Continuing the Match Series, this time with Dermatology! Did you know that AOA Dermatology programs require you to begin an intern year before applying to derm? Keep reading to see how Dahlia did it!
Name & Age: Dahlia Saleh, 27 years old
Hometown/State: Troy, Michigan
College: Michigan State University
Medical School: LECOM-Bradenton, Bradenton FL
Transitional Year Internship: Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Specialty and Residency Location: Dermatology at Sampson Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina
What made you decide to apply to your school? Did you consider other program types?
I decided on LECOM in Bradenton, Florida ultimately because after 22 years of living in Michigan, I was ready for a change! I always wanted to live somewhere warm and when I interviewed at LECOM-B I knew it was a fit because of the problem-based learning curriculum (more about that below). Lecture-style never worked for me, and I knew I needed a new way of approaching a curriculum.
I did apply to other program types, but ultimately, I decided on LECOM-B because it was the best fit for me. For those currently applying to medical school, I encourage you all to apply broadly. Interview at as many places as possible and have an open mind while doing so. Oh, and don’t let the MCAT get you down – it is the worst test ever and does not predict your success in medical school whatsoever 🙂
My pre-clinical years were centered around PBL (problem based learning). That meant that instead of taking physiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, etc all separately, we had an integrated curriculum and learned through real-life hospital cases. We would sit around a table three times a week working through real-life cases, ordering tests, analyzing results, and formulating a treatment plan. Then, we would go home and read relevant chapters straight from basic science textbooks. This worked very well for me because I learn best reading straight from a textbook, as opposed to powerpoint slides. In conventional lecture-based programs, students are in lecture from 9-5 and then they have to go home and re-learn the material. With PBL, you take two hours out of your day, three times a week, to discuss cases and then the rest of your time is spent at home, at a coffee shop or the library reading and learning the material. This type of structure taught me how to read large amounts of literature and extract what is testable, what is important, and what will further my learning and education. It was very self-directed. I loved it and owe my success on the USMLE and COMLEX to PBL.
Any tips for adjusting to the workload in medical school?
I think a lot of the adjustment is your attitude. You have to go into medical school with the attitude that you will spend almost every waking hour studying- but you definitely have to take time to do things for yourself! I found it really helpful to, no matter what, close my books an hour before bedtime and let myself unwind. Whether that meant taking a bubble bath, having a glass of wine, or watching my favorite show (I tend to like the mindless reality shows at the end of a long day, they are definitely my guilty pleasure!) I also broke up my study days with a workout in the middle of the day, or a dip in my apartment complex pool. This hour to hour and a half of “me” time allowed me to really focus for the other 9 hours of the day when I was studying. The PBL schedule allowed me to have this type of flexibility.
So, before I get into this topic, I just want to clarify that (although things are starting to change with the AOA/ACGME merger), right now, AOA Dermatology Programs require you to start your intern year before applying for dermatology. In contrast to that, ACGME Dermatology programs and all AOA specialties other than dermatology have you apply during your fourth year of medical school, so you match dermatology and transitional year at the same time. So, unlike fields like radiology and anesthesia where you find out where you matched for both your internship and residency during your fourth year, with osteopathic dermatology, you don’t apply/match until your intern year. So, during my fourth year, I matched for my Transitional Year, and during my Transitional Year, I matched Dermatology. I did my research papers during my intern year. I seeked out dermatology residents that had been my mentors throughout the process and asked to be part of papers they were writing and submitting for publication. Along with them, I submitted two papers to big dermatology journals and was able to have one paper published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
Any advice for those who are about to take Step 1?
Inhale, and exhale! This too shall pass! For me, my bible was First Aid for the USMLE. The three things I used most were First Aid, U-World Question Bank, and Pathoma. I annotated my notes from U-World and Pathoma into my First Aid book so everything was in one place. My biggest piece of advice would be to figure out what works best for you during the first year of medical school, and stick to that. I had friends who were extremely successful using Rapid Review Pathology, Doctors In Training (DIT), and other types of reviews. A big mistake I saw people make was switch up their study style right before boards because they heard from other people that one specific resource was the key to success. Don’t make that mistake- Trust your methods, trust what has worked for you in the past. There is no “right” way to study for Step 1, but those are the things that worked for me 🙂
How and when did you decide on your specialty?
