Last year on March 16, Match Day, I got accepted into the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) of Western New York Healthcare System chiropractic residency program. Selection of VA chiropractic residents is done through a standardized process, but like me, you may still wonder what is involved in that process. This post is simply an explanation of my experiences and understanding of the chiropractic residency application, interviews, and matching. This is not a representation of the values or views of my current, or any, VA residency program.
The call for applications to VA residency programs was issued on the first business Monday of January and I, like many of other applicants, was eager to begin the process as soon as possible. Over the weeks prior to the opening of applications, I was busy working on my CV, obtaining letters of recommendations, and drafting personal statements tailored to each residency location. I spent more time than I would like to admit scrutinizing each line for grammatical and formatting mistakes, like any single error could preclude me from consideration. When I finished my CV, I sent it to professors, clinicians inside the school and VA, other healthcare professionals, family members, and peers. My goal was to create a clear and concise description of my educational accomplishments, professional experiences, additional certifications, and clinical capabilities. The intent was to exhibit a sense of well-rounded clinical competence and promote confidence in my ability to be successful within an integrative healthcare environment.
Of the applicants that were accepted and that I have come to know, a large portion of them seem to have had a combination of VA chiropractic clerkship experience, great academic achievements, additional clinical certifications, and research experience at the time of their applications. I would assume that the letters of recommendation (LORs) help to further distinguish applicants from one another. Letters of recommendation are, in my eyes, one of the most important components in creating a well-defined picture of who the applicants really are. Three letters of recommendation were needed when applying and I took careful consideration in deciding who I would ask to write them. There is a fine line between writing a good letter of recommendation with generalized achievements and a great letter of recommendation highlighting professional growth and specific positive behavioral qualities that drive success. I first asked the chair of clinical sciences at my chiropractic college because we had great a rapport and he had a clear understanding of my work ethic and clinical comprehension. The next two people I asked were practicing chiropractic clinicians, one within the school clinic and one within the VA where I completed my clerkship. I chose my school clinic clinician because she had an encompassing view of the development of my clinical skills throughout the entire clinical educational experience and I chose my supervising VA chiropractor at my clerkship location because he could attest to my growing clinical competence while working with a complex patient base within an integrative healthcare system.
The personal statements were fairly short and straightforward, 300-400 words, with predetermined prompts to write about. The majority of work and focus when creating my personal statements was directed toward researching individual facilities and staff chiropractic attendings who I would potentially be working with. When writing my statements, I tried to answer the questions in a way to highlight how my personal experiences and positive behaviors would brand me as the best possible applicant for each location.
Deciding how many and which locations to apply to was more difficult than I expected. Even though the number of available positions increased from 5 to 10, it is still highly competitive. I wanted to apply to all 10 locations but had to do some internal reflection to determine if I was willing to potentially move across the country. Eventually, I applied to 6 of the 10 locations that I thought would be best for me, considering both personal and professional factors.
After applications were submitted, the residency programs reviewed applicants and offered video interviews to potential applicants they were interested in. Some locations offered second interviews if they felt it was necessary to select the resident most fit for their program. All of my interviews were scheduled between February and early March.
My interviewers generally consisted of the residency program directors (RPDs), attending staff chiropractors, and the current chiropractic resident. They asked questions in a round-robin-type fashion utilizing performance-based interviewing (PBI) methods with standard questions pertaining to previous experiences and theoretical situations. For the most part, the interviews lasted about 30 minutes each with PBI questions early and more relaxed conversation toward the end. I was offered a chance to ask questions as well. I tried to prepare three to four questions specific to each program. I did not want to overlook this section of the interview as it gave me a chance to express my interest in specific portions of the programs, and it could also help me decide which residency program was the best fit for me.
I have found that interviewing is generally a learned skill and few people are inherently great interviewees; I don’t believe I am one of these lucky individuals. I spent a lot of time researching common PBI questions, interview tips, and anything that would help prepare myself for these interviews. I took multiple opportunities to engage in mock interviews with friends and mentors to practice answering difficult questions clearly and concisely. It was difficult to control the nerves and stay calm throughout the process but the RPDs and additional interviewers did a magnificent job in keeping the process friendly and relaxed. Looking back, I can say that residency interviews were not as scary as I thought, and I probably worked myself up more than I needed, but the practice and preparation made all the difference for me.
This current 2020-2021 cohort of residents has a somewhat different experience from the residents of prior years. There are now 10 residents at 10 separate locations, as opposed to five previously. With the addition of these new five locations, this new cohort is also the first to go through a standardized match process for selection.
Standardized match programs are commonly used by residency and fellowship programs in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and other healthcare professions to best place eligible applicants at various recruiting locations. The process is unique, as it takes into account the interests of the healthcare institutions as well as the interests of the applicants to make appropriate “matches.” The National Match Service is a third-party entity that generally facilitates the matching of recruiters and applicants. The relatively small size of the VA residency program allowed for an internally powered standardized matching process.
The matching process uses an algorithm based on a ranking system to allocate applicants to recruiting programs. An RPD of one location was recused from the selection process and acted as a third party to help coordinate and run the VA residency matching processes. Applicants submitted a ranking of residency programs from most desired to least desired location to the recused party. Applicants only ranked the locations in which they had interviews and residency programs submit a ranking of applicants from most desired to least desired applicants. The recused RPD applied the match algorithm to best allocate applicants to locations based on the submitted rankings. An explanation video of how matching works can be found here: National Matching Service.
Nearly eight months after Match Day, with the first trimester of residency done, I can confidently say that applying to the VA chiropractic residency program has been one of the greatest professional decisions I’ve made, and I am beyond grateful to have this unique opportunity to expand my skillset as a chiropractic provider.
Dr. Davis is the chiropractic resident at the VA Western NY Healthcare System.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs or U.S. Government.