5 Ways to Stand Out for MATCH

April 29, 2020
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5 Ways to Stand Out for MATCH

The final year of dental school is an extremely difficult year for many reasons. Where missing requirements meet “Senioritis,” there’s really a lot through which I have found myself wanting to fast forward. The most difficult part of D4 for me so far has been PASS/MATCH. The process was expensive, long (Phase II runs from August through the end of January), and full of places to panic. But through it all, these are my greatest pieces of advice for those about to enter into this process. These are pearls of wisdom that I believe really helped me to match at my top choice Pediatric Residency at NYU Langone in San Diego!

  1. You are the expert on YOU!

I’m not really sure when or how we were taught to be so bashful in talking about ourselves, our interests, and our stories. I’ve had so many conversations with fascinating people, but they somehow clam up when you ask them to talk for 90 full seconds about themselves, much less write an entire personal statement featuring their body of work. Some people seem to give little to no information about themselves, and some people tend to go all the way to their birth to find material for a talking point. Before I go to an interview, I pep myself up by reminding myself that nobody knows me better than I do! And program directors want to meet me to see if their hunch is correct that I would be a great fit for their program. Remember that interviewers and program directors wanted to know more about you, so they flew in the expert—You!

  1. Connect all the dots of your journey

One of the first questions I was asked on my interview trail was, “How did you get to the seat that you’re in right now at this moment?” I actually thought this was a much better question than, “Tell me about yourself,” and this should be how you prepare to answer all the iterations of this question. What experiences did you have that shaped your interest in healthcare? What activities/interests did you have that cultivated the discipline required to excel this far in your academic career? What causes/social issues keep you awake at night, and how can this be applied to your specialty of choice? However dull you may perceive your journey to have been, you’re the only one who has walked the entirety of your path. Find meaning in your path through reflection—and I say to do this for yourself more than for any interview.

Also, be vulnerable! What has been an aspect of your life/career that you have struggled with, and how did overcoming that challenge make you a better candidate? I get very sad when candidates think that weaknesses/vulnerabilities and characteristics like humility are a no-no in professional dentistry, when I truly believe that meaningful reflection is THE hallmark of maturity and primary indicator of a growth mindset/lifetime learner—which is something every program director is searching for!

  1. Have a mental agenda for your interview

This was probably the best advice I received while on the interview trail, and it came from a book I read from a friend. I think one mistake a lot of people make is to try to anticipate questions, and have canned answesr for 20 questions that most likely won’t even come up. I think a better alternative is to know what on your CV/resume you really want to highlight, and get very good at tailor-making the questions that are thrown at you fit YOUR journey! For example, when I was interviewing, I really wanted to highlight my love for the medical aspect of dentistry and the integrated professional experience. One question I received was to talk about a difficult patient experience and what I did about it. I used the question to talk about a time I was working on a removable case for a patient who could not open her mouth due to lack of elasticity of her lips. I then embellished on this and continued to explain how the inelasticity of her lips made me take a closer look at her radiographic presentation, which was consistent with my patient’s undiagnosed Scleroderma. I then worked with her primary care physician to have her diagnosed with this condition, and put her into the proper care. Look for these opportunities, and train your ear to find every way to make yourself stand out!

  1. Know your values and write them down

There is an exercise that every student has done at some point in their life, and 98% of people really just don’t take seriously—an inventory on your personal values. Yes, everyone appreciates honesty and respect. How can the horoscopes of the list of 250 values really help me to know more about myself? I personally have found a LOT of value in this exercise, and I really think that knowing my values, meaningfully evolving my values, and living by them have really helped me in a HUGE way! Google the list of values—it’s very easy to find. Read the list, and write down 15 values that spoke to you. Then narrow it to 10. Then narrow it to 5. Be VERY thoughtful about this! I write my five values on an index card and put it in the portfolio I carry with me to every interview. If I ever truly get lost in a question, I can remember my values, center myself around them, and use these to guide my interviewers as to why I am the best possible fit for their program.

For the record, my values are: Community, Equity, Excellence, Teamwork, and Growth Mindset.

  1. Be Yourself!

This is everyone’s advice, and it’s easy to dismiss it because it’s so easy to feel inadequate in a sea of worthy candidates whom you will also love! I made great friends through my interviews, but wonderful as they all were, it only made me doubt myself that much more. How could being myself really help, and what does it even mean? Who else can I be except weird, awkward me? It’s one of those phrases that has been used so many times, it’s lost all meaning. But what does it look like to actually be yourself, warts and all? Gregory Boyle, author of Tattoo’s on the Heart, said it best, “Resilience is born by grounding yourself in your own loveliness…” When you’re getting ready for interviews, start to ask your friends/family/faculty, “What do you think makes me a good candidate? A good colleague? A good friend?” 95% of the things they tell you are going to be very general, (“You’re a good person,” “You’re funny.”) but if you stick with this exercise, someone may point out something out that you didn’t realize about yourself and can truly make you stand out. Someone once said of me, “JoyAh smiles all the time and it makes you feel like she wants you there.” Inwardly, I know I smile constantly because I’m awkward and don’t know what else to do with my face in a social situation, but knowing that this trait made others feel appreciated and that’s one way I express myself in interviews and in life gives me confidence to do something that comes naturally, whatever the reason.

Find these undiscovered characteristics about yourself, and ground yourself firmly in all the things lovely about yourself. You’re going to be amazing!


Dr. JoyAh Brooks

JoyAh Brooks is a graduating dental student at New York University College of Dentistry. She is originally from Amelia County, Virginia. After completing her undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Southern Indiana, she joined the 2012 Bay Area Corps with Teach For America. During her time in teaching in Oakland, California she taught 8th Grade Math and Science. After completing her commitment to Teach For America, JoyAh worked as a Dental Assistant and Patient Care Coordinator for Western Dental in their San Francisco and Hayward offices. JoyAh now lives in Manhattan and enjoys seeing the city with her husband, Gary.