Frequently asked Questions by MS1s and MS2s
Plastic Surgery is well known as a highly competitive surgical subspecialty. Students can choose to enter Plastic surgery directly through application to an integrated program model, or following surgery training through the independent training model. A very strong performance on Step I of the USMLE is essential to be competitive. Programs are most interested in students who have demonstrated a strong interest and commitment to the field through clinical exposure and research. It is important to develop mentorship relationships with plastic surgeons. Consider joining national organizations to learn more about the field.
Plastic Surgery is a very competitive specialty and while research experience is not required, but it is highly encouraged. Your preclinical years are a great time to get started with a research project, both to gain experience with the research process itself and also to get exposure to the field. It is generally preferable to have completed one or two comprehensive projects where you had significant involvement rather than multiple projects where you were only minimally involved.
Your Career and Professional Advisors are happy to assist you in making connections with Plastic Surgery faculty. Talk to your mentors and Dr. McEchron as he can help guide you to find a good “fit” depending on your interests. Peers, recent graduates, and local faculty can provide valuable resources.
A strong academic foundation and strong performance on Step I is your most important priority. If you can successfully add volunteer work or other extracurricular activities and maintain a healthy balance with your academics then it is highly recommended. Volunteering will make you more well-rounded and better informed to make a career decision while gaining valuable experience and serving the local community.
Frequently Asked Questions by MS3s and MS4s
Most students start thinking about letters toward the end of 3rd year and beginning of 4th year. We recommend doing your Surgery Sub-I and away rotations early in Blocks 1-5 of your 4th year to facilitate developing professional relationships and obtaining letters of recommendation along the way. Your Career Advisor and Specialty Advisor can provide you a more specific recommendation of the number and type of letters based upon your individual circumstances and competitiveness.
You should have your CV updated and your personal statement available for reference. If you are asking for a LOR during your Sub-I or away rotation, consider asking for it about three weeks into the rotation from a faculty member who you have worked very well with. Even better if you have developed that relationship with the Department Chair or Program Director. When asking for a Letter of Recommendation it is ideal to do it in person. It is appropriate to ask specifically if they would be willing to write you a “strong letter of recommendation”. Please thank you letter writers for their effort.
You are permitted to submit up to 4 letters in ERAS. We recommend including letters from faculty that know you well from your Sub-I and away rotations and from faculty that support other aspects of your application. This could include your SP mentor, MPH or Certificate of Distinction programs you are a part of or from a research mentor you have worked closely with.
It is recommended that most of your letters come from Plastic Surgery attendings with whom you worked with during your rotations. A good combination of letters might be: Department Chair, two attendings, and one research mentor (if you worked closely together and have a good working relationship). That said, only ask people who are willing to write you a strong recommendation! Your advisors are happy to provide guidance on individual situations and scenarios.
A Department Chair Letter is not typically required for Plastic Surgery programs, however Department Chair or Program Director letters could be very valuable. Please check the individual program websites for more specific expectations.
In addition to your 4th year Surgery Sub-I rotation, away rotations in Plastic Surgery are strongly recommended. Some of the benefits of doing an away rotation include networking, increasing the number of interview invitations you’re likely to receive, and figuring out what you’re looking for in a residency program. Plastic Surgery is a very small community and many Department Chairs and Program Directors know each other and having an endorsement from faculty from your away rotations can make a very positive impact on your application. We recommend working closely with your Career Advisor and Specialty Advisor to help with this decision.
Specific Information for Plastic Surgery
There are two pathways to plastic surgery: independent plastic surgery programs of three years duration (following a surgery residency) or integrated programs of six years duration. A plastic surgery program director may choose to have both models present in a single training program. (Note, a “combined” training pathway of 3 years general surgery + 3 years plastic surgery at the same institution has been phased out as of July 1, 2015 per the American Board of Plastic Surgery).
In the integrated programs the student enters a plastic surgery residency as a PGY1 but must still complete the prerequisite general surgery requirements specified by the ABPS (American Board of Plastic Surgery) and is “loaned out” to the various general surgery services to complete these requirements. The integrated training program is 6 years long. The independent programs accept residents who have completed either a complete general surgery training program or training in ENT, orthopedics, urology, neurosurgery or oral-maxillofacial surgery. (Please note, medical students applying to plastic surgery through the integrated training pathway use ERAS while applicants applying for the independent training pathway following surgery residency apply via the San Francisco Match.)