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Yes, You CAN Still Get a Residency if You Didn't Match This Year

Yes, You CAN Still Get a Residency if You Didn't Match This Year

Editor's Note: Kent Truong received his PharmD from the University of Washington in June 2017. Currently, he practices as a community pharmacist, working with a diverse and under served population. He is deeply driven to build a career in managed care through providing the highest quality and value of care while improving health outcomes at the population level. His areas of interest include formulary management, value-based contracting, patient-reported outcomes, and anti-rheumatic drug utilization management.

Today, Kent is going to tell you a great story. He matched for a residency this year (his top choice, no less), but just a year ago he was turned down and failed to match anywhere.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned in this post. If you didn't match somewhere this year, there is still hope for you. Read on to find out exactly what Kent did to change his story, and apply it to your own situation to come out on top next year. 

March 17, 2017.

“We regret to inform you that you did not match for a position” were the words on the other side of the NMS email.

That cut deep. Real deep.

The “feels” from that day were definitely no bueno, kid.

I was disappointed, bummed out, and ashamed of myself. I spent much time wondering several things:

  • Where did I go wrong?
  • Do I really want a residency?
  • Do I really want to try again?

I knew it was pointless to figure things out right away. So with all the free time I suddenly had, I did things I genuinely liked doing to chill out, clear my head, and give myself some peace of mind.

You'd find me rock climbing gettin’ boba, and makin’ acoustic renditions of hip-hop/rap songs (I am a very big fan of Fetty Wap).

You know…just getting’ hyphy and doin’ me.

After days of being a Negatron and finally clearing my head, I still didn't have any answers, but I was determined to move forward and figure them out.

Since I had a couple of managed care rotations left before I graduate, I saw them as a great opportunity to prove to my preceptors (and, more importantly, to myself) that I honestly wanted to pursue managed care and that I could handle the workload of a resident. 

During my rotations, I sought every opportunity I could to give myself a well-balanced experience in four weeks. My preceptors were more than accommodating. I was given projects such as performing retrospective claims analyses, addressing provider drug information questions, and writing monographs for the P&T committee.

Towards the end of one particular rotation, I told my preceptor that I did not match and I asked if there was any work they could contract out to me after I graduated.

Although it was sort of uncomfortable having this conversation with my preceptor (since I also interviewed for their residency program), this was the best (and maybe the only) way for me to gain more experience for the next application cycle. If I wanted a residency, I knew I had to do this. 

Luckily, it worked out.

My preceptor was impressed with my ability to meet deadlines and produce high quality work, and I was offered a temporary graduate internship at that rotation site to support formulary/quality initiatives for the health plan.

I was slightly hesitant to accept the offer mainly because it was temporary, meaning that once/when it was over, I’d be broke with hella loans to pay off.

So, I found a retail pharmacy job with a little more permanence. I worked there nearly full-time (in addition to the graduate internship) to make sure I'd have money coming in after the internship was over. 

This was also a great way for me to give an extended trial to the world of managed care. If I wasn't sold on it after an APPE rotation and a 5-month graduate internship, then it probably wasn't the best career path for me (and I wouldn't need to pursue a residency after all).

As it turned out, I loved it. I love managed care because it intersects evidence-based medicine and its practical application to human health. In managed care, I can continue challenging myself to grow professionally and personally.

However, at the same time, going to ASHP Midyear again was going to cost hella money and I would have to request time-off from my retail job.

If I was really going to apply for residency again, I needed to make a decision and commit to it.

In the words of one of the greatest 21st century philosophers, E-40, you gotta GO HARD or GO HOME (and I ain’t ever home, bruh!).

Before the application deadline, I had three things I wanted to accomplish:

  1. Gain more managed care experience and stay relevant
  2. Refine my Letter of Intent and CV
  3. Get better at interviewing

How to Gain Experience Before the Next Residency Cycle

Once I decided that I definitely wanted to apply for residency again, I did everything in power to make it happen.

So in addition to my rotations and internship, I also looked at my school’s rotation list and contacted preceptors, asking them if they could contract out some work that I would do for free to gain more managed care experience.

Was this a lot of effort? Yes. I got rejected and ghosted even more. 

But I ended up writing a monograph for a regional health plan. And it was an opportunity for me to learn how to evaluate treatment landscapes and formulary development. The monograph was then presented (and well-received) at their quarterly P&T meeting.

I also listened to several AMCP webinars to continue learning and to see the direction managed care was trending. These became the source material for some excellent discussions during my residency interviews.

People can tell if you're just faking your interest or if you can "talk the talk." Keeping myself up to speed on managed care provided real world evidence of my interest in managed care.

How to Fix Your Letter of Intent and CV

Next up was fixing some crucial parts of my application, the letter of intent/cover letter and the CV.

