigating.
Stick to the Facts
State what you did in the experience. Do not include ancillary commentary, for example, how much the experience inspired you to want to serve others. State what you did, and let the facts speak for themselves.
Be Specific and Tailor the Description
Be specific, concise and thorough, and tailor your descriptions toward the specialty/specialties you are applying for.
The exception to this is if you are applying to more than one specialty. In that case, make sure your descriptions work for all the specialties you’re applying for, as there is no option to create alternate descriptions.
STEP 6: WORK, VOLUNTEER & RESEARCH EXPERIENCES—GROUP SIMILAR EXPERIENCES
Group same experience across multiple separate dates together. For example, if you participated in the same annual health fair for multiple years, then list it as just one health fair experience with the multi-year date range and provide clarification in the description.
Similarly, if you were in the same organization but holding different positions over the years (e.g., treasurer, then vice president, then president of an organization), again, put these together in the same experience. Try listing all the positions, separated by commas, in the Position field.
In any case, provide clarification and a description of your role in each position in the description.
STEP 7: WORK, VOLUNTEER & RESEARCH EXPERIENCES—THE REASON FOR LEAVING
Unless the experience is current or ongoing, always provide a reason for leaving. If nothing else, put “Successfully completed ___.”
STEP 8: WORK, VOLUNTEER & RESEARCH EXPERIENCES—CLINICAL ROTATIONS
Candidates from medical schools providing a dean’s letter instead of an MSPE, or an incomplete MSPE, or candidates from Caribbean medical schools will want to put the rotations as work experience. The better option is to get your medical school to send a well-prepared MSPE.
STEP 9: WORK, VOLUNTEER & RESEARCH EXPERIENCES—OBSERVERSHIPS & EXTERNSHIPS vs. VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCES
Observerships and externships are work experience, not volunteer experience. It is a clinical experience and not a question of whether the position is a paid one.
A volunteer experience is easy to distinguish from observerships and externships, as it is one that you do to give something to someone, like building houses for Habitat for Humanity, serving at a food pantry or soup kitchen, or going on a medical mission.
STEP 10: HOBBIES & INTERESTS
Do not gloss over your hobbies and interests. This is a unique opportunity for you to stand out from the other candidates.
Think about hobbies and interests as potential conversation starters during an interview. Provide two or three that are unique to you, specific and well-developed.
For example, instead of “reading,” put “reading 19th-century Russian literature”; instead of “baking,” put “baking and decorating brownies for my friends’ birthdays.” Put whatever is true.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published April 11, 2018, and last updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness August 15, 2020.