Making your plastic surgery rank list
Rank enough programs to match. Mean number of programs ranked was 9 for those that matched and 3.9 for those that didn’t. The lesson is clear. With any luck there were several programs you really liked, a couple in the middle, and just a few you didn't care for. Your goal should be to match in that first group (aim for at least 6, but again the data show that 9 is the mean number for applicants who match). CAUTION: don’t rank a program you wouldn’t be happy matching to. We have seen STELLAR applicants match in the middle of their rank list.
How do I pick my top program?
This is a very personal decision. Hopefully you were taking notes during your interview process (we talk about this in our "Interview Guide"). Ultimately your goal is to get the best surgical training. You have to balance that against (sometimes) competing desires to be near family/friends, in a geographic location that offers certain benefits (oceans, mountains, cultural activities), at a program with a "big name," ability to do advanced degrees or high level research, at a place with a great faculty/resident vibe. Put an initial list on paper just based on your gut feeling. Then go through each pair (1 and 2, 2 and 3, etc), and revise up and down based on your goals and the perceived strengths of each program. Once you've got a good draft list in place, go back to the residents and your faculty mentors at your home program and talk it over with them. They will likely have friends at these programs and can give you the inside scoop - that the general surgery years at X program are a disaster, or they've heard that the chairman will be leaving soon, or that the residents have no real independence in the OR. Use this to help refine your list.
Should I have anyone make a call for me?
There is a lot of behind the scenes communication among the programs. Having a well known attending go to bat for you can be a big help. It is NOT necessary, but if you have your heart set on one particular program, letting your faculty mentor know and asking if he or she would make a call for you is reasonable.
Should I apply to a second specialty as a backup?
The data aren’t clear, so ultimately it’s up to you. If you do, just make it ONE backup and not 2 or 3. Also consider other options like taking a year out to do research, consulting for a year, traveling, writing a book.
What if I don't match?
It happens. Have a plan. Consider a backup specialty or transitional year, taking a year to do research (read through our "How to Match/Tips on applying" page"), work in healthcare consulting, travel. The point is, if you don't match you need to DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE with your year. When you re-apply the following year, EVERYONE is going to ask you what you did. You want to be able to tell them you published, kicked butt in a triathlon, fulfilled a lifelong goal of spending two months at Everest base camp with the Himalaya Rescue Association (that's one of mine, sounds awesome right?). It doesn't much matter what you did. But it should demonstrate that you had a goal, put the effort in, and succeeded. If you can spend a year cozying up to influential plastic surgeons, there is an obvious up-side. Take a page from the business types - Go to a meeting. Network. Works for them.
We sincerely wish you all the best. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you have questions.