Residency Follow-up Communication: How One Applicant Got Themselves Blacklisted

Ali Murtha

Over the past 10 years in Graduate Medical Education, Ali has reviewed thousands of applications from future physicians and interviewed hundreds more. She has counseled dozens through the application, interview, and selection processes and is in her seventh year of managing residency recruitment at the University of California, San Diego. She has presented nationally on mutually-beneficial GME recruitment.

Imagine sending one email and getting rejected from every single residency program. Ex-communicated with the click of a button.

Yes, this really happened, and it should be a cautionary tale for your communication with residency programs before and after your interviews.

I hear certain questions all the time: “Do residency programs talk to each other about applicants behind the scenes?” “Will one program know what I do or say at another school?”

In short, the answer is “yes and no.” It’s a little complicated, but if you’re not careful and take the wrong approach, you can effectively be blacklisted across the board at all residency programs.

Yes, programs communicate between institutions. In fact, program directors and coordinators from a specialty often have listservs. All programs in the nation have a rep in the group and can contribute or simply consume the communication. The group might dish on the latest ACGME update, offer ideas for tackling a common problem, and yes, even discuss the applicant pool for the current recruitment season.

Don’t worry; applicants are not discussed individually, not usually anyway. We typically hear chatter about specialty trends, what programs are doing during their interview days, and maybe a hot tip on how to reduce interview cancellations.

However, this brings me to an exception.

Disclaimer: names and details have been removed to protect anonymity

Warning: How to Avoid Being Blacklisted at Residency Programs

I recently witnessed a residency applicant demolish their chances of matching by making a single mistake: aggressive communication. Not in tone or content, but in frequency alone.

A single program found it odd that an applicant was sending emails on a regular basis to check on the status of their application. That program’s administrator asked the listserv if they had seen anything like it before. It took mere hours for the group to realize that this applicant had taken the same approach with many programs in the country.

This was extremely off-putting to programs, and the few that had this applicant scheduled to interview indicated that they would be reneging their invitations. This applicant is now unlikely to have any more interview invitations, and I anticipate that they will not be ranked by programs who had already interviewed them.

The kicker: this applicant doesn’t know, presumably, because they’re still doing it.

Key Lessons:

  1. Communicate sparingly prior to residency interview
  2. Personalize your communication to individual programs

Residency Follow-Up Communication - It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It

I don’t tell this story to scare you off from communicating with programs. I know you are encouraged to communicate with programs to convey interest and follow-up on the status of your application. I also hope that you know that rules exist to protect the contractual system that is the NRMP, so communication is restricted to some degree.

Many applicants are encouraged to contact programs that they are particularly interested in, to remind the program that they are a top choice, to ask about the status of their application, etc. Remember, programs are not allowed to solicit this information, so often times you will have to initiate the communication.

This is an integral part of the recruitment process. However, your approach, style, timing, and even specific word choices can make all the difference in your successful communication of interest and your chances of impacting how that program ranks you.

Want some inspiration? Check out our tips for writing thank-you letters and advice for how to make people like you.

Key Lessons:

  1. Send generous communication to programs after your residency interview
  2. Explicitly communicate where the residency program stands on your list (say that you’ll rank them highly)
  3. Examples of subtle yet impactful differences in phrasing:

“I remain highly interested in your program” vs “I plan to rank your program at the top of my list”

“I was very impressed by your program” vs” I believe I would be very happy in your program”

In the mad rush leading up to your match, it can be easy to click submit hastily or send out one email template to all programs to save time, but think carefully before you click! Thoughtful and tactful communication is key in sending the right message to your programs.

Download our Residency Timeline for an example of how to organize your application schedule.