Strengthening Your Residency Application When You Have a Low USMLE Score

Naturally when it comes time to take your United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), you hope to get as high a score as possible. After all, it’s the USMLE that assesses a future doctor’s ability when it comes to the application of basic concepts and principles, as well as his ability to deliver quality patient care.

However, sometimes things just don’t go as planned and you wind up facing residency application with a less than stellar USMLE score in hand. It’s important to understand that low scores on the USMLE are not the end of the world though. There are other ways to ensure that you turn in a strong application that can set you apart in all the right ways.

Strong Letters of Recommendation

One of the biggest assets you will have in your corner comes in the form of your letters of recommendation. Remember that every applicant will have a qualifying medical degree. Many will probably also have solid clinical experience, as well as high USMLE test scores to fall back on. However, these are hardly all residency program directors are looking for. They also want to know what you bring to the table on a personal level and the most important way to find out is by assessing how you come across in the eyes of others.

Ask for letters of recommendation from people who are highly respected in your specialty when possible. Ideally they will also have worked closely enough during your clerkship or elective rotation to be able to go into detail about how you perform on the job. However, if it comes down to getting an impersonal letter from a prestigious name and getting a more personal one from a physician who knows you better, choose the guy who knows you better. Standing out as a person is the objective here.

A Strong Personal Statement

Just as your letters of recommendation are your chance to show your director how you shine in others’ eyes, your personal statement is your chance to express in your own words what you bring to the table. This being the case, it’s important to make sure that it’s everything you need it to be, as well as something that helps you stand out.

Many residency applicants drop the ball here and become so wrapped up in using impressive language or rehashing achievements that they forget to actually address the questions the target institution asks of applicants. You can avoid this by doing your homework in regards to what they’re about ahead of time and taking the time to explain why you’re a perfect fit for their medical team. Thoroughly address any and all questions asked of you. Be sure to include info on what drew you to your specialty, as well as personal qualities you possess that will make you a stellar doctor in general. When mentioning professional experience or honors earned, be sure to do so from a personal angle.

A positive picture of who you are as a doctor and as a person can actually go a very long way toward convincing a program director to overlook low USMLE scores. Just take extra care to show them the best of who you really are via other avenues.