A Glimpse Behind the Scenes: What Really Goes on at a Residency Selection Committee

20 Jan 2019

By Sarah Armenia

On a crisp Boston morning during the AWS annual meeting this fall, sixty medical students gradually filed into a ballroom and chatted nervously as they sipped coffee and looked at the programs in front of them. I looked around for any familiar faces to ease the anxiety I felt just by the title alone: “Mock Residency Selection Committee.” I could tell I was not the only person bracing themselves for rocky subject matter in the audience, as the mood was significantly different from the jovial atmosphere of the AWS resident and medical student mixer the night before. But this sense of doom was instantly lifted as the panelists began introducing themselves, adding humor and levity to what could have otherwise been a grim session.

Dr. Abbey Fingeret (@DrFingeret) began by coaching us through the thought process behind a powerful personal statement. She emphasized it should not be a reiteration of your CV, but rather a starting point for your interview. She discussed the importance of creating our own brand, but quickly warned us that if we chose a theme that was too exotic, we would be remembered for the wrong reasons. Dr. Roy Phitayakorn (@RoyPhit) continued the session with a nuanced discussion of emotional intelligence in the context of compelling interviews. He reminded us how important it was to convey traits that would make an interviewer want to work alongside us for several years. On an even more practical note, he encouraged us all to practice speaking as much as possible. We all laughed as we realized that, throughout our medical school careers, there truly may have been days that went by without any conversation with others. He concluded with simple yet effective advice: “Just try to have a normal, human conversation about something.”  Dr. Dana Telem (@DanaTelem) then led a lively discussion on how the preceding advice could apply to us particularly as future women surgeons. She seamlessly circled back to concepts from the AWS conference the day before, emphasizing how important these skills would continue to be even beyond the residency interviews we were all so focused on.

The room quickly became quiet as we began the breakout session. Each table had been tasked with reviewing sample applications and forming a rank list as if we were a residency selection committee. A program director and resident were already seated at the table with us to guide each group’s discussion. We glanced at the first application timidly. Someone laughed nervously and remarked that they were already impressed and intimidated by the application in front of them. However, as we began to read through more applications, we began to see the patterns described to us countless times by our institutional mentors. Each and every application had components that popped out immediately as either highlights or red flags. No applicant was “perfect” – each had strengths and weaknesses, which accurately reflected the diversity seen by program directors each cycle. It was truly only at that moment that it finally sank in that committee members do not just discuss our board scores the entire time! At the end, we shared our rank lists with the other tables and had a discussion about our choices. It was amazing how different each group had ranked the sample applicants – just as different applicants would appeal to different programs throughout the cycle. At the conclusion of the session, we walked out with the necessary tools for tackling the application process and actual hands on experience discussing sample applicant characteristics with program directors. I would highly recommend this session to medical students preparing to enter what would have otherwise been an opaque and challenging match process.


Sarah Armenia is a third year medical student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School interested in pursuing a residency in plastic surgery. She recently completed a basic science research fellowship at Yale’s Department of Pediatric Surgery. She currently serves as the Resource Development Coordinator for the AWS National Medical Student Committee and is a member of the ACS Committee on Medical Student Education. In her free time she enjoys practicing Krav Maga and aerial silks.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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