Radiology Residency And The SOAP Match
It’s the middle of March and and every 10 minutes you are checking your email to see if you have matched in one of the most competitive specialties out there, maybe it was dermatology or radiation oncology. You can’t eat or drink. Your mouth is dry. Suddenly, you get the dreaded email- “You have not matched for the ‘blank’ specialty in the regular match.” All these years of work and what do I have to show for it? A wave of depression sets in. You want to stick your head in the sand.
Unfortunately, every year this scenario plays out. Each year the dynamics of matching in competitive specialties becomes harder and harder due to increasing numbers of medical schools/American MD graduates and stagnant American residency positions.(1) Not everyone gets their first choice of specialty during the standard NRMP initial match. Since this time of the year is about to arrive, I thought it was important to give you some guidelines/tips about how to approach the issue if you are one of these residents.
Wash That Fit of Depression Away
It is really important that you get into game mode. The SOAP process can be time consuming and exhaustive from both an applicant and a program director perspective. But, in order to be a viable applicant, you need to move on and do what needs to be done. As an associate radiology residency director, one of my biggest turnoffs in the SOAP process is interviewing residents that are miserable and do not show a bit of enthusiasm for their new specialty choice. It is not the end of the world and it is a sign of mental toughness and grit if you can adapt to the new circumstances. Things don’t always go our way!!!
If you are in this situation, it is also important to remember that you are not alone. There are numerous really qualified medical students that don’t match. Often times the overall quality of the applicants is better than the initial match. So, don’t take this as a sign that you are going to make a horrible resident. It’s just not true.
Think About Your Options
Residency is a long arduous process to enter a specialty that the applicant will work for the rest of his/her life. So, this decision should be well thought out and all applicants need to step back. Don’t rush into applying to a specialty if you are not convinced that you have an interest. If you are not sure, there are other options such as applying for a transitional or prelim year and then reassessing the application during the year of residency. Only apply for the specialty of radiology if you are truly interested!
Most Applications In The SOAP Are From Different Specialties
We often get former applicants from matches of the most competitive specialties. Presently, these would be radiation oncology, dermatology, and some of the surgical subspecialties. Many years these specialties are completely matched with no slack. So, your two choices would be to reapply another year after completing a year of a preliminary medicine or surgical internship or to change specialties entirely. You take a risk either way. If you reapply, it is possible you may not match the following year as well unless there is a significant change in your credentials. On the other hand, if you decide to match in the SOAP for another specialty such as radiology, you may be matching in an area that you may or may not have a true interest. That hard choice simply has to be made in a very short amount of time. Significant self reflection and analysis is really important at this juncture. Sometimes, the right choice is to apply to another specialty. I am a firm believer that we are underexposed to many different subspecialties during medical school and often times the best fit for a prospective resident is different from the specialty to which he/she initially applies. So, really think about the possibility of applying to a different specialty than you originally choose.
Also, don’t worry if some of your recommendations, personal statement, and application are not geared toward radiology. The program directors usually understand the predicaments of the applying residents at this point. However, the applicant should come up with reasons for his/her new found interest for radiology during the interview since enthusiasm for the specialty very important. Make sure you really have a logical argument prepared for the phone or “in-person” interview for why you would be interested in radiology. It will go a long way toward securing a spot in a radiology program.
The Early Bird Gets The Worm
This is probably one of the most important factors in the residency SOAP match process. If you are not early on the draw, you are going to miss out on a spot. Make sure your application is submitted to your SOAP specialty of interest as early as possible. Often times, we find out about really good candidates only out after the SOAP match has already been completed. Don’t let that be you!!!
Try To Schedule Onsite Interviews If Possible
In the SOAP process, it is a major advantage to be able to match the face to the application. Although it is not always possible due to distance or other circumstances, if you are really interested in a position and you want to maximize your chances of acceptance during the SOAP process, an onsite interview really shows your interest and ups your chances of obtaining a spot. I always would rather deal with the known vs. the unknown entity. You simply get a better feel for the applicant usually when he/she is sitting in front of you rather than on a phone interview conversation. We have accepted applicants over the phone, but your chance of acceptance “in person” is simply higher. Try to physically get to the interview if possible.
Use Your Connections
Any connection to the SOAP match program of interest is of significant help. We really value the known vs. the unknown quantity when we are looking at SOAP applicants. So, if you have any connection to the program of interest, it will give you a leg up in the process. It could be a resident you met at some point earlier in your medical school training, a former mentor, or a friend of a relative. It doesn’t matter. Any connection is often better than no connection. Use it!!!!
This Too Shall Pass
The SOAP process is short-lived but very stressful for all parties. Applicants and programs that did not match on the first try do often find a happy end to this story. Be enthusiastic, get past your depression, put the time and effort into the SOAP process, and you will often be handsomely rewarded. Don’t take it seriously, be depressed about not matching into your initial specialty, or take a lackadaisical approach and you won’t. Good luck with the match!!!