Enhancing Your Resumé
Radiology is a very competitive field these days. Most current professors of radiology, myself included, are awfully glad that we don't have to compete with the folks applying to radiology residencies these days. Most of us are also secretly afraid that if we did, we might not make it into our own programs.
But enough about us, what about you? How can you fine-tune your resumé to enhance your chances of getting into a choice radiology program? I'm going to assume that you have already done the obvious things, such as typing it up neatly in a word processor, choosing an accessible layout, and running the whole thing through a grammar and spell checker. However, that stuff is just cosmetics. What about the meat of your resumé? What will make yours stand out from all of the other applicants with 4.0 GPR's, perfect MCAT scores, glowing letters of recommendation and personal statements as to their devotion to Radiology, The One True Profession?
In a nutshell, radiology residency programs are looking for objective accomplishments that make you stand out from the Great Unwashed Masses applying for the same slots. The emphasis here should be on the "accomplish" part of accomplishment, i.e. completing some task and having a result to show for it. This is the difference between "I did research with Dr. Smith one summer" and "I did research with Dr. Smith one summer and we published our results in Radiology". Just hanging out with the people doing the work doesn't count for that much. However, if you not only hung out with them but also helped do enough of the research that they put your name on a paper, that means a lot more. So, publishing a paper is great. Writing and publishing a book would be swell. Applying for and receiving a research grant would be peachy. Winning a prize for your work would be keen. Establishing some health-related project that does Great Good would be really neat.
Now, no one expects you to cure cancer, win a Nobel prize or bring about world peace. If that is your plan, good fortune to you. If you pull it off, you will be able to turn down any residency program in the world. However, this does beg the question: what sorts of attainments can a medical student reasonably expect to accomplish in their short time before applying for a radiology residency?
Most medical students don't have the skills or life experience to write a worthy book. Grants, while possible, pose significant challenges even to most attending physicians. There are only so many prizes out there, so this may not be the best use of your time. Establishing a health-related project is extremely worthy, but awfully hard to accomplish while your med school is making you jump like a flea from rotation to rotation every 4 weeks.
This leaves writing and publishing papers, of which there are all sorts. Planning, running and writing up a multi-author, multi-center double-blinded study would not be the low-hanging fruit. A better choice would be a retrospective review of some large number of patients with some interesting and clinically important disorder. These papers are known as "bean-counting" projects in the world of academia. However, while worthy, they can take immense amounts of time and energy and really, really tax one's will to live by the time they reach closure.
In my opinion, the most practical choice for a worthy medical student project is to write up a case report for a peer-reviewed journal. As it happens, most of us god-like attendings did not get our start by writing up a major research study. For most of us in academia, case reports have provided a very attainable way for fledgling authors to learn the craft of scientific writing.
If a radiology residency is your goal, it would be optimal to write a radiology case report. How do you get started? Simply by asking some of the radiology attendings in your medical school or community radiology department if they have an interesting case you can write up. It would be a strange department indeed that didn't have hundreds of such cases lying around, merely waiting for someone like you, with the time and energy to write them up. Most attendings will be glad to help you with this process, especially if you do most of the work.
Once you've written it up, where do you send it? Unfortunately, many of the established radiology journals have increasingly focused their efforts on major research studies, and de-emphasized case reports. In fact, the two major North American radiology journals, Radiology and AJR, no longer accept case reports. To help reverse this trend, we recently established Radiology Case Reports (RCR), a new, peer-reviewed, open-access radiology journal devoted to case reports. RCR welcomes authors with all levels of experience, and invites you to submit your case reports for publication.
Finally, there is no law that says you can't write up more than one case report. If you do find yourself applying to a program where quantity outweighs quality, "more" is deemed to be "better", and "a lot more" is "a lot better", having a lot of case reports on your resumé won't hurt your chances there a bit.