Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Problem With ERAS

The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) is the system medical students in the United States use to apply to residency programs. While a long ways better than the system that existed before, ERAS still has its frustrating aspects, namely the long delays and lack of coordination.

The system does not have any delays relative to its own timeline. However, the timeline has delays built in. Applicants are able to submit applications usually around September 1 until around November 1. However, most applicants will try to get their materials in by September 1, so that becomes the true deadline. No matter when the applicants submit their materials though, the Dean's Letter (or MSPE in ERAS-lingo) is not uploaded by the candidate's school until November 1.

Why the two month delay? There really is very little reason to not upload the Dean's Letter by September 1. Or, alternatively, let students apply starting on a date closer to November 1, so there isn't that much of a delay.

Particularly frustrating is the fact that some programs have stated policies of not extending interview invitations until after November 1 or even later. One program I applied to will not send out invitations until December! What on earth are they waiting three months for? Some colleagues have noted that this just part of the game that programs play, using these tactics to weed out truly interested candidates from the ones who just applied because it was easy to click the button. Perhaps this is true, but how silly. We are graduate students, training to be professionals, about to enter the field of medicine. Why we have to play such ridiculous games, which ultimately is a waste of time for the students and the programs, is beyond me.

Beyond simply griping about this, I think two easy solutions are possible. One would be to move the ERAS open date later, perhaps to October 1 (or equivalently, move the Dean's Letter release date earlier). The second solution would be to mandate a date for programs to send out invitations so that they cannot play games with their interview slots. Planning interviews would be much easier with an entire slate of invitations, relatively to dealing with the slow trickle that comes in now. This would not change the fundamental workload involved, but it would simplify the situation greatly for applicants. Eventually, hurdles like this one and many others will turn away even the most deserving applicants from careers in medicine, so it behooves the powers that be to make the process of becoming a physician easier while maintaining rigorous academic standards.

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