I remember the feeling of submitting my CaRMS applications during my final year of medical school. It felt like I was making a career defining decision based on only a few short months of experience in each specialty. I was one of the students who started medical school without a particular field in mind. As a medical student, I was interested in surgery, psychiatry and several other fields. After months of indecision, I decided on a specialty, which I was delighted to later match to.
As I started PGY-1 though, I found the indecision had started to return. For most programs, PGY-1 is like medical school in that resident physicians spend equal, if not more time on various off-service rotations. As I learned more about my field, other fields, and my own strengths and interests, I found myself wondering if I was better suited to another specialty. I dismissed these doubts for several months fully expecting them to go away. Transferring programs would be difficult and more trouble than it was worth, I assumed. As I began to research the transfer process my initial thought was “I’ll give myself until the end of R1 and make the decision after”. I had several doubts in my mind including “would I be letting my co-resident physicians and mentors down?”. I ultimately reached out to the U of A Office of Advocacy and Wellness who supported my decision, answered my questions and encouraged me to reach out to the Director of Resident Transfers and review the national and PGME transfer policies.
I contacted the Director of Resident Transfers who quickly arranged a meeting with me. After this, the process was uncomplicated and moved surprisingly fast. While the transfer policies clearly described what to expect, I was told that because each resident physician’s circumstances are unique, each transfer application would likely be handled differently. The process is meant to be confidential until a final decision is made. Once I had accepted the transfer and informed those from my former program, I found everyone to be understanding and supportive of my decision.
Now having been an Internal Medicine resident physician at the U of A for nearly two years, I’m glad that I ultimately made the decision to pursue my interests. Deciding on a specialty based solely on medical school experiences is challenging. Each year I’m surprised to hear about how many resident physicians consider transferring programs.
Based on my experience, here are tips for those considering a program transfer:
- There are deadlines each year, particularly for transfers between universities. Reach out to the Director of Resident Transfers early. They will give you clear and confidential direction on what is needed from you.
- Don’t worry about letting down those in your current program. You have a lot to gain by pursuing what is right for yourself and your career.
- Everyone’s circumstances and reasons for transferring programs are different. I found the U of A Office of Advocacy and Wellness and upper-year resident physicians who had gone through the process to be great resources.
Dr. Bradley Rutherford is an Internal Medicine resident physician at the University of Alberta.
Resources for transferring programs: