I want you to remember that point for the entirety of your time reading this. This application is a sample size of 1. In contrast to the massive amount of data I provided in part 1, I am but a single data point in a sea of 40,000+ applicants. Therefore, you must take my outcome with a grain of salt, as it is not indicative of a larger population or of applicants as a whole.
However, we, as humans, enjoy anecdotes and personal experiences, as we can relate to them much better than we can to 400 pages of data on every applicant in the NRMP match. Use my story as follows: it merely shows what is within the realm of possibility. That is it. You can compare yourself to me (especially if going into surgery) if you’d like, but even then, it is impossible to tell what the same person reviewing two applications would think of me versus you. I am going to make points here that I think apply to the body of applicants as a whole, and the general strategies that institutions employ. These will be bolded, underlined, and will jump out at you.
Now, I’m going to put my entire ERAS application here. Some of it will be in embedded pdfs, some of it will be entered manually because I find it easier to read. I want to inform you that any alterations for how it appears here versus how it appears on ERAS are only done in the interest of keeping personal information private. I did not include my supervisors names for the activities I have done so that they will not be linked to this post via any search engines, I removed my own address and social security number for obvious reasons (as much as I love identity theft…), and other such edits. None of the real “meat” of the application, such as the description of my hobbies or of a certain volunteer activity, have been edited in any way. At the end will be the places I applied, including whether or not I received an interview there. I will make short notes in parenthesis or italics with commentary if I think it will help frame that particular concept. Let’s get to it.
This is given first because of all the pieces of my application, it is one of the few things that nearly every person interviewing me had actually read. They won’t read the pages and pages of the MSPE letter and all my rotation comments, but they at least read this. I think it is appropriate to put this first to frame myself as an applicant and the strategy I took in portraying my strengths. You’ll notice that it is written in a much more formal style, without my normal use of obnoxious parenthesis, very informal tone, and frequent jokes. I wanted to write a more “personal” statement where the voice in my writing really shines through, but sometimes it is better to observe the status quo and not go outside the box.
While I will leave medical school with two important letters after my name, I will also leave with two more things: black belts in the martial arts of Taekwondo and Hapkido. My medical and martial arts training are closely entwined, and my decision to become a general surgeon is best explained by my martial arts journey.
The first time I saw a martial arts demonstration, I was in awe of the artists’ technical prowess. They had a mastery of complex techniques such that their moves appeared effortless; this was a skill I wanted to have. Shortly thereafter, I began training Taekwondo, a traditional Korean art centered on set strikes and forms, and Hapkido, an eclectic self-defense art. Through hundreds of hours of training, I refined each skill and hungered for more. I learned to throw, punch, kick, roll, joint lock, and defend against weapons. My instructors taught me to break down every technique into its smallest components, polishing each piece until it became perfect. It was with pride that, after four years, I earned black belts in Taekwondo during my first year of medical school and Hapkido during my second year.
Each of the characteristics I developed and loved in martial arts find a counterpart in surgery: physical dexterity, attention to detail, learning techniques, and the focus on excellence. I saw how the skills of faculty surgeons, developed by deliberate practice, translated to good outcomes for patients. Surgery allowed survival from a gunshot wound, relief from symptomatic cholelithiasis, or resection of a tumor. In this way, general surgery provides what I want in my career: a way for the hours spent honing skills to lead to changes in a patient’s life. It is a discipline of action, and when it comes time for a patient to have surgery, I want to have the ability to treat them instead of referring them to someone else. Additionally, I appreciate that surgery demands a high level of knowledge in medicine. I want the capability to treat the broad range of conditions that surgical training enables.
I found myself as at home on surgery services as I felt in my martial arts training. I want to learn and grow in the atmosphere of respect, hard work, and pursuit of perfection. At the end of residency, I want to pursue a career in trauma surgery and surgical critical care. This combines my enjoyment of fast-paced and unpredictable trauma environments with the analytical side of critical care, allowing for a well-rounded skillset of both medicine and surgery. Additionally, considering my degree in mathematics, I want to perform outcomes-based and biostatistics research to further the practice of surgery.
I will bring the same drive to surgical training that I take to martial arts. Just as I have begun down the path of learning a new art this past year in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I am ready to take the next step in becoming a surgeon.
See, pretty basic. It might as well be attached to a pumpkin spice latte (sigh….worn out basic white girl joke. But I had to make it). I think you reading this is an appropriate opening for my application.
