What does it take to Match in a DO Ophthalmology Program?
Inspirational story: I am a student who matched in an Osteopathic Ophthalmology program after being told multiple steps along the way that I was probably not going to make it. My interest in Ophthalmology began very early in my undergraduate premedical career. Where I struggled with test scores... MCAT 26, a seriously low COMLEX1 483, and an improved but not fantastic COMLEX2 559. I made up for in hard work and extracurricular experiences. I knew that I would not be content in pursuing another field of medicine until after I had given my all. I matched in my first attempt.
Is the DO ophthalmology match different then the MD ophthalmology Match?
MD ophthalmology Match occurs in January via the San Francisco Match (www.sfmatch.org)
DO ophthalmology Match occurs in February via the NMS Match (with all the other DO specialties).
How many interviews did you get/go to on?
5 osteopathic ophtho interviews. (9 interviews in back up DO specialties)
Tell me about what your interview experience?
Interviews are mostly audition rotations,. see below.
What advice would you give to students applying to ophthalmology?
For starters, your entire application is important. Being well rounded with shadowing in ophthalmology, any volunteer or work experience is always a great addition. Do well in school, work on a few awards or academic scholarships, leadership roles, research (it doesn’t necessarily have to be in Ophthalmology, but again, thats a plus).
What I learned from this process is having something or not having something isn't going to make or break your ability to Match. If I had to pick one thing from my application that was the most beneficial for me, it was any type of experience I had in the field.
In addition to being a good candidate, it also helps to network!
How did you do that?
For me, coming from a family that has NO physicians or medical contacts, I had to start from scratch. Begin reaching out to ophthalmologists in your community as early as possible. You will find that they often know each other and your contacts in the field will begin to grow. What I believe helped me the most for the match was going to an ophthalmology conference. You meet tons of people in just a few days. I went by myself and was sure to introduce myself to a new person I sat next to for each presentation. I met residents, program directors, and other students all in once place! You would be surprised how willing others are to help you move forward in your career (and possibly help you get in for an audition) after having just a 5-minute conversation with them. Of course it helps to be super charming too.
How do you know which Ophthalmology program is best for you?
People often ask which the "best" program is. That’s very difficult to say because it’s different for every person. However, since it can be tough to get auditions, apply for them broadly and see what they offer that you can fit into your schedule. Auditioning with the program gives you the best idea of what type of residents they take, if you mesh well with the program attendings and what things become most important for you. Some choose a program for the variety of pathology, location, surgical volume, whether there are no out-of-state rotations, etc. And since most programs like to choose a student that has auditioned with them, its the best way to go. (This coming from the student who made spreadsheet upon spreadsheet comparing and contrasting various programs and statistics hoping it would provide some direction about what I wanted in a program, when really…it came down to my gut (how I felt on my audition).
What advice would you give to students who are interested in doing ophthalmology?
The best advice i can give you is if you are even slightly considering ophtho, you need to move full speed ahead as soon as possible. It is great if you do well on your boards but the truth is that it is never solely the winning ticket (but it sure helps!). I had probably the worst board scores of anyone applying and hard work and dedication is what pulled through for me (It also helped that I've known I've wanted ophthalmology since undergrad so I've had a lot of experience under my belt).
What do you think was the most important factor in you matching?
If I had to pick one thing, it’s all about your audition.
Most of my Ophthalmology auditions were in November, December, and January, but I had one in August. Many of them don’t even interview (your audition is your interview). Most don't use VSAS so check out AOA opportunities for program websites and coordinator emails for info. (Be sure to check out the website for answers BEFORE contacting the program coordinator). Some use applications on their websites, others its just via email, but regardless, KNOW YOUR DEADLINES! Know them, but you better be contacting them/submitting requests far in advance of any deadline. I once stayed awake until 3AM to submit my application at midnight for an audition across the US the first day they were accepting audition applications. (I got the audition there. ) Auditions are 2 weeks. For some people who have schools that require a month long rotation, this can be tough. Be creative: Go on 2 or 3 auditions during your vacation month. If you are in the area, go to a program for a day or two. Work in the same hospital for 4 weeks and do 2 weeks ophthalmology and 2 weeks in something else, etc. That being said, the program I matched with, I auditioned only for 4 days!
Any advice for rocking your auditions?
- Reading as much as you can about most common ophthalmology diseases, know your anatomy.
- Being up to date on topics (conferences are great for this) to facilitate awesome discussions with residents and attendings.
- Working hard, being nice and personable with a positive attitude.
- Having good thorough exam skills (more than what you learn from school. Practice with the slit lamp!) and being interested in learning about more techniques. (Having them show you a skill and you implementing it on future patients goes a long way about the type of resident you will be)
- Keep in touch! Thank them, make sure they know you are still interested, ask any remaining questions you may have about the program, but do not bug residents and coordinators about what your “status” may be with them!
Any final thoughts?
Also extremely important: have backup plans AND treat them as if they are your primary interest. If you half-ass your back up, you half-ass your chances and are wasting your time and money! Remember, no program wants to be your backup plan. After evaluating match statistics and the likelihood of matching after trying in a second round the following year, I had 3 back-up plans that I seriously pursued. (This includes pre-residency fellowships, Research jobs, Traditional rotating internships, alternate specialties as much as you will hate to do it, etc). There is nothing worse than limited options! Don't do that to yourself! Be passionate, but be smart about it.