Most medical schools have some kind of program that identifies
faculty members who are willing to be advisors to students that
are interested in particular fields. Whether your school has
such a program or not, you should choose at least one faculty
advisor. You should get "advice" or information from
multiple sources no matter who your official advisor is.
Following is a list of suggestions on whom to consider when
choosing your advisor:
- Someone you rotated with on your third year rotation (they
know you, you know them)
- Someone that fourth year students recommend as helpful
- Program director at your institution (they know the institution's
program more than anyone, and know a lot about other programs)
- Someone with a national reputation (they know a lot of people
and a lot of people know them/recognize their name on a letter
- Someone you have done research with
- Someone you want to do a research project with
Once you choose an advisor (who has agreed) to play that role,
you should set up a couple of meetings with him or her. The first
meeting should be a get-to-know-you meeting. Talk about your
career plans, why you want to be a surgeon, and what it takes
You can also ask if your advisor has research projects
that you can assist on. Most surgeons have a question or two
rolling around in their heads that at least needs a literature
review and possibly a retrospective chart review to begin to
answer. Helping your advisor with a research project is a great
way to show her what you can do.
At the next meeting you can start getting advice about different
programs, etc. Your advisor can review and critique your CV and
your personal statement. Your advisor (as well as other faculty)
can relay your likes of a program to people he knows at that
If you are a first or second year student, finding an advisor
early may be difficult, but the process has long-term advantages
because you will have lots of time to get to know each other
and work on projects. It is likely that an advisor will let you
come to clinic or the OR with her too, especially during
vacations when the third and fourth year students aren't around.
When you get to the point of needing to select programs to apply
to, ask everyone that you know in the surgery program their opinions
(you should start asking about different programs around the
spring of your third year, summer of your fourth year):
- Ask the fourth year students that have just finished interviewing.
- Ask the residents at your institution (many came from other
places and so have firsthand knowledge of one other place, and
the interns just went through the interviews a year ago and can
give you their impressions).
- Ask many different attendings, as many of them have been
at different places and know people at other institutions.
Beware though; information from attending surgeons may be
based on historical information (their experience) or hearsay
(knowing someone at an institution and assuming that what they
say is true). Despite that, you cannot underestimate the power
of WHO they know.