Also, you can have more than 1 personal statement. I uploaded a slightly different personal statement to a few community programs I applied to.
Pictures are included in the ERAS application
- Name: Brandon Wojcik
- Age: 25
- State of Residence: Indiana
- Participating in match as a couple: No
- ACLS Expiration Date 09/26/2016
- BLS Expiration Date 04/18/2018
- Alpha Omega Alpha Status: No
- Gold Humanism Honor Society Status: No
Indiana University School of Medicine, United States
Indiana University School of Medicine-Bloomington Medical Science Program 08/2013 – 05/2017 M.D., 05/2017
Undergraduate – Indiana University, Bloomington, IN Mathematics 08/2009 – 05/2013 B.A.; 05/2013
Membership and Honorary/Professional Societies
Phi Beta Kappa, American College of Surgeons.
08/2013 – 05/2015
Average Hours/Week: 2
IU Hapkido/Self-Defense Club, Bloomington, IN, United States
Safety Officer and Demo Team Instructor
Supervised weekend club practices. Instructor for self-defense demonstrations and seminars throughout Indiana University campus.
08/2013 – 01/2014
Average Hours/Week: 5
Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, Bloomington, IN, United States
Student volunteer at free clinic for uninsured patients. Triaged patients, took initial history, and assessed vital signs. Additionally, administered screening tests for depression, smoking cessation, and other conditions.
11/2007 – 07/2014
Average Hours/Week: 4
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, Carmel, IN, United States
Volunteer Youth Minister
Small group leader and assistant in youth ministry. Assisted with weekly youth group meetings and discussions. Led retreats varying in length from three to seven days. Guided small group discussions, gave presentations, and provided mentoring.
08/2010 – 05/2012
Average Hours/Week: 20
IU Residential Programs and Services, Bloomington, IN, United States
Resident assistant in undergraduate residence hall. In charge of floor of 50 male students, community building, freshmen mentoring, building security duties, and created resident activities.
07/2015 – 09/2016
Average Hours/Week: 5
IUSM Department of Surgery, Indianapolis, IN, United States
Graduate Research Assistant
Gathered data for projects including the academic productivity of Shock Society Members, academic productivity of Halstead Society members, and outcomes of cirrhotic patients undergoing general surgery procedures.
Publications Peer Reviewed Journal Articles/Abstracts(Other than Published)
Daniel P. Milgrom, Joshua Kays, Brandon M. Wojcik, C. Corbin Frye, Tiffany Liang, Nakul Valsangkar, James Butler, Mary A. Maluccio, Shekhar Kubal, A. Joseph Tector, Leonidas G. Koniaris. Specialized care and transplantation salvage improves outcomes for patients with cirrhosis who require general surgical procedures. American Journal of Transplantation. 2016, Aug; Pub Status: Submitted.
Neha L. Lad, Leonidas G. Koniaris, Teresa M. Bell, Nakul P. Valsangkar, Brandon Wojcik, Teresa A. Zimmers. Assessment of the Academic Impact of Shock Society Members. Shock. 2016, Sep; Pub Status: Submitted.
Not a huge amount of publications, but they had at least been submitted at the time of my application.
Hobbies & Interests
Trained martial arts of Taekwondo, a traditional Korean art, and Hapkido, a self-defense Korean art, since 2011. Earned black belts in both arts, involved in training and promoting new members. Currently training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since 2015. Played high school varsity basketball, I enjoy playing pick-up games. I frequently run and lift weights. I enjoy reading and cooking large meals.
English – Native
German – Basic
Spanish/Spanish Creole – Basic
2014 – Spirit of Hapkido Award – Awarded to the Hapkido club member who demonstrated the value of Kunja, meaning “A person of virtue, a true ‘gentleman’, a wise person”.
USMLE STEP 1: 226
USMLE STEP 2 CK: 240 (this was included with my application since I took it early enough)
P = pass, HP = High Pass, H = Honors. Pass is for everyone below the 50th percentile of the class, Honors is generally the top 10-20% of the class. That’s the grading system used at my institution, at least during the time I have been here. It was recently changed last year to be only pass/fail the first two years.
- Medical Biochemistry: P
- Gross Anatomy: P
- Histology: P
- Medical Neuroscience: P
- Human Physiology: P
- Microbiology/Immunology: P*
- Patient/Doctor Relations: P
*I almost failed this class. It was by far the thing I just didn’t understand early on, I should have read microbiology made ridiculous simple waaaaay earlier. An above 60% on the final exam was required to pass the course, I got the lowest grade on it in my entire class of 35. I passed it by 3 questions out of 150.