I decided on dermatology at the beginning of my third year of medical school. I began my clinical rotations with an open mind. Connecting symptoms, blood work results, and imaging in pursuit of a medical diagnosis was so intellectually stimulating. During my surgery rotation, I found that working with my hands was irreplaceably rewarding. I hoped that I would find a place where my favorite components of medicine and surgery would overlap- a juncture where I could be both a diagnostician and a surgeon, where my thirst for diagnosis and manual dexterity would meet. When I did my dermatology rotation, I learned that though often ambiguous, almost every scar, pigmentation, and rash has a story to tell. I thought it was amazing that complex rheumatological, infectious, immunologic, neurological and malignant processes made their way to the skin and revealed themselves that way. I think that our skin deserves profound attention, and the practice of dermatology requires a good eye, steady hand and intention to heal patients from their core to their surface. The field of dermatology is energetic, and its ever-changing nature makes it a perfect fit for both my professional aspirations and my personality.
My favorite part of dermatology is 100%, without a doubt, surgery. I can’t wait to learn how to make hardly visible scars that heal beautifully. I can’t wait to learn complex closures like flaps and skin grafts. There is a huge reconstructive element to surgical dermatology that I am really looking forward to exploring.
I really don’t have a “least favorite” part! I think as I become more experienced and see the same things over and over again, I can imagine full body skin exams will become a bit monotonous and repetitive. But right now, I’m learning from every normal and abnormal skin lesion I see and nothing bores me yet!
Now that you’ve matched, what are some tips you have for third years who are preparing for the interview season?
My biggest tip would be to find a mentor that has successfully matched into your desired specialty. I had two dermatology residents as my mentors. I met one of them at LECOM-B during medical school, and the other during an audition rotation. They were able to clue me in on commonly asked questions and the “do’s” and “don’ts” for each specific program. Although it is extremely important to be yourself during interview season, it is definitely helpful to know what certain programs like and dislike in their applicants. I was able to pick up on some of these cues during my audition rotations, but my mentors definitely were able to give me the good word and I will forever appreciate it.
Part of the art of interviewing is finding a way to convey information that you want to tell the interviewer, even though they are asking the questions. I put together several anecdotes, stories, or lessons that I’ve learned from life thus far that I knew I wanted to incorporate into my interviews. When they asked a question, I would try to spin my answer (while staying relevant to the question) to include one of my stories that I had already rehearsed.
The best piece of advice I can give: Be yourself and you will find the right fit for you!
How many programs did you apply to, and how many interviews did you end up attending?
I applied to just under 30 (all of the) osteopathic dermatology programs, and ended up receiving 6 interviews. I attended only 5 because of scheduling conflicts. There were people going for dermatology that only got one interview and matched, and people who received 15 interviews and had to scramble. Throughout the process I learned that the number of interviews didn’t necessarily correlate to your success in the match. It was a VERY humbling process! 🙂
I did about 10 audition rotations- 6 during my fourth year of medical school, and four during my intern year. If I had more time, I would have loved to have done even more! It was the absolute best way to get a feel for programs and if I thought I would fit in with the residents. I got to scope out the towns that each program was located in and really assess whether or not I felt that I could live there. The good AND bad part was, I fell in love with every program! Each program had unique elements to offer. It was an amazing feeling knowing that no matter where I ended up, I would be in a fantastic environment with a high quality education.
You were obviously very successful in your medical school career. If you had the chance to do it all again, would you have done it the same way?
Absolutely. I feel like I definitely made the most out of my experience and made lifelong friends (that really were more like family to me).
How do you ultimately see yourself practicing medicine?
I want to work as a community dermatologist, completely in the outpatient setting. At this time, my biggest interests are Mohs surgery (skin cancer removal surgery with a focus on preserving as much tissue as possible, often times requiring complex closures like flaps and skin grafts), and cosmetic surgery. When I start my dermatology residency in July, I’m going to focus on learning as much medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology as possible and see where my career takes me!
Thanks Dahlia! Check her out on IG: @talkdermietome (great name!)