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Applying to ENT Residency

An ENT resident using an otoscope to examine his patient.


Demystifying Applying in Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery (ENT)

Do you love the ears, nose and throat? Me too! The residency application process in ENT can be daunting and stressful – the best way to navigate the system is by talking to friends and colleagues who have been through it before! Here are some questions I commonly get asked (about topics I also found confusing):


Do I need to do away rotations (aka acting internship, sub-internship)?

ENT is a tiny subspecialty and your best shot of getting into a program is by knowing the faculty and residents. Away rotations are a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the program and get a glimpse of the inner-workings. That being said, away rotations are challenging. You are expected to work the same hours as the residents and you will be in an unfamiliar city and hospital. Therefore, some mentors will advise against this if you have a great CV, stating “it can only hurt you.” This implies that you look great on paper, but would be vulnerable to a bad impression on an away rotation if you didn’t fit in well with the program.  In my opinion, away rotations are a necessary opportunity to help you decide if the program and city are the right fit for you. In addition, seeing another program(s) will help show you what you’re looking for as you interview broadly. It’s worth working extra hard for just 4 weeks to figure out your right fight for the next 5-7 years! Plus if you jive well with the program and excel, the chances of being offered an interview are greatly increased.


How many programs should I apply to?

ENT is competitive. There’s no beating around the bush. The best way to maximize your odds is to apply widely, and realistically. Use a resource, such as Doximity, to browse the various residency programs and look at location, number of residents, subspecialties offered, etc and then choose a long list (think 50-70) to go over with your program director, before you start to narrow. Get input from prior applicants and faculty whom you admire. One great part about ENT is the field is small and people know each other really well –faculty members often have good insight into programs. BUT don’t apply to toooo many programs, the right number will vary based on your USMLE Step scores and your CV – therefore it’s very important to have an open discussion with mentors you trust.


Do I need to have done research in ENT? How much?

Yes and no. ENT academic residency programs are looking to train the next generation of surgeon-scientists.  This may not be you, but this is the goal of academic programs. Therefore, completing any research projects during medical school is necessary and shows you have the ability to synthesize and analyze data.  That being said, ENT is very niche, and students often find it in the later years of medical school. Therefore, having completed research in any field is great! And once you decide on ENT you can start pursuing research within the field – even if that means you haven’t been published in ENT before you apply.


What are the interviews like?

In general, interview days are divided in two; half-day of interviews themselves and a half-day tour/lunch.  ENT residencies programs tend to be small, but mighty, and a good fit for the team is more important than being the smartest person in the room. This means that chatting with residents during your tour and at lunch, to get a feel for the program, is just as important as smashing your interview questions.

In my experience, most programs have you interview with anywhere from 10-20 faculty members. The interviews are set up as mini-stations and you rotate through rooms, talking with one to three faculty members in each room for anywhere from 7-20 minutes. It’s a long day! But in a field this small, this allows input from most of the department members about the one to five residents they will be matching.  This setup also offers you an opportunity to get a good feel for the faculty with whom you’ll be working. One unique aspect of ENT interviews is that some programs do incorporate skills sessions, and/or ENT-specific content questions, in addition to the bread and butter/CV content. Don’t panic, on the whole programs are just looking to see you think on your feet and get a sense of whether you’d mesh well with their team.


How do I make my rank list?

Go with your gut!

I found it useful to take notes as I went on interviews to help jog my memory of specific programs details. But, really, honestly, it’s a whirlwind and you have to go with your gut.


Good luck!!

For more ENT-specific tips, set up a session with Gaelen!

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