You've taken USMLE Step 1. You've figured out how to choose a medical specialty. You got the recommendation letters, slaved over the personal statement, and submitted ERAS. Finally, it's time to sit back and wait for those interviews to roll in. But wait, there's one big question to be answered.
How are you going to schedule dates, flights, hotels, and rental cars for all those residency interviews?
There are several ways to go about answering this question, but the key is to have a plan. Here is the strategy I used to attack this problem head on. Note, this assumes that you are applying across the country and have roughly 10 to 20 interviews. If you are applying in one region, or are in a situation that requires more interviews, this strategy may not be for you.
No one really discusses the logistics of what happens after you submit ERAS. Sure, everyone understands that programs review your ERAS application, look at your grades, letters, and personal statement, and then decide to send out interview invites. You accept, go interview, then both sides rank, and you wait for Match Day. This model works great for one program, but what happens when you are dealing with 10 to 20 programs simultaneously? And, the programs send out invites at different times on a rolling basis?
To solve this problem, there are a few key principles: submit early, block out time, stay up-to-date, be inquisitive, and be a deal hunter.
Submit Early - There are two seasons to be aware of: the invitation season and the interview season. The invitation season runs from whenever you submit to roughly early December. The interview seasons lags this by about a month and a half, so most interviews run from late October to late January. However, to maximize your timeframe to receive interviews and schedule them, you have to submit your ERAS as soon as possible. Of course, you want to do a good job and have a complete application, but you need to be proactive in getting your application in so you can start receiving invites!
Block Out Time - If you are applying all over the country, it is a good rule of thumb that the further west you go, the later the invitations. That means, you should try to block out months based on regions: November for East Coast, December for Midwest/South, and January for West Coast programs. If you do this, you can save a lot of money by scheduling one flight for multiple interviews in the same region. It also helps you respond when programs offer multiple dates across all three months. Keep in mind that most programs do not interview the week of Thanksgiving as well as the weeks around Christmas and New Year. Remember, interview spots fill up fast so you want to respond to an invitation as soon as possible!
Stay Up-To-Date - Use the message boards either specific for your specialty or on Student Doctor Network to know when programs send out invitations. While this can be nerve-wracking sometimes, it helps you know when you have not heard from a program whether the program has already sent out invites to others, or whether to remain patient. At the same time, you want to keep your resume and information up-to-date as well.
Be Inquisitive - If you have not heard from a program, or know they have already sent out a round of interviews, it can sometimes pay to email the program coordinator to reiterate your interest. A lot of times, programs are trying to decide between many very similar looking applicants, so this extra show of interest can help push your application to the top and win you that invite.
Hunt For Deals - Traveling and interviewing is expensive. Between the flights and hotels, many interviewees end up spending thousands of dollars. Since there's no real way around this, it's important to be on the lookout for deals. Try to stay with friends, fly with the same airline to rack up frequent flyer miles and potentially a free flight, stay close to your hospital, and use public transportation to minimize taxi cab / rental car costs. Those saved dollars will really add up over the interview season.