DMU preps D.O. students for the “new normal” of residency application

Everyone in the osteopathic (D.O.) and allopathic (M.D.) medical worlds knew that spring 2020 was going to usher in a new single accreditation system for graduate medical education (GME) in the United States. The American Osteopathic Association (AOA), the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) in 2015 launched the transition from a system that offered M.D.- and D.O.-specific residencies and fellowships to a single system in which the ACGME serves as the nation’s sole accrediting body for these programs.

What people didn’t know was that spring 2020 also would usher in a surging pandemic that has drastically altered the residency application process. Fortunately for DMU’s osteopathic medical students, the College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) is working to prepare them for this yet-another “new normal.” That’s important, because residency programs that historically accepted D.O. students are now open to allopathic graduates, so fewer positions are available for osteopathic graduates. In addition, the pandemic has pushed residency interviews to Zoom, which can create challenges in making a positive impression.

Jennifer Beaty, Des Moines University Specialty Medicine
Jennifer Beaty, M.D., FACS, FASCRS

“We’ve employed lots of exciting strategies to help our DMU students really stand out. We’re having students develop career portfolios to set them up for success,” says Jennifer Beaty, M.D., FACS, FASCRS, associate dean of student advancement and graduate medical education in COM.

A bit of background: The National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP®), or The Match®, is a private, nonprofit organization that provides a mechanism for matching the preferences of applicants for U.S. residency positions with the preferences of residency program directors. Applicants and programs learn the results of the Match during “Match Week,” the third week in March. Positions left unfilled after the matching algorithm has been processed are offered to eligible applicants through a structured Match Week Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program®, or SOAP®. If applicants do not have a secured residency position after the SOAP® process, an informal process, called the “scramble,” begins.

“We really want our students to match and avoid the SOAP® and  scramble process,” Dr. Beaty says. COM has implemented several efforts to achieve that goal. In the fall semester of their first year, D.O. students take a short course, Careers in Medicine, that helps them learn about themselves and potential specialty interests. They begin creating a curriculum vitae (CV), a comprehensive account of their education and accomplishments, which they continue to refine during the spring semester.

In September, Dr. Beaty canvassed third-year students to learn what specialties they hope to pursue. She then organized Zoom meetings for groups of students to meet with physicians who practice in those specialties.

“We have a thoughtful, intentional process to help students find the specialty they really want,” she says.

Third-year D.O. students also began work on their personal statements, required for residency application, and were introduced to the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS®), the centralized application system. Personal statements, which students submit in the fall of their fourth year, typically describe their skills and qualities, reasons they want a specific specialty and residency program, and long-term plans and goals.

Dr. Beaty offered to read and critique fourth-year students’ personal statements “as many times as they wanted” prior to the Oct. 21 submission deadline. She did so for 170 students.

“We’ve gotten fantastic feedback from the students on how helpful that was,” she says.

Dr. Beaty praises her COM colleagues in family medicine, Associate Professor Teresa Aoki, M.D., Assistant Professor Daniela Frankova, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, and Department Chair Sarah Parrott, D.O., FAAFP, for implementing a new process for a standardized letter of evaluation (SLOE) for internal medicine, a summary generated by the department of each fourth-year student’s rotation experiences, personality traits and response to COVID-19. The department also ranks residency applicants in the letters.

“The process was thoughtfully approached and executed very well. It should give our students the best advantage to match,” Dr. Beaty says.

Now, Dr. Beaty is offering virtual “practice” interviews for fourth-year students; more than 80 have have been completed so far. These interviews are intended to give students confidence and better establish connections to residency program directors via Zoom.

“This can be a high-anxiety period for students, with the pandemic adding to their stress,” Dr. Beaty says. “We help manage students’ anxiety by giving them accurate information and application strategies to take positive action and prepare.”

She also encourages students to take advantage of the University’s Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) program, which connects students to DMU graduates practicing in specialties, clinical settings and geographic areas in which students are interested. During the week of Sept. 21, for example, ASK recruited 16 alumni, ranging from the Class of 2020 to the Class of 1989, to share their insights and advice, all via Zoom, for landing a residency. More than 140 students participated in the sessions, which were recorded for other students to access later.

“ASK provides such an incredible alumni network,” she says. “We also encourage students to join ASK as soon as they graduate.”

Dr. Beaty brings invaluable insights to helping DMU students become excellent residency candidates, having “seen the other side” as the director of Creighton University’s colon and rectal surgery fellowship program for 10 years prior to joining DMU in 2019.

“DMU knew the new single accreditation was coming, so we devised a plan to prepare students,” she says. “I’m really proud of these efforts, and it’s been really fun to see students supporting each other through the process.”

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