This post is the first in a week-long series called Residency Week. All this week, we’ll share tips on getting into a residency. To see posts from previous years’ residency weeks, click here.
Some of us entered school knowing we wanted to specialize. Some discovered we enjoyed a particular specialty while in school. Many others still aren’t sure (see our post here on deciding whether to specialize). In either case, the competitiveness of specialty program admissions demands we push ourselves to excel. How many social events did you have to pass on to complete that research poster? How many times did you ask for understanding and forgiveness from loved ones who supported you in your goal? Working so hard to achieve a goal and missing the mark hurts. In my case, only my wife and a few friends were aware of the depths of my disappointment when I didn’t get into a perio program last fall.
So you didn’t match. Now what? The good news is I’ve never met anyone who sincerely wanted to specialize who didn’t eventually match. But what do you do next? As I’ve been preparing for practice ownership as a family dentist, I recently read “Who Moved My Cheese?” The story centers on the characters Hem and Haw and how they confront and respond to changing circumstances in their lives. It reminded me of a concept one of my mentors used to talk about: Triple A. Accept reality, adapt accordingly and act responsibly.
When I say “accept reality,” I don’t mean to dismiss your emotions. It’s important to navigate through the grieving process. I would point you to ASDA’s Wellness resources and the counseling services offered at your school for help with this. What I’m referring to, however, is that without a time machine, there’s nothing you can do about the results of this application cycle. Realistically, there are only two options: remain a general dentist or start preparing now for the next cycle.
In my case, I’ve chosen to remain in general dentistry in rural Oklahoma. If that’s your path, there’s no need to panic. There is plenty of time to find the right practice opportunity. In this case, write down your vision for how you want to practice, and don’t settle for anything that doesn’t help you realize your vision! On a side note, if you’re married, I’d strongly suggest you focus on opportunities where your spouse wants to live.
I feel like the “adapt accordingly” and “act responsibly” components are especially helpful if you’ve decided to prepare for the next cycle. Fortunately you’re about to have a dental license, which gives you a marketable skill with good job prospects. In this case, you’ll probably want to focus on opportunities that maximize your preparation for applying again. For example, it may not be in your best interest to sign a contract obligating you to stay with a practice for a specified amount of time. You may need to negotiate time off for interviews or take a CE course in your area of interest. Remember, everything is negotiable.
I would suggest reviewing your application with a faculty mentor to identify weaknesses in your application. Reach out to directors of programs you want to attend to get an idea of what will make you a more competitive applicant. Did you know ASDA has resources to help you craft an outstanding CV? There are also resources available on finding the right residency for you (start here for some helpful tips).
Finally, if there’s only one thing I want you to take away from this post, it would be to use this opportunity to establish an emergency savings and to live below your means. Stay in the habit of living like a student. I’m not suggesting you eat ramen and hot dogs for the next year, but continue with a modest lifestyle to make the financial transition to resident life simpler on yourself next year.
I’d like to leave you with this quote from Mr. T as he prepares for the first night where contestants can be eliminated from this season’s Dancing With The Stars: “There’s a big difference between losing and coming up short on the scorecard. Losers give up, stop trying and cheat. We will never give up!”
I wish you the best of success in your professional endeavors. If you’re ever in southwest Oklahoma drop in and say, “Howdy!”
~ Matthew Bridges, Oklahoma ’17, 2016-17 speaker of the House