As your clerkship year comes to an end, you may have considerable difficulty deciding upon your career choice and may elect to do some rotations during your 4th year at your home institution. This, however, doesn’t tell you much about how your residency experience will be at another institution. Below, we will review the main reasons for why medical students do 4th year clinical “away” electives, describe the role of the Visiting Student Application Service (VSAS), and outline the timeline for setting these up.
It is important to stress that regardless of the reason(s) for spending a month at another institution, these are in a sense “audition” months (i.e., a 30 day interview). It is imperative to be on your best behavior and highlight your strengths at all times. When you leave, they should miss you!
What are the advantages?
- If you are interested in going to a specific institution or region of the U.S., it may benefit you to spend a month at that institution so that you can demonstrate your intelligence, motivation, and enthusiasm.
- Certain specialties have become incredibly competitive and have thus led many students to do “audition” months at schools on par with, below, and/or above their academic credentials. This happens most often in Orthopedics, Plastic Surgery, ENT, Urology, Ophthalmology, Radiation Oncology, and Dermatology. This strategy is often employed to compensate for academic deficiencies (such as low board scores and/or poor 3rd year grades).
- Going to another institution or two can allow you to be better informed about a specialty. Your impression of orthopedics or pediatrics at institution “x” can be very different from that of a different institution. It is important to realize that residents, faculty, institution facilities, etc. can sway your opinion about a specialty. Hence, a second or third exposure can either refute or confirm your gestalt.
What is the disadvantage?
- Performing poorly, even if you look great on paper, does not bode well for matching at that program. It is imperative to consider how you have done clinically on your previous rotations and ask yourself “am I okay with exposing myself to other programs?”
The VSAS is a “common application” service that allows medical students to apply for these audition months at other schools. This service reduces paperwork and streamlines the decision making process between the student and host institution.
The following outlines the application process:
- Request VSAS Authorizations: Ask the academic office at your medical school who handles this process. That individual will provide you with the authorization to begin your application. Each authorization equates to one away elective. You can request more than one if you choose (up to a limit that is pre-determined by your medical school).
- Next go to the VSAS “Institutions” tab to review which institutions you are interested in. Each school will have application requirements, fees, deadlines, etc.
- Complete and Certify your VSAS Profile
- Upload & Assign Supporting Documents: This will include a photograph, CV, Immunization records (these are uploaded after applications are submitted through VSAS), and transcripts (your school will upload). Supplemental documents: students may upload other supporting documents, or there may be additional documents the host institution will require you to complete.
- Apply to Electives: Use the VSAS search form to determine which electives you are interesting in applying for. You will have to arrange them in order of preference at each institution. At the end, you will have to enter your credit card information and submit your application. You pay for each institution, not each elective. Below are the VSAS fees
$35 1st institution fee
$15 2nd institution fee
$15 3rd institution fee
$65 TOTAL fees
- Your medical school will verify your application before it is released.
- Tracking: You can accept/decline offers, modify your application, drop accepted offers, or withdraw your application. Make sure to check your email often as you will receive correspondence about the progress of your application.
It is important to understand that not all schools participate in VSAS. If you are interested in a school that doesn’t participate in the program, you should search online for contact information for the residency program coordinator at the institution of interest. They typically will be able to provide you with their application, requirements, deadlines, etc.
The optimal time to think about “away” electives is around January-February of your 3rd year. It would benefit you to get basic paperwork (immunization records, photograph, CV) together by early January so that your application can be submitted in a timely manner. The ultimate goal of VSAS is to help you visit other institutions so that you can become more informed about your career choice and maximize your chance for a successful match.