The Most Common ERAS Application Mistakes

Creating a medical residency application on AAMC’s Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) is one of the first and most important steps on your way to medical residency. There are many pieces of the residency application and it can be easy to make a mistake or error that could negatively impact the impression residency applicants give to residency programs they are applying to. But, don’t worry, below is a list of the most common ERAS Application mistakes residency candidates make with advice and suggestions on how to avoid them.   

Perhaps one of the biggest but easiest mistakes for a residency applicant to make is underestimating the residency application. Far too often, residency candidates begin their residency application cycle with little or zero knowledge of the importance of different aspects of the residency application. This usually leads to procrastination when applicants are unaware of the amount of time it takes to gather or write each part of the residency application. Applicants can end up cutting corners, using generic documents, requesting documents late, and any other number of mistakes that come from not being properly prepared.  

Remember, your ERAS Application serves as your main introduction to residency programs. If you underestimate any of the residency application pieces, it could create a negative impression within your ERAS Application.

👍 Application Tip: The best way to avoid underestimating the residency application is by STARTING EARLY. ERAS will open in June for the upcoming residency cycle, so that is a good time to begin compiling your application.

One of the most important steps a residency candidate can take is to secure specialty specific documents. But, what does “specialty specific” mean? Specialty specific means the document is not generic for medicine in general but indicates a focus on one medical specialty. For example, if you are interested in applying to Family Medicine, you would want your documents to reflect your passion, skills, experiences and goals for a career in Family Medicine.

Residency programs are looking for applicants that best demonstrate their interest in the program and medical specialty. Because the competition for residency positions increases every year, having specialty specific documents is indispensable for helping you stand out from other residency candidates.

There are two main documents where being specialty specific makes all the difference.

Medical Residency Personal Statement

The most important document to make specialty specific is your Personal Statement. Yet, this document is often underestimated and overlooked by candidates who are not aware of the power and influence this document has. As the document applicants have the most creative control over, this makes it the easiest to make specialty specific to reflect your interests in any specialty.

Letters of Recommendation

While you are able to write your own Personal Statements, Letters of Recommendation are more difficult to obtain and make specialty specific. Having Letters of Recommendation that recommend you for a medical specialty will bear more weight than a generic document so be sure to let your Letter Writer know which specialty you would like the letter to reflect. Since this document is controlled by a third party, you should start early in collecting these documents.

FAST FACT: Did you know? Specialty specific Letters of Recommendation are so important, Emergency Medicine has its own special letter called the Standard Letter of Recommendation or Standard Letter of Evaluation (SLOE)?  

❗ CAUTION: There is one exception to the “Specialty Specific” rule: your MyERAS Common Application. Since you only get one MyERAS Application, this should not be limited to one specialty. Unlike your Personal Statements and Letters of Recommendation, you should be sure to include all of your experiences, awards, or training in all medical specialties. By limiting any experiences, it may look as though you have a professional gap.

One of the strangest phenomenon is when residency candidates with high USMLE scores above the 240s do not Match into a residency program. Why does this happen? This is often because residency candidates that score well on their USMLE exams get lulled into a false sense of security that they can coast on their good scores and residency programs will accept them based on their USMLE scores alone.

This is not true!

While high USMLE scores can open many doors, residency program faculties are also looking for individuals they would actually want to be around and work with for three or more years. Keeping in mind, again, that your application is an introduction to you as a person as well as a professional, even if your USMLE scores are high, if a residency candidate chooses to slack in the rest of their application, residency programs will not be impressed.  

Above all, when residency programs are looking for prospective residents, they are looking for candidates who exhibit the type of professionalism expected of medical doctors. This begins with how you present yourself in your residency application.

Examples of Unprofessional Behavior:

  • Having an unprofessional email or voicemail that may be off putting to residency program faculty when they try to reach out
  • Using slang or improper English when communicating with residency programs or in your residency application
  • Appearing arrogant, lazy or entitled in your residency application
  • Showing up late to a residency interview
  • Wearing non-work appropriate clothing during the interview

The ERAS Application is multi-faceted and requires many moving parts to come together. Residency candidates are required to not only complete some pieces of their application such as their USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK and USMLE Step 2 CS, Personal Statement and MyERAS Application, but must also gather some of the pieces from other sources such as the MSPE, Medical School Transcript or Letters of Recommendation. With all of the documents to put together, and exams to take, along with all of the other aspects of the residency application process, it’s no surprise some residency candidates are unable to complete all of the tasks before applications begin in September.

Some common examples of an incomplete application are:

Certification before completing the MyERAS Application – Every single year, there are residency candidates that accidently “Certify” before their MyERAS Application is complete. Remember, once you click that you certify your MyERAS Application, you will no longer be able to make changes to your application’s content beyond your current contact information.

Late Letters of Recommendation – Residency candidates can often underestimate how long it can take for Letters of Recommendation to be ready to use. Keep in mind you will have to ask for the letters, wait for them to be written, have them submitted and wait for them to process.

