RO Corner: A Letter to Fourth-Year
As we approach that time of year when rank list submissions are due, I wanted to offer my two cents to fourth-year students who are about to enter the field of radiation oncology.
Radiation oncology is a unique field in that it is more like an apprenticeship. You will work one-on-one with individual attendings for months at a time (schedules vary per institution, but the majority are two to three months per rotation). Therefore, it is very important to feel like you are a good fit with the faculty and that you feel comfortable with the guidance that they will provide throughout your training. Upper residents are certainly valuable and will be helpful so collegiality amongst residents is a bonus. However, I found that the majority of my mentorship has been through my relationships with the attending faculty. Feeling as if you could have a strong connection with them is key when choosing the “right fit” program for you.
This topic is a personal choice, but radiation oncology is a field that is heavy in research. Most programs will provide research opportunities. However, if you hope to apply for grants and work on clinical trials, keep in mind the amount of research time allotted, the support staff of the institution, and faculty membership. Keeping up with clinical workload and studying can affect your research, and if you want to be productive during residency in terms of research, it is helpful to choose programs where this is valued.
Two things to consider when it comes to travel: international opportunities and travel to national/international meetings. Residency is a chance to take advantage of scholarships and unique opportunities that you may not have a chance to do once you’re an attending. If doing a rotation, attending educational meetings, or doing international outreach is of interest to you, keep in mind the programs that allow and/or promote these (and what kind of funding they provide for such opportunities) They can add significant value to your training and may be something to keep in mind when ranking.
Some programs offer a year of research, and during that time, you are actually able to obtain an additional degree, free of cost. This is a great opportunity if you are interested and something to think about as well. Lastly, two minor things to keep in mind: location and resident voice. It is not wrong to consider location when deciding your rank list — it is your life for the next four years and life outside of work matters for resident well-being. Lastly, “resident voice” is something to consider. Making sure you are in a program that takes resident concerns and critiques seriously is very important — you will thrive and succeed in a program that values resident input and is amenable to making changes and improvements based on resident feedback.
What does all this mean?
It means radiation oncology is an amazing field and you will be happy wherever you end up. However, when making your rank list, be sure to take your own thoughts and opinions into consideration. Good luck everyone!
Chelsea Miller, MD, is a radiation oncology resident at Loyola University of Chicago.