Complete Guide to Contacting Residency Programs Directly

Residency candidates have endless questions about the best way to contact residency programs. “When do I contact programs?” Who do I speak with?” “How do I contact them?” Below is a complete guide to contacting residency programs.

Why & When

The motivations that bring residency candidates to contact residency programs directly can vary depending on the time of the Residency Application Cycle. Some typical reasons may occur during the following timeframes:

Before Application (When ERAS opens, before application submission):

  • Asking programs about their requirements or for more information about the program
  • Establishing connections with a program
    • You may ask programs to attend their grand rounds
  • Following up with a previous connection to a program.
    • For example, if the Program Director is a family friend

During the Interview Season (Mid-September to late February):

  • Expressing further interest in a program by following up
    • Be sure to wait 4 to 6 weeks after application submission, especially if you applied in September
  • Updating the program about a change in your CV such as the addition of a new USMLE exam score, new Letter of Recommendation or a newly gained experience
  • Following up on an interview invitation
  • Sending a Thank You Letter after an interview
    • Some programs like this, some don’t. If possible, ask the Program Coordinator how the Program Director feels about post-interview communication
  • If you received a rejection (that does not include a clear reason) and would like to ask for advice to strengthen your application

During Ranking Season (Mid-January to late February):

  • Expressing further interest in a program by following up again
    • If you haven’t followed up at all or followed up in the early part of the season, you can try again one more time (briefly)
  • Sending a Letter of Intent expressing your intention to rank the program

After the Post-Match SOAP (After Match Week in Mid-March):

  • PLEASE NOTE: Whether you are in the Post-Match SOAP or not, you MAY NOT contact programs during the Post-Match. This is a violation of NRMP policy and may lead to negative consequences.
  • If a program is still on the List of Unfilled Programs in NRMP after the Post-Match SOAP concludes, you can try contacting them
    • First, ask if they are still accepting applications
    • Then, ask their preferred method to receive applications

How

There are three main methods of communicating with programs: emails, phone call, and written letter in the mail. Each method comes with their own pros and cons. Review each method carefully and decide which will work best for you and the message you intend to send.

Emails

Pros: Fastest method of delivery, gives you time to craft it properly, good for quick messages   

Cons: Easily ignored, lost or filtered, often dismissed

Tips for Email:

  • Brainstorm your subject carefully. It should be professional, simple and clear– no “clickbait”
    • Examples: Update to my CV, or Interest in Your Program
    • Bad Examples: Open for the Best Resident Ever, or SOS IT’s AN EmergencY!!
  • Include a signature block with your name, email, phone number, and AAMC ID number
  • Use proper and professional language that you would use in your Personal Statement
    • Proofread multiple times before sending

Phone

Pros: Can speak directly with someone

Cons: Can annoy someone who’s very busy, less control over the content, can be forgettable,

may be hard to reach someone

Tips for Calling a Program:

  • Rehearse what you are going to say beforehand with talking points to hold while you’re on the phone
  • Keep it polite and BRIEF. Trying to drag out the conversation is more likely to make you memorable–in a bad way
  • Make the call from a place with good cell reception, you may not get a second chance for someone to answer if the service cuts out

Letter

Pros: More memorable than an email, shows more dedication and effort, letter could be placed in your file for future review  

Cons: Is a little slow, intentions may be misunderstood

Tips for a Written Letter:

  • Read a full article about how to write a written letter or Follow-Up Letter here
  • If you have nice handwriting, consider a handwritten letter (or at least hand signed) or handwritten envelope  
  • Keep it brief (no more than a page)

Who

Of course, another big question remains, “Who do I send it to?” In general, there are two options: the Program Director and the Program Coordinator.

Most often it is best to address your correspondence to the Program Coordinator and CC the Program Director or mention them in your letter. Program Coordinators are the gatekeepers (as Program Directors don’t usually like being contacted for routine matters).

This can vary of course. For example, you typically want to send a Thank You Letter to the Program Director and CC the Program Coordinator or send them their own if you feel you connected.

General Tips & Hints

  • Have a professional email to use throughout the Application Cycle
    • Example: first/last name at your email provider
  • Have your voicemail set up before applications begin with a simple, professional message
  • You can’t be too polite, but you can be over the top
    • Say please and thank you (always) but you don’t need to overdo it by giving them too much praise that doesn’t make sense aka being a “Kiss-*ss.”
    • Being overly complimentary can come off as desperate  
  • Do not treat the Program Coordinator as though they are someone beneath you or be rude to them at any time. (This goes for anyone you encounter in a program or hospital during your interview).  
  • Avoid religious language. Really. You should never assume someone’s religious inclinations
  • Don’t be offended if you do not hear back right away or at all. Programs receive thousands of applications and messages every season
  • If you are following up with programs you are interested in and have not heard from, creating an Email Format you mass email to programs is not suggested
    • Write a unique email or letter for every program you reach out to with details
    • What do you like about the program? Do you have any connections to the geographic location?

Want to discuss this topic and more? Go to: https://www.usmlepress.com/  

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