Step 4: Evaluating Programs

There are obviously a number of things to take into consideration when evaluating different residency programs. One of the most important things, however, is to appreciate that you shouldn’t simply choose a “good” program, but instead a program that will be “good for you.” Every program in the country has individual characteristics and variables that make it unique, just like you should have a unique list of what you are looking for in a program. You should pursue the program that is going to provide the best environment based on the way that you learn. Some things to consider include:

How is this program going to make you a better doctor? You’re going to learn surgery and do some academic events at any program in the country, but is there anything special about this particular program that sets it apart? What is the monthly academic schedule? What meetings and conferences do the residents go to on an annual basis? Do they really seem to care about academics, or are they just done to meet a requirement? (Hint: A good way to tell this is to see how often and how many attendings participate in academic meetings). And although the quantity of surgery is important (you have to be able to get your “numbers”), also consider both the quality and variety of the surgeries at a program. If a strong surgical background is your primary interest, then focus on programs with large surgical volumes. Don’t be fooled by the number of years a program designates. There are many PSR-24 programs available that perform significantly more surgery than PSR-36 designated programs. Furthermore, look at the type of surgery being performed. Some programs may have a large volume of cases but primarily focused on forefoot surgery rather than the rearfoot and ankle. Ideally a strong program will offer a well-balanced number of cases in both forefoot and rearfoot/ankle surgery.

Talk with colleagues who have rotated through the program. Don’t always rely on the comments the current residents have to offer, especially if you do not know them. Their opinions may not always be in your best interest. Most residents will naturally be proud of there program whether it was their first pick or not. Therefore many may try to “sell” their program; but it may in fact not be exactly the program the best fits your needs. Make sure you obtain multiple opinions about the program, particularly from someone you know and trust, before making you decision.

Forefoot, rearfoot, and ankle. Do the residents get to work with both podiatry and orthopaedics? How many residents usually scrub in for each case? The more residents in each case, the less each resident will get to do. How many attendings are on staff, and what is the attending to resident ratio? Does the program have good rotations, and how often are the residents in clinic? Surgery is most important, but a quality clinic is necessary as well. What is the pay, and is CME money available? Does each residency have a lot of teaching (ie journal club, board prep, M and M, etc)? Is there a lot of research at the program and how much is it stressed? (Research may not be for everyone.)

All programs have the same set of required “core” rotations, but is there anything unique about a particular program that shows that they really care about your complete education and want you to have an outstanding quality and variety to your residency experience?  Are there any rotations that can’t be found at any other program in the country?

There are several things to consider with respect to location. The first is the actual “setting” of the program. Is everything at one hospital, or are you traveling to different hospitals, surgery centers and clinics? Do you work with a small or large group of attendings? There are pros and cons to each of these experiences, and it will be important to consider what you think is the best experience.

You should also consider the “presence” of the program within the specific hospital. Is the podiatric surgery department intricately involved within the hospital, or is it more of an afterthought? (Hint: A good way to tell this is to see how involved the residents and attendings are. Do residents and attendings participate on hospital committees and boards? How well do the residents know the Graduate Medical Education (GME) office? Do the podiatric residents interact with the other residency programs within the hospital?)

How structured do you want your residency experience? Some people would prefer to get a rigid three-year schedule starting from day one, while others would prefer to have the freedom to vary their rotations based on their interests.

  • How closely does the degree of freedom of a residency program correlate with how much freedom you want?
  • Is this a program that fits your personality and learning style?
  • How do the staff interact/teach residents?

This is important to consider, but should not dictate choices as much as where the best training is for you.

How is this program going to help you accomplish your professional goals now and after you graduate?