Dr. Milhouse is a urologist that specializes in female urology. We asked her for advice on doing well in medical school and matching urology in her career profile (coming Thursday!) and she gave such a detailed answer it deserved its own blog post! It echos a lot of the points I included in the Tips to match a competitive specialty part 1 and part 2 posts, but in a different voice and specific to urology.
Urology is a very competitive specialty. Any tips on how to excel in medical school? Urology is much more competitive then when even I was applying and only getting more competitive so it is important to size up your chances realistically.
You do NOT have to be some genius (I AM NOT) and you do not have to come from a fancy school (all state schools for me), BUT you need be very strong academically and a person people can relate to.
[ 1 ] HIGH Step 1 score
Easiest first way to weed out applicants. Now, applicants are coming in with scores in as high as 270s! My 240 now would be avg I think for the current Urology applicant. First Aid Step 1 books are great. Question banks are key! and take an official prep course!
Make sure you dedicate time for studying- this time is sacred and do NOT get distracted with side stuff.
Right after 2nd year ended, I spent the next 4 weeks in hard-core study mode. Went out to eat once/week with friends. No other going out. Almost no television. There is a PASS PROGRAM in Champaign, IL that I did. Spent 4 weeks there with 2 other classmates so I could get away from the distractions in Houston. It is an incredibly successful program- which now has an online option that was not available during my time.
[ 2 ] good grades
the actual grades aren't as important as step 1 score but your grade during your surgical rotations are important and really good grades can help you get in to AOA - which is a great extra (not mandatory) to put on your CV.
I used to skim pre-read before class the day before. I took tons of notes and highlights on the actual syllabus and wrote questions that I would "pimp myself" on in the column of the syllabus. I studied in small groups (not helpful for everyone though) and we would quiz each other.
[ 3 ] LETTERS OF RECS!
should ALL be from Urologists or at least surgeons. Letters from non-surgeons don't hold much weight. Get QUALITY letters not just average letters. Letters go a LONG WAY- it can make an average candidate stand out or make a phenomenal candidate look very lackluster. Ask the person you are considering - would you be able to write me a really good letter? if they can not- FIND SOMEONE ELSE. Identify those physicians you are developing a rapport with early on when you start doing rotations. I got an interview at UCLA- and they flat out told me it was my letters that got me the interview.
[ 4 ] research
I didn't really do research but these days- every candidate has some kind of research on their CV. It doesn't have to be urology oriented. But something to demonstrate that your are not just a book worm but are excited about academic research (even if you are not- fake it!).
[ 5 ] away rotations
done during your 4th year IN ADDITION to rotating with Urology at your own school. Most institutions at least offer elective months in your 4th year. Away rotations are almost a standard now to get into Urology and other competitive fields. If you are unfortunate enough to go to a program that doesn't have Urology at all- you have no choice. Most candidates will use this as an opportunity to get another letter from a urologist. One caveat- this person will only have 4 weeks typically to get to know you IF THAT- so the letter most often tends to be very average at best. And at times can HURT YOU. I would ask the urologist you spent the most time (assuming you didn't leave a poor impression on this person). And just like any other letter- ask if he or she feels like they could write a good letter on your behalf. I did not get any letters from my away rotations for these reasons.
Make sure even if you end up NOT liking the away rotation that you fake it and work hard and enthusiastically ANY WAY. Urology is small field and word gets around about a candidate that is uninterested, lazy, or rude.
BE ON YOUR BEST BEHAVIOR. Come early, stay late, be prepared (brush up on your anatomy!), and smile.
I had an unforgettable (in a bad way) interaction with an attending during one of my away rotations- I could have retorted back but held my tongue because people talk and I did not need a reputation.
Obviously rotations cost $$. If you can't go out of state (or don't want to)- at least go to another program other than yours. I think 1 away rotation is sufficient. I did 2- one in state and the other at NYU. I knew I had to do a really far away rotation because I was Texan that was looking at going far out of state for residency. An unfair stereotype is that Texans don't really want to travel for residency. So I had to demonstrate that I was indeed interested and excited about out-of-state programs. I've heard the same stereotype attributed to New Yorkers and Californians.
[ 6 ] extras
if you have some unique hobby, talent, extracurricular activity- highlight it!! Programs love individuals that are well- rounded. I remember interviewing a magician, a college football player, and even a former monk. That stuff jumps out. Don't be weird about it but make sure it is some place easy to find on your CV or personal statement. If you don't have anything unique (I didn't)- work with what you got! I used to run a lot- so I made my CV about running. It was kind of corny but worked. My program chair at UofC still remembers my personal statement.
A word about personal statements-- the least important part in my experience because everyone writes how great they think they are, but a few can add to a person's character in ways that make that person more relatable- which is what you want. Don't be afraid to get personal but leave the really personal, questionable stuff out.
Generally, stay way from talking about stuff medical stuff because you can sound stupid and naive and stuff already listed in your CV. Not a time to talk about your research. Talk about something they wouldn't otherwise know a lot about. One good example - one candidate wrote about dealing with testicular cancer- it didn't focus on the medical aspect which urologists know and do NOT want to read about it written from some bright-eyed medical student. It was dealing with the human aspect and effect on him. One poor example- same kind of idea but this time candidate wrote about bed-wetting as child. Unfortunately due to the subject matter (too personal) it was not well received and made the candidate stick out in a BAD way.
I can't wait to share with you guys the rest of Dr. Milhouse's career profile. It is the best one to date. Check back Thursday for the full article!