Many medical students set their sights on becoming surgeons, drawn by the prospect of having such direct involvement in their patients’ lives, pioneering medical breakthroughs, and mastering complex surgeries. However, the path to a rewarding surgical career is both lengthy and challenging.
Joining a surgical residency, one of the most competitive in the field is no easy feat. It can leave you overwhelmed and uncertain about how to start and stand out. Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate this arduous journey alone!
There are experts that can guide you towards success, like Inspira’s residency consulting services, which will get you into your dream surgical residency, and me, a former chief resident at Cornell’s Weill Department of Medicine!
In this guide, I’ll share my unique insights into the surgical residency admission process to help pave your way to success!
Be at The Top of Your Class
When it comes to surgical residencies, your academic game needs to be strong. While being in the top 25% of your class is the minimum bar, I’d recommend aiming even higher—the top 10%. It’s no walk in the park, but it’ll certainly set you apart from other applicants.
A stellar GPA doesn’t just look good on paper; it could earn you a coveted spot in the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Honor Medical Society, one of the most impressive honors a medical student can have! Many schools automatically nominate students in the top 25% of their class for this honor.
Score High on the USMLE
Another way to demonstrate your preparedness for your residency is scoring high on Step 1 and Step 2 CK on the USMLE. I’d recommend a score of at least 240-250 on Step 1 and at least 250-260 on Step 2 CK to be considered competitive.
Build a Robust Research Portfolio
Another non-negotiable to have on your surgical residency application is published research experience. You can bet every successful surgical resident has significant research experience by their fourth year of medical school.
Your research should lead to first-author publications. Don’t settle for a mention in the abstract; these competitive residencies will simply demand more. It takes an exceptional individual to take a research project from start to publication, so prioritize completed, published research over multiple ongoing projects.
Gain Teaching Experience
While medical and research experience is crucial, students tend to overlook the teaching aspect of surgical residencies. You’re not just showing the residency admissions officers your skills in medicine and research; you’re demonstrating that you’re the full package.
Residents are expected to educate med students and junior residents. So, dig into courses or workshops focused on education. Gain hands-on experience as a mentor, teaching assistant, or health educator. It’s all about proving your genuine interest in education through your actions—not just your words!
Choose Your Away Rotations Wisely
Most medical schools will offer away or elective clinical rotations to help you explore specialties and network. Use these to your advantage. Try to complete your away rotation(s) at institutions with programs you’re interested in joining.
This is a way to get your foot in the door and be more than just a name on a paper. You’ll have the chance to network and make a lasting impression!
Go the Extra Mile
During your rotations, especially those tied to your dream surgical residency, give it your all. Show up early, stay late, and familiarize yourself with cases.
You can make your residents’ lives easier by volunteering for tedious tasks like note-taking and dressing changes. These responsibilities may not be glamorous, but they are essential to the smooth operation of a surgical team, and your effort won’t go unnoticed! It will earn you respect from your superiors.
Be involved, punctual, and engaged. You might be a medical student, but demonstrating your commitment and preparedness can go a long way. Building these connections is essential, especially when you’re aiming for strong recommendations (P.S. letters written by surgeons will have the most impact)!
By excelling in academics, research, teaching, and clinical rotations, you’ll position yourself as a highly competitive candidate for surgical residencies.
It’ll be a challenging and overwhelming path, but all of the work you put into your career as a med student will be worth the feeling of having a scalpel in your hand, knowing you get to save lives every day!
Rohan Jotwani is the Director of Admissions Counseling at Inspira Advantage. He is also the former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology at Weill Cornell and reviewed undergraduate and graduate applications at Columbia University.