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Hooked on a Feeling


As the Class of 2017 starts to get fully into “applying for residency” mode, I find that one of the most common questions I am getting from students and advisors alike is “What is the best resource to see which residency programs are ranked the highest?” Unfortunately, there really is no great answer for either question. But don’t lose hope, for there are still some answers to be had, they are just not what you have typically used throughout the rest of your life.

Up until this point, as you have applied for college and medical school and any other additional schooling you may have, you most likely looked at the various lists and resources out there that say which program is “the best”. As high performers and high achievers, most of us have gotten to this point in our careers by being prepared, making lists, doing the research ahead of time, and other such efforts. And while there is certainly research to do and preparations to be made, much of the information about residency can only be figured out by experiencing the place on interview day (or on an away rotation).

Back in my day, this was called the “When You Get There, You Know” theory. It was just as unsatisfying to me as a early medical student as I am sure that it is to all of you reading right now. THIS IS MY FUTURE! AND YOU WANT ME TO BASE IT ON A “FEELING” THAT I GET A FEW MONTHS FROM NOW!?!?!?!?!?!?

Yes… well…. sort of.

I still want you to be prepared, but the preparations you need to do now are different. You need to think about yourself. What is important to you? Where do you possibly see your future going? Fellowship? Academics? Private Practice? What other opportunities might be important to you? In the end, the training you get in a residency program is relatively similar across the board. For the most part, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education mostly ensures that all residency programs are meeting a certain standard of training. From a purely knowledge and competency standpoint, any residency program will be sufficient to make you a solid, competent physician in your chosen specialty. However, what makes the difference and what makes students feel like this residency program is the best for me are those extra things that are important to you. The perfect program for you may not be the perfect program for someone else. Maybe your favorite residency program has residents that are super competitive with each other, or super chill with each other. Maybe they have an exceptional Global Health or Public Health program. Maybe it is because the faculty seem friendly or extraordinarily willing to teach or they are demanding and will push you to be your very best. Maybe they are especially interested in community advocacy. If you are like me, maybe it is that they offer free lunch and free parking.

While some of these things you can look up on a website, so many of these things you cannot know until you actually get out there and meet with people on interview day. Walk around the hospital(s). See what the conferences are like. Certainly programs will be trying to put their best foot forward, but even then if you know what you are looking for and how to look, then you can see through the shiny veneer and find what you are looking for. But the key is being prepared and knowing ahead of time. So, whether you are a first year student or rapidly approaching graduation, take some time to think about who you are, what makes you successful and what characteristics you are looking for in a place that will lead you to thrive in residency. There is no list or website for that. 


The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Michael McKenna

Dr. McKenna is a graduate of IU School of Medicine, where he also completed a pediatric residency. He served as chief resident and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Associate Program Director for the pediatric residency p...

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