The Road to Residency is a long one. And, it can be even longer if you are left to figure everything out by yourself. Many schools offer minimal information and guidance with respect to actually dealing with specific details, like applying for away rotations. The most common way to find electives to do outside your home institution is VSAS. There are also other places that have electives available OUTSIDE of VSAS which, is also an option. Let us get into today’s topic, VSAS.
What is VSAS?
VSAS stands for Visiting Student Application Service. This is the service that allows fourth year medical student to visit other institutions and do a clinical rotation there. Commonly, this is also referred to as an away rotation. Many places and people will tell you one of two things. To do as many as you can or to choose them wisely. I am an advocate for the latter. For more about this, check this very informative post by The Vibrant Med on the subject. So, let’s get into the nitty gritty about dealing with VSAS.
Navigating the site:
Being completely honest, VSAS was not the most user-friendly place. When I began writing this post I was not very happy with how the system was. Apparently, it has changed for the better. It is now very user friendly and easy to navigate. It is now very similar to ERAS, which we will get into in a couple of weeks. The new site welcomes you to your working dashboard where you can see all of the elements that you need to work on. The first and easiest thing to tackle is your personal, academic, and contact information. You also need to upload a picture to your application which is something you can easily get out of the way. On this dashboard you will also find the contact information for your school official and an overview on your applications.
Make a list:
On the top of the page you will find tabs. These will help you find electives and institutions, upload you documents, as well as track you applications. I dealt with VSAS very similarly to the whole residency process, which you can read on in my previous post.
First, you need to make a list of possible institutions to apply to. I decided the places I would apply to using the information from my residency options list, especially APGO (for OBGYN programs). This way I knew which programs currently have residents who did an away rotation there, and which ones did not. It’s important because you don’t want to waste your time and money going to a place, hoping to make an impression, and them not considering people who visit for interview or positions. Doing this will help you figure out if want to do away rotations at places you want to apply to or if you don’t care.
This is the most important part. Remember that going to a new place is a double blade situation. You might make a good impression and have open doors for yourself, or you might make an awful impression and close opportunities for the future. So, you need to figure out what type of student you are and what you are capable of showing a possible program about who you are and what you might bring to the table. Think of it as this is a chance that will show them the true you as you will be there for at least 2 weeks, versus interview which is only a couple of hours. Also figure out what kind of rotation you want, a learning one, or one that allows you to show them what you already know and can contribute to the program.
Another important thing about VSAS is figuring out what documents you need for your application. Some institutions will ask for personal statements or extra documents in order to process your application. You also want to note on whether or not you need to pay any fees or other things for your application. And finally, the different deadlines for each application can also be found on their page.After you have the above information, you will have a better idea of which documents you will need to complete your application.
Some of the documents will be uploaded by your school, while others you will need to be on top of. For example, your OSHA, and First Aid certifications can be uploaded by your school. Meanwhile, documents like background checks and question answers you are in charge off, at least in my school. Also you need to figure out which institutions accept the AAMC Immunization Form and which have their own. Some of these have additional titers or extra information they require your physician to sign.
I love that now it is a little more clear who is in charge of uploading each document, which I will tell you, I wish I had. It is also a lot easier now to upload and assign documents, especially the bulk action feature. Before, it was definitely a hassle.
Once you have your list and documents ready to go, you can begin the application process. You select the institutions and electives you want to apply to and assign the required documents. Then you verify you application and pay the fee, which for us was around like $50 for the first and $10 per institution after. You can apply to several electives and you will be charged only once per institution, which is pretty great. Most importantly when submitting you application, it is important to have the correct dates that you want, and make sure all of the documents are submitted.
Another important point is keeping track of when the deadlines are for each institution you are applying to. They all very and open at different points in time. Many institutions have rolling applications and the sooner you submit, the better your chances of being chosen.
This is probably the worst part of this whole process! Having to wait to hear back if you were accepted for an away rotation. The good, and sometimes bad thing, is that they have a tab that allows you to track you applications. It used to be really glitchy and annoying to use but they have definitely improved it for the better. Now you can easily track all of you applications, offers, and acceptances in a CLEAR and understandable manner. Before it was super confusing how it was structures, and I think this new part is pretty cool.
Once you hear back from an institution or elective you can accept or reject each offer. If you get two offers for the same dates, you can always contact one of them and see if they have any spaces available for another date. If you HAVE to choose between two then this is where we go back to the first point and try to pick the institutions you a) prefer the most, and b) gives you a better chance at an interview/residency spot. And finally, once you accept you can begin making arrangements for housing if the institution doesn’t offer housing. I recommend doing this ASAP because it will give you the best chance at finding a good place, at a good price.
I accepted, NOW WHAT?
If you are looking to rent a room some of the alternatives out there include Rotating Room and AirBnB. Rotating room would be my first recommendation. It has rooms and apartments from people in the medical world who have a room or place to spare. This can be tremendously beneficial. I, for example, was able to find an ObGyn resident, from the same program I was going to be at, that had a room for rent. This was truly an amazing choice because I was able to get a look into how a life as a resident there is. It also gave me the chance to ask many questions, and maybe questions you might not remember to ask at interviews. But most importantly, it is an amazing opportunity to network.
Phewww… that was a little longer than I anticipated but I hope it is helpful. I was so happy to see the VSAS site was improved and it is very similar to ERAS now. So making this post is as helpful as can be for both. If you HAVE found this helpful, please pin and share so others can benefit and get some inside scoop on the Road to Residency Series! On part 3 we will be focusing on getting the perfect personal statement.
Are you looking into away rotations? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!