I straight up asked people who successfully matched or landed fellowships for feedback and advice.

One key pearl that I discovered is that you should organize your CV so it's easy to navigate.

For example, I keep a dedicated section on my CV that consolidates all of my relevant experiences/rotations in one place. This way, my reviewer doesn't have to jump around to look for all of my relevant experiences.

You want to make your CV as "scannable" and user-friendly as possible. Someone should be able to get a 10,000 ft view that tells them if you're the person they're looking for in just a few seconds. 

In addition, I have a summary of skills at the top of my CV that I want reviewers to remember. These are basically the highlights or the Cliffs Notes of my CV, and they're just another way to make life easier on the reviewer.

That way, when they are selecting candidates to interview, they can remember who I am with a few bullet points and easily refer to other areas in my CV for further details.

Then I spent countless hours editing my materials until I felt that my letter and CV were an honest reflection of myself.

That sounds simple when you type it out, but it's the honest truth. It's "simple," but not "easy." It took a ton of time and countless revisions to get my documents on point.

Editor's Note: If you're interested, our friend Alex Barker created an awesome course on writing a cover letter that gets results. Check out Cover Letter Mastery for more information.


How to Get Better at Interviewing

Alright, so I'd fixed my CV and gained experience. All that was left was to up my interviewing game (you know, for all those interviews I'd be invited to the next residency cycle). How'd I do that?

For starters, I occasionally popped my head into LinkedIn to search for other retail jobs, throw out my application, and interview for them (yes, seriously).

I applied to a lot of places. Why? I figured it was a numbers game. I'd get rejected by most and would only score an interview at a few places. 

One thing that seem to help me land an interview was writing a cover letter. That might seem too simple, but hear me out. 

  1. Not many people write cover letters for retail jobs. 
  2. It provides the reviewer with a little more substance about you and your personality.
  3. It’s a great opportunity to stand out and be different.

(CUE 2 Chainz song: I’m different, yeah I’m different).

I'd prepare for these interviews by reviewing my CV and picking out experiences that demonstrated leadership, conflict resolution, (and all the rest of the "standard" interview questions). Then I'd use the STAR method for
each scenario and practice aloud at home or with friends until I was confident in my answers.

On top of that, I also researched the company and picked out a few things in their mission statement that personally resonated with me (because, of course, they will ask you something about why you want to work for them...and "Because I need money" is not going to help your chances of landing a job).

I also signed up for PPS to interview for Rutgers Fellowships at ASHP Midyear. Since industry and managed care often go hand-in-hand, it made sense and in the worst case was another good opportunity to practice my interviewing skills.

Last but certainly not least, I purchased the tl;dr pharmacy digital guide, Mastering the Match (MTM). Between MTM and the (included) cheat sheet Interview Mastery, I felt like I was inside the mind of the interviewer.

I was able to figure out what they were looking for, and to show how I was the best person to fill that role. It was a refreshing perspective that was invaluable during my retail, industry, and managed care interviews. 

Editor's Note: I promise, I did not ask Kent to say that (nor did I pay him for it). That's straight testimonial right there. :)


Summary: How to Re-Apply and Match for Residency if You Didn't Match This Year

That is my story in a nutshell. BUT...

In the spirit of the tl;dr, I will summarize my points below!

  1. Work hard at your remaining rotations. Figure out if you want to try again. Look for opportunities to gain more experience. Stay up-to-date with current topics. Figure out what you could have done better. Do everything you can to be better. GO HARD or GO HOME.
  2. Practice interviewing! I cannot stress this enough. Everyone looks more or less the same on paper. How you portray yourself could be the deal breaker! Be confident, but not cocky.
  3. Refine your application materials (CV/Letter of Intent)! Be confident and happy with what you end up submitting.
  4. And of course, purchase Mastering the Match. I hate to belabor the point, but you won't find a more concise source of helpful and relevant information for residencies out there. 
Editor's Note: Yep, still testimonial. But now I'm starting to blush. 

I'm putting my story out there for two reasons: 

  1. There isn’t a lot of information out there on what to do if you don't match.
  2. Two, and more importantly, I wanted to show that it is possible to match in the following year.

In no way should your match result define your character and dictate how you practice as a pharmacist; you are more than the result of a matching algorithm.

Remember to work hard no matter where you end up. And stay inspired despite all the patients who come in and say, “I need a refill of my white pill.”

To end, I’m droppin’ a quote from Big Sean to represent my journey this past year:

“I got way too much on my mental,
I learn from what I’ve been through,
I’m finna do what I didn’t do,
And still waking up like rent’s due”

Oh yeah. You’re probably wondering…after all that, what happened?

Ya boy has matched at his top choice! HOLLA!

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