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Switching Specialties

It is still possible to change your mind and switch to a different specialty even in November and possibly later. In fact, depending on which field you have chosen, it is still possible to get invited to interviews at good programs. Here are some helpful hints from someone who switched late.  

How to approach switching specialties 

  1. DON’T PANIC - it can be done. You must be committed to the change and willing to work quickly. Keep in mind that your happiness, in the long run, is much more important than a couple of months of hard work and hassle.
  2. Be completely honest and open about the change with your mentors in your previous choice of specialty. Program directors at Maryland talk, and it is likely that your new specialty will contact your old specialty. You don’t want them to have conflicting information about you.
  3. You need a mentor. Find someone in the field who knows many programs and knows them well. Ideally, this would be someone you have met or worked with before, and it’s even better if it is someone well respected like the program director. Meet with this mentor immediately to explain your situation and generate a list of potential programs. Be honest about your switch and what your goals are. You need advice at this point, and you need someone on your side who can help you out.
  4. If you switch before submitting ERAS, work fast to get your letters of recommendation and personal statement in order (see below). If you switch after ERAS has been submitted, consider calling every program to explain your situation so that you can get your foot in the door. Some programs may tell you that you have already passed their deadline - if you really like the programs, SEND YOUR APPLICATION ANYWAY. The worst they can do is tell you no, and some programs may give you an interview despite the deadline. BE VERY NICE TO EVERY SECRETARY YOU SPEAK WITH - they are often the people who schedule the interviews.
  5. If you want to apply to Maryland, talk to the residency program director here immediately. They often give early interviews for Maryland students, and will work to get you an interview.
  6. You may or may not need new letters of recommendation. Often the ones you have are either fine as they are, or can be edited to fit your new field. However, if you are applying to more competitive subspecialties, specialty-specific letters will be required. This means doing extra legwork to get letters as fast as you can, and you should select faculty members who know you well enough that a meaningful letter can be written. Some programs require a letter from Maryland’s chairperson in that field. If so, this should be one of the first things you do. Work very closely with the secretaries to ensure that letters are finished and submitted promptly.
  7. See if you can get away with merely altering your personal statement to fit your new field, as long as it still sounds good and is truthful. However, writing a new personal statement may be more meaningful and reflective of who you are and why you made this choice.
  8. If you switched after applications are due, it may be useful to include an explanation of your situation to programs that you apply to. This can be done as your 4th letter of recommendation on ERAS. Again, honesty is the key to success here. Tell them why you switched without being negative. You want to come across as someone who has made a mature and educated decision, not someone who has been lazy and late getting in the application. You will be surprised to find that most programs will understand and even empathize with your situation.
  9. Don’t be discouraged if interview spots are filled at first. Many spots open later in the year as people drop interviews. Have patience. However, you must accept at this point that you are not going to have an ideally efficient interview schedule. DON’T be picky about interview dates - the more flexible you are, the more likely the program will be to help you. You should be extremely persistent. Keep calling back to check for openings, and take every opportunity given to you.
  10. When you interview, expect to be asked about why you switched. It will be asked over and over and over. So have a well prepared (but not robotic) answer that focuses on what prompted the change and why you know your new specialty is the right one. Try not to be negative about your previous choice.
  11. Summary: stay calm, be honest, find mentors, work fast, and take every opportunity.
Last Revision: March 9, 2018