- General Pathology: HP
- Systemic Pathology: P
- Pharmacology: P
- Intro to Medicine: HP
- Human Genetics and Development: P
- Biostatistics: P
Kind of sad I didn’t get above a pass in biostats considering I have a math degree… Such is life. I was also a combined 20 points away out of a total of over 2,000 from getting higher grades in 3 classes, which would have been honors in pathology and medicine and high pass in pharmacology. It sucks being the last person on a given tier, since grades were given based on a curve (i.e. only a certain percentage of the class could get honors and high pass).
- Anesthesia Clerkship: P
- Obstetrics and Gynecology: H
- Surgery Clerkship: H
- Pediatrics Clerkship: P
- Family Medicine Clerkship: HP
- General Surgery Sub-Internship, C-Team: H*
- Medicine Clerkship: P
- Psychiatric Clerkship: P
- Core Clerkship-Neurology: P
*Pretty much everyone gets honors in their sub-internships, so that grade doesn’t mean much.
- Pancreatic, Hepatobiliary Surgery, A-Team: H
- Special Elective – Surgery (Away rotation on Trauma ICU at Shock Trauma in Baltimore): HP
- Advanced Regional Gross Anatomy: H
No further grades shown on my transcript for residency application
Letters of Recommendation
Since everyone waives (see: you should too) their right to read their recommendation letters, I will just name my letter writers here:
Attila Nakeeb, MD – Professor of Surgery. Prominent hepatobiliary surgeon.
Michael G. House, MD – Associate Professor of Surgery. Another prominent hepatobiliary surgeon.
Gary L. Dunnington, MD – Chair of Surgery. Writes recommendation letters for all applications to general surgery residency. Well known nationally in the world of surgical education.
Reputation matters. In the words of one of my mentors, “Get people to write your letters who are both good letter writers and have a good national reputation. You want people who are well networked.” I did rotations with both Dr. Nakeeb and Dr. House on a sub-intern level. I’ve been told that the letters were good during my interviews, at least from my home institution. Dr. Nakeeb described me as “keeping my head down and getting work done”, which is high praise coming from him. I would put together a list of some of his best quotes (because he’s hilarious), but in this case, what happens in the OR stays in the OR.
MSPE – Medical Student Performance Evaluation
This is the document that includes all of the comments by various residents and faculty about my performance throughout all of my classes and rotations. The hyperlink goes to the pdf, which I have uploaded to my blog website so that you can see it was entirely unedited. The first page includesmy own words, such as the most meaningful research experience and personal characteristics sections. Everything beyond the first page was not written by me. It is attached below in its entirety.
Results – Interview offers and rejections
So, a little opener here. I applied to 58 programs, which in hindsight was probably too many. I primarily applied to programs in the Midwest, as there is a clear geographic bias. By that I mean midwest programs tend to interview midwest applicants, west coast programs interview west coast applicants, etc. In order to break across geographic regions, you generally need to be an above average applicant. I could have easily cut off 10 programs that were a “reach”. Let’s be honest, there was no way I was getting an interview at Mass General. We’re not all the most special snowflake.
Bold = Interview offered
Italics = Rejected
Regular font = Did not receive either an offer or a rejection, essentially being “ghosted”.
- Boston University Medical Center Program
- Brown University Program
- Carolinas Medical Center Program
- Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center Program
- Cleveland Clinic Foundation Program
- Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Program
- Detroit Medical Center/Wayne State University Program – Rejected 10/25
- Eastern Virginia Medical School Program – Interview offered 9/23
- George Washington University Program
- Georgetown University Hospital Program
- Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners/Michigan State University Program – Interview offered 10/5
- Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation Program – Rejected 11/16
- Hennepin County Medical Center Program
- Henry Ford Hospital/Wayne State University Program
- Indiana University School of Medicine Program – Interview offered 10/12
- Johns Hopkins University Program – Rejected 11/18
- Massachusetts General Hospital Program – Rejected 10/25
- Medical College of Wisconsin Affiliated Hospitals Program – Rejected 12/8
- Michigan State University Program – Interview offered 10/28
- Ohio State University Hospital Program – Rejected 11/3
- Oregon Health & Science University Program – Rejected 10/28
- Penn State Milton S Hershey Medical Center Program
- Southern Illinois University Program
- St Joseph Mercy Hospital Program – Interview Offered 10/20
- St Louis University School of Medicine Program – Interview offered 9/20
- St Vincent Hospitals and Health Care Center Program – Interview offered 10/4
- University at Buffalo Program – Interview offered 10/6
- University of Cincinnati Medical Center/College of Medicine Program
- University of Colorado Program
- University of Connecticut Program
- University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Program
- University of Kansas (Wichita) Program – Interview offered 10/14 – DECLINED…mainly because I already had an interview from the main University of Kansas program. Oh, and I had no desire to live in Wichita, even though I’m sure it’s a nice place.
