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How Do I Know if I am Competitive for ENT Residency? A Program Director’s Point of View

How Do I Know if I am Competitive for ENT Residency? A Program Director’s Point of View


Residency selection represents an important process, not only for the program, but it is also one of the most important professional decisions of your life. At Duke University, we have, on average, over 400 applicants for approximately 50 interview slots and four resident positions. It is a competitive process, but one where we personally review every application received. Overall, we are looking for candidates who are a good fit to our core values, and we want to match candidates who we can help excel. We, like many programs, strive to select applicants who possess qualities that the faculty believe are necessary to become physician leaders. In our case, these qualities include initiative, integrity, self-discipline, personal responsibility, compassion, and accountability.

What are the most important factors in selecting candidates to move on to interviews from your perspective?

There is not one overall factor driving the decision. We look at a combination of factors including academic performance, research, publications, leadership roles, letters of recommendation, and their personal statement. We do not have a cut-off for board scores. Every application is given due process in our attempt to interview a diverse pool of applicants. While it is more difficult to match for a candidate with average or low scores, this should not discourage those with interest in our field from applying. Those that are genuinely interested will often bolster their application with research experience to demonstrate their commitment to otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.

What is the process like at Duke?

Every application we receive is reviewed. We do this by dividing up the applications among the faculty who will fill out a score sheet based on a set of specific criteria. The candidates receiving more favorable scores have priority when sending out interview offers. It is important to note that everyone coming to Duke for an interview is on a level playing field. The goal is to determine if the candidate is a good fit for our work culture and if our program matches the expectation and interests of the future resident.

How do you structure the interview process?

We select a group of faculty and residents to participate in the interview process. We have multiple interview rooms and candidates rotate so they can spend about 20 minutes each with faculty representing all subspecialties within our field. During the interview, the applicant will be asked open-ended questions about their interests in our field. There are also some behavioral-based questions to help elicit our core values. These interviews take about a half a day. The other half day is spent touring the program with a resident. At the end of the process, all the candidates are scored by the interviewing faculty and residents. Final scores are based on overall performance across the whole group of physicians and residents.

What resources should a student interested in otolaryngology avail themselves at their university?

I would recommend medical students reach out to faculty or residents to ask for advice on what has worked for previous students who matched in ENT from your institution. You can ask previous graduates who have matched. You should begin to develop connections with your home program as early as possible.

Early exposure to the field can be very helpful as you try to distinguish yourself from many other qualified applicants. Introduce yourself to ENT faculty and residents and ask if there is a role for you in a research project. Explore the possibility of an observership to shadow an academic practicing otolaryngologist or reach out to the Academy to ask about matching up with a private practice physician. Seek out your ENT interest group and getting involved is of equal importance. Volunteer and take a leadership role that will help expose you to the specialty. If your school does not have an ENT interest group, contact the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery to find out how to start one.

How can getting involved help me be more competitive?

For younger medical students, attending an ENT interest group meeting will give you more exposure to senior medical students who can provide advice. In addition, try to develop a personal relationship with your home program.

Participating in research introduces you to faculty, shows your interest, and can lead to a robust letter of recommendation from someone who knows you on a more personal level and can attest to your work and commitment. Volunteering for research or shadowing can also help you develop or hone your situational awareness. Learning how to be helpful and of value in any type of situation is a key skill that many programs look for as a measure of success.

About Charles Woodard
Charles R. Woodard, MD, is the Program Director and Associate Professor of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. He completed his residency in Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Virginia and fellowship in Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at Stanford University.

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