What is your advice on away rotations? Some people have told me it helps you get into a program and other people think it doesn’t!
This question arises every year. The best reason I believe to do an away rotation is if you have identified a program you would like to train at and would like an in-depth experience there before you make a 3 or 4 yr commitment. Planning an away rotation can be a lot of logistical work. An away clerkship also takes time away from other medical school activities or rotations you could be doing. The biggest advantage is that an away rotation does provide a more realistic snapshot of your future life as a resident in that program, both in and out of the work culture. For example, you can assess first hand the location of the hospital, the quality of the physical plant, the didactic program, faculty-resident interaction, workload, resident happiness and your compatibility with the existing housestaff. In addition, you can evaluate close-up important markers such as available housing options in different parts of town, cost-of-living, what there is to do in surrounding areas, and the potential commute, among other things.
Many visiting students sign up for a Stanford clerkship as a way to have the program get to know them better, and to raise their profile during the selection process. There is no doubt that we take the evaluations of visiting students seriously. We even have a special form for the faculty and the residents to fill out assessing these potential future residents. Getting to know the person up close for 2 weeks or a month provides much more detail about the candidate’s personality and abilities.
At the end of the interview day the selection committee reads these evaluations in detail, and incorporates that information in the final overall rating given to an applicant. We typically see several scenarios. Sometimes the medical student has performed average in medical school and then is a star as a visiting medical student. While this can certainly boost their chances, it leads to such questions as — if they did such a good job on the visiting rotation why didn’t they do better in the core clinical electives of 3rd year? What a person achieves in several years in medical school is likely more reflective of the person’s future capabilities than the impression they may leave after just a few weeks here when they may be super-motivated to shine.
Other times a student did very well in medical school, and for some reason does not making as positive an impression. I often wonder why this happens. There may be a multitude of reasons including large lead times to make the adjustment to a new and foreign environment or even culture. Maybe the applicant is trying too hard to impress everyone and these well intentioned efforts can unintentionally come across negatively. Unfortunately, sometimes such a student’s final ranking is lowered strictly because of a subpar performance on the visiting rotation. In this case, the student obviously would have been better off not coming (strictly from a rating of the applicant point of view).
Let me finish by saying that although in the past we offered interviews automatically to all applicants that did visiting rotations this is no longer possible because of the high number of visiting students, and the larger number of non-visiting students applying with exceptional achievement. The bottom line is do an away rotation if you think you might match there and want to make sure you know what you are getting into. Also, an away rotation makes sense for other reasons such as to get more experience in anesthesiology, or to embrace the challenge of being in a new hospital and surgical environment.