Documenting Your Publications in ERAS: Avoid This Simple, But Serious, Mistake
Updated: 7 days ago
For medical students and international medical graduates applying for the residency match, success requires an outstanding application, submitted through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) system. A successful application requires excellence as well as extremely close attention to detail. The sections on research and publications in particular are looked at very closely by residency programs, and mistakes in this section can be fatal.
In this post, we're going to review a simple, but very serious, mistake that students sometimes make in their ERAS.
If you'd like to learn more about how to strengthen your ERAS application, please see this post.
How Important are Publications for ERAS?
The most competitive specialties and programs tend to place much more emphasis on an applicant's scholarly productivity. These highly competitive programs attract many applicants with high USMLE scores, outstanding clerkship grades, and strong letters of recommendation--far more than they can interview.
With so many highly qualified applicants to choose from, programs rely heavily on the number and quality of publications listed in the ERAS application to make difficult interview decisions.
The NRMP annually publishes data on how applicant qualifications affect match success. Included among this data are the percentage of U.S. seniors who participate in research projects and the percentage with publications. In highly competitive fields such as dermatology, orthopedic surgery, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, and radiation oncology, over 97% of U.S. seniors participate in research projects. Even in specialties that are not the most competitive, over 85% of U.S. seniors participate in research projects.
What Simple Mistake Could Cost Me My Application?
A misclassification of your publications section in ERAS can prove disastrous in the residency match.
In the past, programs were apt to take what was listed in the publication section at face value. However, with the growing body of evidence indicating that misrepresentation is occurring, sometimes at surprisingly high rates, applicants can expect that their applications will be under more scrutiny than ever before.
Over the past 15 years, there have been multiple studies examining the rate of publication misrepresentation among residency applicants applying to different specialties. These studies have consistently shown that misrepresentation does occur, with rates varying from 2 to 45%.
Some of this misrepresentation is purposeful: it's an attempt to make one's application more competitive. For example, consider these following examples of misrepresentation reported in the literature:
Applicants listing a publication on the ERAS application that doesn't exist.
Applicants listing their name as part of an author group when they weren't granted authorship.
Applicants incorrectly listing their name as first author.
What if I Unintentionally Misrepresent My Publications?
It's difficult to attribute the above examples to anything other than intellectual dishonesty. However, other examples of publication misrepresentation aren’t so clear-cut.
Is it possible for an applicant to incorrectly list an article as "peer-reviewed" just because of carelessness or lack of attention to detail? It sure is. I’ve seen this happen with some of my own students who have shared their applications with me for review prior to submission.
"Applicants who have not had sufficient scholarly writing experience may not completely understand the language of scholarly publication, including the publication terms expressing a manuscript’s status in the peer review process," writes J. Michael Homan, Director of Libraries at Mayo Clinic. "For inexperienced writers, terms in the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) system like 'in press' and 'accepted' may mean approximately the same thing."
Whether it's willful or unintentional, the end result of misrepresentation will be the same if you’re caught - removal of your application from further consideration.
"We have enough good applicants that we do not have to take a risk of having a potentially dishonest resident, which is perhaps the most dreaded mistake we can make in our selection process," writes Dr. Roberto Heros, former Chairman and Residency Program Director of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Miami.
Programs simply don't have the time nor the means to determine with certainty whether applicants' actions were due to naivete, carelessness, or deception.
How do I avoid misrepresentation in the publications section of ERAS?
If an article has been published, it’s pretty straightforward. The official citation should take the form of a standard citation format. If available, you should include the Pub Med identifier (PMID).
How do I avoid misrepresentation if my article has not been published yet?
Here’s where it can get complicated.
ERAS offers these options: submitted, provisionally accepted, accepted, and in press. It’s really important to follow these categories carefully.
Submitted: your article has been officially submitted to the journal.
Provisionally accepted: this is not a great category, because it's somewhat subjective. Some journals will respond to your submission by saying that it is "provisionally accepted, pending revisions." Others will suggest minor or major revisions without using the actual words. My rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution: if the journal has not used the actual words "provisionally accepted", I don’t recommend that you do so. If you’re not sure, seek more information from your advisor.
Accepted: The journal has informed you that your article has been accepted.
In press: Sometimes this can be tricky. In general, if you've received a pre-publication proof of your article, then the article can be considered in press. Again, confirm with your advisor.
A few other areas of caution:
Authorship: many journals now have authorship forms that require you to sign off that you participated in a material way in the authorship of this paper. If you did not, then you are not considered an author.
Acknowledged versus authored: Some research groups will acknowledge the contributions of students, but will not include them as an author. In this case, you cannot claim authorship
The Bottom Line
Errors in the publication section of the ERAS application are easy to make. However, even the most innocent mistake can call into question your professionalism and ethics and may potentially jeopardize your chance of matching with a coveted program.
Take steps to avoid any issues:
Be careful how you cite and categorize publications
Double (and even triple) check your publication section for accuracy
Ask your mentor or advisor to verify your application
Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of The Residency Interview 101, the online course that helps applicants quickly and confidently prepare for their residency interviews. She is also the co-author of The Successful Match: Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match and served as Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of 20 books, including The Successful Match and The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine. He has been a faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 20 years and has won numerous teaching awards.