Matching into a Competitive Residency: Develop a Relation with a Faculty Advocate
Updated: Jul 7
In this post, I’ll be reviewing our second strategy for matching into a competitive residency. This is the third post in our 4-part blog series. Feel free to jump to the strategy that interests you the most:
This strategy has really been critical for several of the applicants with whom I've worked. Some are not as strong traditionally, in terms of grades and scores. Rather, they have had significant help on their path to a successful match, via a close relationship with a faculty member who has been willing to go out and advocate on their behalf.
What is a Faculty Advocate?
This is a concept that's been talked about a lot in the business world.
You may have advisors or mentors who are great about giving you really important advice and recommendations.
Beyond that, some of your advisors may become advocates.
In this case, they've gotten to know you so well that they're not just giving you advice. They're actually advocating on your behalf to decision makers.
For example, I was on the residency selection committee for dermatology for a long time. Over the years, I received a number of emails from faculty members at other programs. These were faculty members whom I had gotten to know because of my specialty and my work in national organizations, and I had developed relationships with a number of faculty members across the country.
Some of those colleagues would email me to ask if my program would consider taking a second look at a particular applicant who they knew very well.
In many cases, because of these strong advocating emails, our program would indeed take a second look at these applicants.
Essentially, these applicants were getting such a strong recommendation from a faculty member whom we knew and trusted, that we considered it worthwhile to go ahead and take a second look at that application.
This Strategy Requires In-Depth Knowledge of an Applicant’s Qualities and Strengths by the Faculty Member
Obviously, this strategy only works if the faculty advocate knows you very well. In most cases, this is because they've worked with you not only in a clinical context, but also on research papers and publications.
In some cases, these advocates are reaching out because the student has worked with them for a year as a research fellow, so they have very in-depth, personal knowledge of that applicant’s qualities, attributes, and strengths.
On the flip side, this strategy doesn't work if you've just done a few case reports with a faculty member.
However, if you've spent a year working with a faculty member, and that faculty advocate now sends out emails talking about your great qualities, it sometimes means that a program is willing to take a second look at your application.
This Strategy Require Significant Advance Preparation and Lead Time
Obviously, this is a strategy that needs a lot of advance preparation.
I would start by speaking to current and former medical students.
I would also speak with residents in your target specialty.
For instance, if I were interested in going into dermatology as a third-year medical student, I would start by speaking to the upperclassmen and the dermatology residents.
What would I ask? I would ask if these students or residents had any recommendations on faculty members who:
1) have research projects available AND
2) are known to be advocates for their students.
I have found that at every medical school and every program, there are certain faculty members who are known to work closely with medical students and who are known to be great advocates.
That’s why it’s so important to start by asking your contacts. Then, once you’ve identified faculty members who are known as strong student advocates, you can try to find opportunities to work with them.
How can you start developing a relationship with a potential mentor or faculty advocate?
In general, working on a research project with a faculty member is one of the best ways to get to know them on a deeper basis. That kind of working relationship gives them a lot of “evidence” as to your clinical excellence, personal qualities, and strengths.
That's the kind of evidence that they use, in the form of examples or anecdotes, when they're writing your letter of recommendation. As someone on the other side of (literally) hundreds of outstanding residency applications, it’s those types of statements and supporting examples that can make the difference between an interview invitation vs silence.
If you’d like to read further in this blog post series, please see our other posts:
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Successful Match: Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match and is co-founder of MD2B Connect, the most trusted and highest-rated provider of hands-on clinical experiences for IMGs in the U.S.
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.