- University of Kansas School of Medicine Program – Interview Offered 10/3, waitlisted, off waitlist 12/16
- University of Louisville Program
- University of Massachusetts Program
- University of Minnesota Program – Interview Offered 9/23
- University of Missouri at Kansas City Program – Interview offered 10/13 – Waitlisted
- University of Missouri-Columbia Program – Interview Offered 10/7
- University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine Program – Interview offered 11/14
- University of North Carolina Hospitals Program
- University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Program
- University of Pennsylvania Program – Rejected 11/22
- University of Rochester Program – Interview offered 10/14
- University of Tennessee Medical Center at Knoxville Program – Interview offered 10/22, declined 12/21 due to conflict with a recently offered interview.
- University of Tennessee Program
- University of Virginia Program – Rejected 10/31
- University of Washington Program – Rejected 11/1
- University of Wisconsin Program
- UPMC Medical Education (Mercy) Program – Interview Offered 10/3 – Weird thing happened
- UPMC Medical Education Program
- Vanderbilt University Medical Center Program – Rejected 11/11
- Virginia Mason Medical Center Program – Rejected 10/19
- Wake Forest University School of Medicine Program
- West Virginia University Program – Interview offered 10/4
- Western Michigan University Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine Program
- William Beaumont Hospital Program
- Wright State University Program – Interview offered 1/10, declined due to conflict with another interview. Oh, and they offered it a week before it was scheduled… That’s a recipe for schedule conflicts.
- Yale-New Haven Medical Center Program
Interviews offered: 19
Interviews attended: 14
Alright, the biggest point I’m going to make here is that 46.5% of programs I applied to straight up didn’t have the dignity to tell me I was rejected. I got enough interviews that this is a moot point in the long run, but that’s an absurdly high percentage. I had a running joke that I thought surgery programs were more likely to ghost than women these days, and turns out I was right. On that note: women, please tell a guy you’re not interested instead of just ignoring him (the same goes for men telling women this) when it’s clear he’s interested in you. It’s better to know than live in weird ambiguity. Grow some ovaries (or balls) and be up front with people. I’m interested to know if the programs that do this made it a habit of doing this to applicants. Props to those that actually told me I was rejected.
Well, there you have it folks. I think getting 19 interviews wasn’t too bad, from a mix of all kinds of programs (obviously besides the top tier elite schools). After interviewing at all of them, I was very happy with the programs that are considering me for a spot in their residency. Since it’s the end of the interview season, I can provide a few more thoughts on what I think helped me get interviews. Statistically speaking, I was a below average applicant as far as grades/STEP scores go. My STEP scores weren’t anything to write home about, but they were good enough, which is all that matters. My grades did show an upward trend, and honors in a few clerkships (especially surgery, since I’m going into the field) also helped. My personal statement on my martial arts experience was brought up by pretty much every interviewer I had.
That small blip on my internal medicine rotation (which I wrote about a few months ago) was not mentioned at all, unless I was the one to bring it up. I frequently did bring it up when asked about a challenge I underwent in medical school. You can see the MSPE is a lengthy document, and it’s pretty evident that at least in surgery not every program or every interviewer will read all or even part of it.
Part 3 will come later where I go through every place I interviewed and some brief thoughts on each. It won’t come out until after match day, because I will include my running rank list and final rank list at that time, including where I matched.
I hope this provided you with an insight into my journey through medical school, as well as some take home points for you as you go through this process in the coming years. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions. Now it’s time to gear up for my final clinical rotation of the year, a required internal medicine sub-internship.
Here’s a great pump up song, as I’ve got to get this paper done in the next 3 hours because I’ve procrastinated on finishing it for a week. It’s Krewella – Come And Get It (Razihel Remix)