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Steps for Success for Second-Year Medical Students

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Step 1: Understand Criteria Important to Residency Program Directors

With one year of medical school completed, it's important that you review the criteria that residency programs use to select residents. Medical students who are well informed can make appropriate decisions that will maximize their chances of success in the residency match. 


The NRMP [National Resident Matching Program] publishes data on matching outcomes every 2 years. This resource is known as "Charting Outcomes in the Match", and it's an extremely valuable data set. For each specialty, the NRMP includes remarkably specific data points, such as how many applicants with a USMLE score below 220 were able to match into orthopedic surgery in the 2018 cycle. 

After reviewing these documents, you'll have a better idea of where you stand. Compare your achievement inside and outside of the classroom with those who have matched before you. After identifying areas of weakness, you can take steps to turn these into strengths. 

The NRMP also surveys program directors (PDs) in every specialty. The PDs report on the factors that are most important to them in deciding whom to interview and whom to rank.

Step 2: Continue to Develop your Residency Match Strategy

When we speak with preclinical students, one of the questions we're asked most frequently relates to residency planning. "I'm an MS2, and I'm interested in otolaryngology. How can I learn more about the field and meet potential mentors? And how can I start to strengthen my credentials? I'm still in the basic sciences, and I have yet to meet a single otolaryngology faculty member." 


We were asked this question often enough that we created an E-book on this topic. Many students with whom we've worked have instituted the recommendations in this book. In doing so, they've been able to significantly strengthen their residency application. In dermatology, for example, these students have a notable advantage over classmates who may be scrambling to locate mentors, identify research projects, complete research projects, and work on publications---all during a very busy span of a few MS3 months. 


Register below to receive a free copy of "Head Start: Exploring Specialties and Establishing Credentials as a Pre-Clinical Student." 

Step 3: Continue to explore Specialties Options

We hope that you had a chance to explore specialties during your first year of medical school. If not, don't worry. You'll have plenty of opportunities to do so as a second-year medical student. From shadowing to specialty interest groups, your medical school will have a wide range of opportunities. 


To help you make an informed specialty choice decision, we're constantly reviewing the literature on future directions in medicine, especially as these relate to particular specialties. What is the future jobs outlook for radiology? What are some of the changes in store for the field of anesthesiology? If you're planning to enter a particular field, these articles make for fascinating, thought-provoking reading. 

Step 4: Review your Academic Performance periodically, and make Adjustments to your Study Habits as needed

Before you start the second year of medical school, reflect upon your experiences during the first year. Did you perform at the level you had hoped to during your basic science courses? Continue to assess your performance as you progress through the second year. 


Do you feel that your study habits and learning strategies will position you well to achieve the score you wish on the USMLE Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1 exam?

Substantial research indicates that it's not enough to study longer and harder to succeed. While a strong work ethic is important for success, the highest-performing students effectively strategize and utilize the techniques of active learning.


If your strategies are not serving you well, now's the time to seek assistance. You can elevate your performance as long as you are open to new strategies and techniques. Your medical school will have resources to help you, and we recommend that you investigate these further. 

Step 5: Find a Mentor

There is evidence to indicate that students who have dedicated mentors fare better in the residency match. Unfortunately, many students lack mentors. Those that do sometimes report not meeting with their mentors. Even when meetings take place, we hear from many students that they occur infrequently. 


Succeeding in medical school, and succeeding in the residency match itself, requires the assistance of dedicated mentors. At this stage of your career, informed guidance and advice becomes incredibly important. 


Mentors can steer you in the right direction, inform you when you have strayed from the correct path, ensure that appropriate actions are taken, and prevent harm from inaction.  

Step 6: Make a name for yourself outside of the classroom

As in college, the learning environment in medical school extends beyond the classroom, and institutions offer valuable opportunities to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. Involvement in these organizations provide a number of opportunities and benefits. 


Involvement may also help students reach their professional goals. Data from NRMP surveys of program directors indicate that extracurricular activities do serve as a significant nonacademic factor in the residency selection progress. 


Evidence suggests that meaningful contributions in extracurricular activities, particularly leadership may serve as an indicator of residency performance. 


Plus getting involved in other pursuits can be fun and rewarding, offering you an opportunity to lead a more balanced life during medical school.


If that doesn't convince you to get involved, there's also evidence to indicate that excelling in some way outside of the classroom (e.g., research, teaching, community service) can help applicants overcome low USMLE or COMLEX scores in the residency selection process.

Step 7: Win Scholarships and Awards

There is a belief among students that only academic superstars win scholarships and awards during medical school. While some awards favor high academic achievers, there are a surprising number of awards based purely on nonacademic criteria.


Are you an aspiring neurologist who has a love for poetry? Are you known for your ability to make compelling videos? Do you seek a fellowship that will provide an immersive experience at a center dedicated for the treatment of alcohol addiction? Would you like a stipend to pay for your overseas clinical elective?


Winning scholarships and awards can provide a major boost to your residency application, and set you apart from your peers. Awards can be placed in the application, MSPE (Dean's Letter), letters of recommendation, and CV. We have found that interviewers often ask about awards during residency interviews.

Step 8: Take action to Bolster your Credentials 

As you begin to narrow your specialty choice, it will be time to take additional action. And that involves a series of steps to bolster your credentials and strengthen your application. 


Our specialty-specific action items walk you through the process. These recommendations are applicable to both preclinical and clinical students. 

Step 9: Mantain a Balance in Your Life

Stress is common among medical students. In a survey of medical students at 16 U.S. medical schools, nearly 70% reported experiencing either "moderate" or "a lot" of stress in the last twelve months.


Increased stress in medical school can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and burnout. Think about your current coping strategies and reserve. Are they serving you well? If not, take the time and make the effort to establish new, more effective strategies. 


You'll hear about the importance of exercise, good sleep habits, and nutrition. You'll be reminded to maintain and nurture your relationships with friends and family. This is all excellent advice, and you must adhere to it for your emotional well-being. It sounds simple enough but plenty of evidence indicates that the demands of medical school make it difficult for students to follow these recommendations. 


If you tend to your psychological health, you'll be in better position to make good decisions in medical school, decisions which will maximize your chances of success in the residency match. This is especially important for second-year students as many students find this year to be more challenging than the first year, especially with the USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX Level 1 exams looming.

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