Top 5 things candidates should look for in a residency

This is part 2 of a 2 part series.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Joshua Mali, MD, a vitreoretinal surgeon at The Eye Associates, a private multispecialty ophthalmology practice in Sarasota, FL. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

As residency and fellowship interviews for ophthalmology and sub-specialty programs kick into high gear this season, I thought I would share my viewpoint on this matter. I was recently invited by my alma mater vitreoretinal surgical fellowship at Albany Medical College/Retina Consultants, PLLC in Albany, New York, to participate in their interview process and evaluate candidates for the retina fellowship program. It was truly an honor for me to be a part of the decision-making process and I felt motivated to share my experience as now I have been on both sides of the table: applicant and now interviewer. In addition, my wife Yasmin is currently applying for a pediatric ophthalmology fellowship position so I had extra inspiration to write this article.

This is part 2 of a 2 part series. Check out Dr. Mali's, "Top 5 things interviewers look for in residency/fellowship candidates".


1. Faculty


By far and away, my number one is faculty of the program. When I was applying for residency and fellowship, this was the most important factor for me. I am so grateful to have received amazing training by wonderful ophthalmologists and mentors during my career. Not only were they fantastic physicians but also great people. I still keep in touch with them and these are lifelong relationships you will want to cherish for the rest of your career and beyond.


2. Culture of Program


The culture of the program is a difficult thing to define; it’s one of those things that you know when you see it. Items I would include would be the overall structure of the program, values and interests of faculty, and projected compatibility between your personality and current residents/fellows. This will be a challenge to ascertain from just one interview session, however, consider the so-called “second look” interview (try to set up an observation/shadowing visit, talk to current residents/fellows on the phone after the interview, or even just visit the clinics and hospitals again to get a sense of where you will be for your training).      


3. Surgical Volume


This seems like an obvious one-the more volume of cases a program can potentially provide to their trainees, the better trained surgeon that graduates the residency/fellowship. However, here are a few caveats to consider:

               a) Make sure to closely look at individual/itemized surgery numbers. For example, if you are applying for residency and know you are interested in retina, you would want to see specific retinal surgical numbers in addition to other things like cataracts, etc. This will ensure that you have a strong foundation of vitreoretinal surgeries that you can boast about during your subsequent retina fellowship interviews. In addition, you will be more skilled in retina and can hit the ground running when you start your future fellowship.

                b) Make sure to look at diversity of cases, it is important to get a well-rounded education and be able to handle any pathology that will come your way when you are on your own.    

                c) Take note of locations of surgery centers, availability of these facilities, ease  of surgical scheduling protocols, and inventory of surgical equipment/technologies. Ensure that the program is constantly upgrading surgical equipment to facilitate modern residency/fellowship training.  

                d) Don't be swayed one way or another by extreme/variable numbers. Everyone's surgical experience will be different. Try to look more at trends (i.e. ensure surgical volume trends are either relatively stable or going up).



4. Academics/Lecture Series


It is important to receive proper didactics during your training to establish a strong foundation of knowledge and prepare you for your future certification exams. Therefore, make sure to inquire about lecture structure and additional focused training tools like wet labs, surgical simulator technology, new product training, and board review lectures. 



5. Research


Similarly to its ranking on my other list, research rounds out my top five. Again, this is my Top 5. Other people may have this higher on their list based on basic science interest or academic position pursuits. It is important to incorporate research into your clinical career given that our field is so dynamic and new treatments and technologies seem to be developed constantly. Therefore, research did make my list and I published research articles during my residency and fellowship, however, my primary focus is being the best surgeon I can be through taking excellent care of my patients.

Whether you are evaluating candidates for your training program or you are a candidate interviewing for a residency or fellowship position, always remember to trust your gut, use your mind, and go with your heart to make the best decision.         

This is part 2 of a 2 part series. To read part 1, "Top 5 things interviewers look for in residency/fellowship candidates", click here.

Joshua Mali, MD, is a vitreoretinal surgeon at The Eye Associates, a private multispecialty ophthalmology practice in Sarasota, Florida.

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