Tips for Financing the Plastic Surgery Interview Trail

by Justin M. Broyles, MD  (@JustinMBroyles)

The months of December and January represent an exciting time in the academic plastic surgery calendar filled with traveling to new places, meeting with old friends, and making new colleagues. As has already been highlighted on this blog (see: Insider Tips for Plastic Surgery Residency Interviews) and in PRS (see: How to Put Your Best Self Forward in Plastic Surgery Residency Interviews) this can be an emotionally stressful process filled with uncertainty and travel constraints. (1) To add insult to injury, it can also be an expensive process and prospective applicants should utilize strategies to maximize their resources.

In contrast to other industries where travel expenses are often covered for prospective applicants by the employer, the burden of expenditures for the plastic surgery interview process is placed on the applicant.  Given that plastic surgery is one of the most competitive medical specialties, many applicants feel pressure to apply to as many programs as possible to increase their chances for a successful match.  Last year, that number was 148 integrated positions in 67 programs. (2) While there is no “magic number” of interviews to attend that would guarantee a successful match, data from the 2013 match reveal that attendance of 5 interviews had a 93% match rate, and attendance of more than 11 interviews had a 100% match rate. (3)

“In contrast to other industries where travel expenses are often covered for prospective applicants by the employer, the burden of expenditures for the plastic surgery interview process is placed on the applicant.”

Can you financially justify attending more than 11 interviews?  Maybe.  As a former applicant who attended 18 interviews, the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate that many programs allowed me to make a very educated decision when creating a rank list.  On the other hand, with a median interview cost of $434 per interview (2013 numbers), the additional $3,038 may have been better spent.  Bottom line, interview at places where you can potentially see yourself living.  Ultimately, the additional $434 may be worth the money if you discover a program that prior to interviewing, you may have discredited.

A new, free PRS article (see: Financial Planning for the Plastic Surgery Residency Applicant) does a fantastic job highlighting several ways applicants can save money while on the trail. (4)

residentchronicles travel trail blog graphic

First, I would like to highlight travel planning and airline choices.  As the article alludes to, several programs have now tried to make “regional” interviews so that applicants can minimize transit times and airfare.  I know that my program, Johns Hopkins/University of Maryland, coordinates with Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and University of Pennsylvania to help consolidate travel efforts for applicants.

Additionally, I cannot overstate picking early flights and not checking luggage.  January can be a treacherous time of year to travel, and flights are often delayed or even cancelled leading to chaos on the interview trial.  By picking the first flight of the day and not checking a bag it ensures you the flexibility to find connections if your flight gets cancelled while not losing your luggage.

In my experience, the most money could be saved on both ground travel and hotel accommodations.  It was very rare that car rental ended up being an economical decision.  You have enough on your mind to worry about finding your way around a new city in treacherous winter weather.  Furthermore, there is a high likelihood that alternative sources are available such as Uber, Lyft, and other applicants.

I would also encourage sharing a hotel room with other applicants.  In addition to cost savings, it’s nice to build camaraderie and have someone present to discuss the various nuances of the interview trail.  Indeed, I still maintain contact with friends whom I shared accommodations with to this day.

In short, the plastic surgery interview trail is one of the more memorable experiences that you will undergo.  In a short two months you will travel to places that you have never imagined going to and meet incredibly talented people from different parts of the world.  It can be exhausting, but I would encourage each of you to keep these tips in mind and take a moment to enjoy the journey. 

References:

  1. Rohrich RJ, Rodriguez ED, Unger JG. How to put your best self forward in plastic surgery residency interviews. Plast Reconst Surg. 2016 Jan;137(1):379-82.
  1. National Resident Matching Program, Results and Data: 2015 Main Residency Match. National Resident Matching Program, Washington, DC. 2015
  2. Claiborne JR, Crantford JC, Swett KR, David LR. The plastic surgery match: predicting success and improving the process. Ann Plast Surg. 2013 Jun;70(6):698-703.
  3. Vyas SK, Mardini S, Phillips LG, Gosman AA, Vasconez HC. Financial Planning for the Plastic Surgery Residency Applicant.  Plast Reconst Surg.  Jan 2016.  Epub ahead of Print.

Justin M. Broyles, MD  is a Resident at The Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Plastic Surgery; Baltimore, MD, USA

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