An Insider’s Tips on Matching into a Dermatology Residency

As Chief Resident, I have received a lot of messages on social media asking for tips

for medical students interested in pursuing dermatology. After being part of the resident selection process, I think I can offer an insider’s perspective on what programs look for. It is no surprise that top board scores, strong clinical performance on the wards, community involvement, research, and awards/grants are important. The truth is that most dermatology applicants have those things going for them. Therefore, just checking those boxes isn’t sufficient to match into your dream program. So, how can you rise to that next-level type of applicant? Here are some of my tips based on what stuck out to me after reading stacks of applications.

#1 Being the smartest person in the room isn’t everything.

Yes, being highly intelligent is important, but none of that matters if you haven’t shown that you are a team player, a go-getter, and have a can-do attitude. Residency is all about working hard and teamwork, so show that you embody these characteristics. Your comments on the wards need to reflect this!

Examples of some commentary on clinical performance that I like to see:

  • “anticipated needs of the team and was always a step ahead”
  • “offered to do things before being asked”
  • “went above and beyond even for patients he/she was not following”
  • “could be trusted with work at an intern’s level”

#2 Make sure you SHOW a cohesive story

Publishing (research or case reports), being academically productive, and community involvement are important. However, engaging in various disconnected projects makes it difficult to get a sense of what the applicant’s interests are and often appears less genuine. When choosing projects and activities to participate in, try to center them around themes. For example, if you are interested in medical education, try to engage in community activities that involve teaching, do research in med-ed focused topics, and find a mentor that supports this area of research. If you are interested in health disparities, then consider engaging in health disparities research, joining committees that aim to resolve health disparities, educate our communities about health disparities, etc. In no way am I saying to turn down an opportunity to do a case report, but do try to create a story and theme with your work. Some of the better applications I have read are cohesive and show that the student had a genuine interest in a particular field.

#3 Choose a mentor, especially one who has your back.

Once you start thinking that you are interested in pursuing dermatology, reach out to mentors in the dermatology department and ask to shadow in the clinic or become involved in research projects. You should schedule a meeting with prospective mentors in order to solidify a research project and to demonstrate you are serious about dermatology. When you commit to a project, it is important to perform well and deliver projects on schedule. In this way, you build a strong reputation as a reliable and productive medical student and more attendings and residents will want to work with you on future projects. Remember that you can only make a first impression once! Another pro tip, get things cooking early (at least by 2nd year!), as it could take months to years for projects to come together.

Remember that your mentor-mentee relationship is vital. The letters mentors write on your behalf can be so strong that it makes the whole application shine. Some letter writers have written “rank this candidate to match” and “best medical student I have worked with in 10 plus years.” I encourage all medical students interested in dermatology to show their mentors that they are “the best medical student ever encountered.”

#5 Passion is a must.

Residency is long and tough, and so the most successful residents are those who are beyond passionate about dermatology. So, even with a perfect application, if you don’t show passion then your application sinks. It really shows when your heart isn’t in it.

#6 Be memorable.

If I interview fifty people, it is easy to keep track of my top ten favorites and least favorites. Everyone in the middle can get lost. It is important to always be memorable and relate to the people reviewing your application and interviewing you. Maybe you are an Olympic athlete, a baking champion, a former soap opera star, or have the largest collection of sci-fi novels in the world. Whatever your thing is, people will better connect with you and remember you in a favorable light if you can find something memorable about your accomplishments or interests.

I hope that these insider tips give you some new knowledge beyond which boxes to check off.