September 15th, 2017 was the magical day that our M4 class submitted ERAS applications for residency. I remember staying up until 5:00am with my M4 friend Bill Mallett ruthlessly critiquing, editing and perfecting our personal statements all that night. Although he applied in anesthesiology and I in plastic surgery, the application process is the same across fields, and refreshingly more streamlined than the medical school application. We ensured to hit “submit” before 8:00am that day so that our application would be time-stamped the same as all of the other early applications. The relief that followed was divine!
If you didn’t know already, I have three children (that’s right, three), and you can imagine how tight our budget has been given that my wife is a homemaker and we live on medical school loans (borrowing maximums are only very slightly larger for families than for individuals). We had been saving up for interviews for over two years, but it still didn’t seem like we would have enough to pay for the nine interviews I attended. There were rumors that interviewing students would sometimes stay overnight with a UM Medical School (UMMS) alumni instead of booking hotels or Airbnb’s, but it seemed too good to be true–I always thought they must have had some sort of preexisting connection through mentors or some other means to make that happen. BUT, NO! It is so much more than that. UMMS placed Amy Chappuis, one of our staff, in charge of managing the H.O.S.T. (Helping Our Students Travel) program. Briefly, all I had to do was enter the dates and locations of the interviews I had received into my HOST website profile, and my name became available to UMMS alumni who had volunteered to host students. I only posted five of my interviews, because I had already made accommodations with friends and family for others. One or two weeks after posting, five alumni (that’s right, five!) reached out to me offering their spare bedrooms for my overnight stay during interviews. That is a 100% response rate!!! What’s even better is that as I visited them, each one was simply amazing in their hospitality; one host even volunteered as my personal chauffeur for the weekend (no Uber necessary)! No other students from other medical schools that I met on the interview trail had anything similar to this going for them as they interviewed…
As a plastic surgery applicant interested in burn reconstruction, my application was very unique–and, because of its peculiarity, very well received at many institutions. I certainly experienced the “Michigan difference” on the interview trail; many faculty members that interviewed me had connections in some way with Michigan. However, just as soon as interviews came to an end, I found myself in Cartagena, Colombia with Healing the Children, a volunteer group of plastic surgeons led by Dr. Robert Gilman of our plastic surgery department. Dr. Gilman collaborates with a group from Harvard to take two chief plastic surgery residents each summer to perform cleft lip and palate, pediatric hand, and burn reconstruction at no cost for indigent patients. My role was to gather data for my IMPACT project (similar to a senior capstone project), for which I am researching the barriers to health care that recipients of these gratuitous surgeries experience in their local systems that drives them to seek humanitarian care. The local newspaper reported on our visit and caught me in action! For IMPACT projects, the school gives funding to students with big ideas: I applied for and received a $950 internal grant from the school to cover travel expenses. While I certainly worked my tail off, I also had time on our final day to make it to the beach. In the middle of February. 😀
Match Day is just around the corner–March 16th, to be exact! There is nothing quite like it. Far from a feeling of anxiety and dread, I feel very excited! Most of my friends agree with me that they would be elated if they matched into either of their top three to five programs. Thankfully, coming from Michigan, it is rare to not match at your top program, and exceedingly rare to match below your top three (or not match). What could possibly make this better? Well, just this week I received an e-mail from the financial aid office that a group of alumni had donated to help cover the costs of interviews for students, and that I (because of my financial need situation) was chosen to receive a $1000 grant!!! Wahoo!!!! Totally unexpected, yet at the same time totally consistent with my four-year experience as a University of Michigan Medical Student.
So, a little math:
~$500 saved through HOST program + $950 IMPACT grant + $1000 interview grant = the Michigan Difference (or, $2450)
I’m blessed. Go Blue!!
I am a proud father of three (yes, three) children, which has made medical school… well, a little interesting at times. Raised in a small town in Idaho, I was taught that family is everything. I have found the stereotype which endorses that surgical specialties are hard on families to be outdated, and I am applying for integrated plastic surgery residency. I hope to become a reconstructive burn surgeon, a passion inspired after the tragic death of my friend following a massive burn injury.