Missing USMLE exam scores  – It can be quite complicated to time your USMLE exams in order to have your USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK and USMLE Step 2 CS by the time residency application submission begins in September. But, missing any USMLE exam score can make you look unprepared or unpredictable to residency programs. This is especially true if you are an IMG or have multiple USMLE exam attempts.

California Letter or PTALThe PTAL is a document exclusively for International Medical Graduates applying to residency programs in California. This document is expensive, and has a lot of part including an application, USMLE transcript, timeline of events and fingerprinting. The PTAL can also take up to 2 to 3 months to process and be ready to use.

❗ The USMLE Step 2 CS not only takes the longest to be scored, but also can be difficult to schedule in time. Start looking into scheduling your USMLE Step 2 CS as early as possible to avoid additional stress.

Having a complete ERAS Application tells residency programs that you are organized and invested in your future. Be sure to start early and ask for help if there is anything about the application you do not understand.

An often forgotten about, but equally important, part of your ERAS Application that contributes to your first impression with residency programs is your Photograph. Picking your photograph to submit with your ERAS Application isn’t like choosing a new profile picture on social media. You only get to send one photo and this photo must present you as both a professional medical doctor and also a nice person to associate with.

When selecting the right photo you should make sure you:

  • Dress professionally (like a day in the office)
  • Have a nice, natural expression
  • Are clean shaven or nicely kempt hair  
  • Have no noticeable tattoos or additional piercings

The residency application cycle involves a practically year-long procedure that has many important dates to be aware of. These include:

Events  Dates
ERAS Tokens and opening Late June
SVI Submission Cut Off Late July
Residency Application Submission and Program Retrieval Early to Mid September
Individual Program Deadlines Any time from September until ERAS Closes
Rank Order List Submission Period Mid January to Late February
Rank Order List Deadline/Last day to Register with NRMP Late February
Match Week and the Post-Match SOAP Mid March

 

It is crucial for residency candidates who are serious about the residency application to understand and be aware of these important dates. These dates are subject to change, be sure to check the official residency applications services regularly to stay ahead of any changes to the process.

When you are filling out your MyERAS Application or Personal Statement, it can be tempting to embellish or try to hide something you do not want residency programs to know about you. One of the best examples of this is how you treat your publications section of the MyERAS Application. It is easy for residency candidates to claim they worked on a publication they didn’t, that they had a bigger role than they did, or create a publication that never existed.

However, dishonesty, whether it’s a direct lie or a lie of omission, it is fairly easy for residency programs to uncover. We live in the age of the internet, where it is extremely easy for a residency program to search for a publication and uncover the truth.

How to properly fill out the MyERAS Application part of the residency application is shrouded in mystery for many residency candidates. There are many different articles with many different ideas on what is best, however, there are definitely some do’s and don’ts for residency candidates to keep in mind as they fill out the MyERAS Application.

Do Don’t
  Fill out your Work, Volunteer, and Research Experiences descriptions carefully with full paragraphs and details while making sure none of your Work or Training experiences overlap   Forget to list “English” in your language proficiency
  Use proper English grammar and spelling throughout the ENTIRE document (including your address)   Leave out any of your relevant work experiences that might make it look like you have a professional gap
  Use all written sections as an opportunity to tell residency programs more about you   Certify the document until you have proofread it and added everything you want to

Once called the “Dean’s Letter” the Medical School Performance Evaluation (MSPE) is one of the most underrated documents in the entire ERAS Application. What many medical students and residency candidates do not know is that the MSPE generally lists all of your clinical rotations often with comments from the preceptors of each clinical rotation and occasionally with additional details about what you did during the clinical rotation.

The MSPE is like a Letter of Recommendation from your medical school, and to have a detailed MSPE is your medical school’s way of saying you did a great job.

📣ADVICE: If you have enough time, ask you medical school if you are allowed to view your MSPE. If you are able to see your MSPE, and you feel the contents is lacking, ask your medical school if you would be allowed to make suggests or add details about your clinical rotations to strengthen this document.

This one is for repeat residency applicants or reapplicants only.

ERAS is making it easier and easier to use previously created supporting documents in subsequent application years. Residency candidates can now import the content from their previous MyERAS Application and reuse their Letters of Recommendation from the previous year.

While it may be tempting to use your supporting documents from the past residency application cycle– proceed with caution!

If you casually use the content from your past MyERAS Application without extensive proofreading and editing, you may repeat past mistakes or forget to add new experiences. While you may choose to import your MyERAS Application, absolutely make SURE you go through it carefully to fix any errors and add more details.

Keeping in mind that the strongest Letters of Recommendation are:

 Specialty specific

From US Clinical Experience

Within a year of applications

Simply reusing old Letters of Recommendation may do more harm than good. Residency programs want to see that you are continuing to grow and stay relevant in the medical world. If you use old Letters of Recommendation it may reflect poorly on your ability to gain new letters, or you may accidentally use a letter that is not beneficial to your residency application.

While you may be able to reuse older supporting documents, remember that residency programs like to see effort and trying to save time with old documents does not reflect effort.

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