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Characterizing the Plastic Surgery Residency Applicant
Lisa Hwang, MD1, Richard Agag, MD1, Andrew Newman, MD2, Frank Ciminello, MD3, Mark Granick, MD3, Joseph Serletti, MD2.
1Albany Medical Center, Albany, NY, USA, 2University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 3University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, NJ, USA.

PURPOSE: Over the past 15 years, plastic surgery training programs in the United States have undergone a paradigm shift. Independent plastic surgery fellowship programs are adopting an integrated model combining general surgery and plastic surgery residency training. Being selected directly out of medical school, applicants now have diminished prerequisite exposure and experience. Consequently, it has become more difficult both for programs to vet qualified candidates and for applicants to acquire meaningful clinical experiences. Previous studies have examined the selection process from the standpoint of residency programs. However, no published studies examine the medical student perspective. Here, we analyze pre-training impressions of plastic surgery applicants to better understand the match process.
METHODS: We administered a 21-question online survey to characterize the following: exposure to plastic surgery, influences in the pursuit of plastic surgery, notable factors in the application/interview/match process, and anticipated future practice. This survey was sent to medical students who applied to combined/integrated plastic surgery residency programs in 2009 and 2010.
RESULTS: We have analyzed the results using simple descriptive statistics. 157 of 467 medical students responded to the survey for a response rate of 34%. 71% of respondents classified their exposure to plastic surgery as “extensive with rotations and conferences,” with 93% having done research, 44% of which was dedicated time. The majority cited their rotation experience, either as a medical student or as an away elective, as the dominant influence in pursuit of plastic surgery residency, and 46.3% reported making the decision during their MSIII year. 80% of respondents applied to 40 or more programs. Respondents attended most of the interviews (mean of 9.5) they were invited to (mean of 9.8). 62% of respondents also applied to general surgery residencies, and 22.9% ended up matching in general surgery. The perceived quality of a program was prioritized over location and proximity to family and significant others. During interviews, respondents valued interaction with faculty and residents and program reputation over research and fellowship opportunities, hospital facilities, experience as a rotator, and size of the program. 60.5% matched at a program in the same region as their medical school, and 42.8% matched at a program where they had previously rotated. The majority of applicants aspired to a career in academic reconstructive surgery.
CONCLUSION: This study helps characterize current plastic surgery program candidates, the majority of whom are choosing the field earlier in their medical school education. Given the strong influences of medical student rotations and away electives, it is reasonable that a significant portion of applicants match at one of these programs. Most applicants apply to over 40 programs, attend those interviews they are offered, and seem flexible in their consideration of program location, as long as they value the quality of the program and their interactions with the faculty members and residents. We hope these insights will assist programs’ recruitment of well-suited applicants. We plan to follow the applicant groups through residency to better understand how their interests and ideas change during training.


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