A third year medical student asked me, “should I have all my away rotations done before ERAS opens or nah? I’m concerned with whether I did aways before Sept 15th [when ERAS opens] or if they went into late Sept or October too. Is prior to Sept better?”.
Short answer: Depends if you want a letter of recommendation or not. If you do, then ideally you should be done with your elective before ERAS opens. If you are not looking for a letter then you should still rotate through any away hospital before hospitals are required to submit their rank list in January. I highly suggest reading, or at least skimming through, “The Successful Match: 200 Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match“. It talks about all of this in much greater detail.
Long answer: Away rotations are perfect ‘extended interviews’. They let programs see who you really are and, anecdotally, can help or conversely hurt your chances at matching at a specific program. In my mind, if you are a third year who is already planning out your fourth year electives then you likely have a good head on your shoulders. When you go to your away rotation just work hard and take care of your patients. Everything else will fall into place.
There are a few caveats pertaining to when you should perform away rotations. First off, are you trying to secure a strong letter of recommendation? If so, then you likely want to start an away rotation in July or August to ensure you get your letters in on time. You can still get letters from rotations during September and October but these should not be your first letters. Programs can filter you out if your application is not complete so you ideally want to have your letters in by September to ensure you have all of the appropriate documents ready to go.
Okay so I submitted my residency application- what now? Away rotations are even more valuable than ever. Hopefully you’re rotating somewhere that you applied because you basically just got a month long interview (congrats!). Away rotations are a golden opportunity to show a program who you are and also a great way to see if you like the hospital. Is this somewhere you can see yourself working for the next three years? Anecdotally, a lot of students get interviews at places they rotate through and even match there too. Be careful though because as much as an away rotation can help it can also hurt you.
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: don’t forget to work hard and take care of your patients! If nothing else, my very expensive medical education has taught me that common sense isn’t so common. Showing up isn’t enough. Take care of your patients, show interest in what you’re doing, and freaking learn something! You’re still paying them to be there so you might as well get your money’s worth. Okay, done ranting. Hope that answers your question!
tl; dr: Rotate through hospitals early, ideally with the elective ending before September 15th if you want to secure letters of recommendation. Away rotations are also valuable ‘extended interviews’ that can strengthen or weaken a program’s interest in you, and visa-versa.
*Image taken from The Happy Hospitalist