My decision to enter radiation oncology was not decided until
mid-way through my third year. My original plans were to go into
Heme/Onc. However, After hearing about radonc from other people
and after doing a rotation within the field, I became very interested
in it and eventually made the decision to pursue my residency in
the field. Although the decision was difficult at first, I was
more than convinced after doing my rotation that it was the best
possible field for me. My interest peaked and never subsided.
How did you prepare yourself for application to
your chosen specialty?
My rotation in the field was undoubtedly the most important factor
in applying. The residents I had worked with were extremely supportive
and gave valuable advice on everything from who to receive letters
of recommendation, what to do on the rotation to stand out, which
programs to consider, etc. Also, I found it very important to do
a rotation at the institution where you have strong inclinations
of going for residency. This is because most radiation oncology
depts are extremely small and therefore the people truly want to
see if your personality is compatible with the rest of the staff.
As for research, obviously research within the field is a plus
but not a necessity. However, as this field appears to be becoming
a lot more competitive, research may be something to consider.
Who wrote your letters of recommendation for your
Most institutions require three letters of recommendations. I
acquired two letters from two notable attendings within the department
of radiation oncology. My other letter came from my research advisor
I had worked with during my 1st and 2nd years in med school. My
advice is to send at least two letters from within the field.
Which programs did you apply to and why?
Most radiation oncology programs are not community based. The
most notable programs are at major academic and cancer institutions.
Here at the west coast, names include Stanford, USF, UCLA and nationwide,
places such as Memorial Sloan Kettering and MD Anderson. However,
there are a few places such as Kaiser-Sunset here in LA where radonc
programs exist. I decided to go to a major academic institution
where a solid comprehensive caner program exists for a few reasons.
I wanted to observe a variety of cases both common and rare and
work with surgeons and medical oncologists who are reputable in
their respective field. Furthermore, I have an interest in research
which obviously persuaded me to go to an academic facility.
I applied to California programs only due to geographic restrictions.
The total number of programs came out to approximately 5. I received
interviews from all the programs I had applied to. However, in retrospect,
I believe I should have applied to more around the range of 8-10. This
would have been a much more safer number.
What would you have done differently in applying?
I would not have done anything differently in applying.
What was the most difficult part of the application
The most difficult part of applying was just the fear of competition
for residency. Most institutions take only 1-2 residents per year.
Obviously, this means that there is no room for error when applying
to the institution of your choice. One must preform extremely well
on his/her rotation and acquire outstanding letters of rec as well
for that may be the added bonus one may need to get into a particular
What should I look for on my interview and tour
One should definitely check out the facilities and machines. One
should also check out the clinics. Obviosuly since you may possibly
spend four years there you should make sure that their equipment
and clinics meet your expectations. Try to attend any conferences
if you can as well. If one were applying to medicine, you would
want to check out morning report. Similarly, you should try to
see how tumor boards are run, etc, when applying for radiation
oncology. And, as with any field, ask plenty of questions to attendings
and residents. In my experience, all are more than willing and
friendly to answer you honestly and directly.
What questions should I ask of residents, faculty,
and program directors?
How many cases do the residents average per month? What facilities
do the residents rotate through? How do the residents perform on
their boards? Any new changes to be implemented in the program
in the near future? Any changes to be made in the facilities?
How did you form your rank list?
My rank list was based on my impression of the staff and their
willingness to teach and work with residents. Also, I put a lot
of emphasis on the satisfaction level of the residents. Above all,
one should definitely feel at home at that department because,
again, it is a small department and you must get along with evryone
to be happy for four years.
What other advice can you give seniors applying
in your specialty?
Make sure you do a rotation at the institution where you want
to go to. This is probably the most important part of your application
process. Also, garner solid letters of recommendations from those
respected in the field. And as always, if you have any interest,
begin asking questions early to the approproate people and make
your plans ahead of time in terms of setting up rotations, etc.