This article is a summary of a webinar held by Public Relations and Communications Committee on Navigating Visiting Student Application Service (VSAS) and Q&A with a fourth year who completed two away rotations and faculty interventional radiologists on M4 IR away rotations.

Written by Lauren Park, MS4 at The Alpert Medical School of Brown University

Video recorded by Ryan Kiefer, MS4 at The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Special thanks to the following student and faculty for joining us on the webinar and providing a sincere words of advice for the medical students:

  • Ethan Ungchusri, MS4 at Texas A&M College of Medicine
  • Dr. Sun Ho Ahn, IR Residency & Fellowship Program Director and Medical Student Education Director at Alpert Medical School of Brown University
  • Dr. Kimi Kondo, Medical Student Education Director at The University of Colorado School of Medicine
  • Dr. Paul Rochon, IR Residency & Fellowship Program Director at The University of Colorado School of Medicine


Navigating VSAS for IR Away rotations:

Currently, searching for IR rotations on VSAS can be a convoluted process because the rotations can be labelled as an independent IR rotation or IR rotation within the DR category. In this video, Ryan Kiefer will walk you through how to navigate VSAS to maximize IR rotation search.


The following Q&A is a summary from the webinar.

Q: What are the factors to consider in choosing an away rotation site?

A: There are often two strategies in choosing institutions for away rotations: either an institution near your hometown to spend a month at home or an institution of your dreams/an institution in a region you would like to be for residency. The first is self-explanatory – learn at an institution near home to not only spend some time with your family and old friends, but also ask yourself, ‘do I want to come back home for residency?’ The second and third are of course how most students think about away rotations; work at a specific institution or a region where one would theoretically like to commit for residency and beyond. This may be a great opportunity to get to know about an institution in depth. However, the program directors noted that students should be prepared to work very hard. An away rotation could easily feel like “a month-long interview”.

In terms of strategies with regional references – if you are graduating from the east coast medical school and wish to match on the west coast, it could help to convey the idea by doing an away rotation on the west coast. The general consensus by the panelists was that away rotation sites can definitely set a precedence and trend for a students’ probable regional preference. However, keep in mind that because of the limited number of integrated residency, the region of the away rotation site may only play a small role in considering the students’ regional preference for a residency.  

Q: What makes an away student stand out?

A: A student who is motivated to learn and be part of the team. It may sound simple, but again, to be the first person in and the last person out is tough and will demand a lot of time and diligence. Know the patients and their procedures. Offer to present in journal club or do a presentation if you are not already asked to do so during your rotation.  Work well not with faculty, residents, and fellows, but also with the nurses, techs, and secretaries. Offer to help set up the room, write pre-procedural notes, etc. Remember, you are there to learn about IR and the program but also to be part of the team! Keep your eyes open and watch for what you like and don’t like as well. Take the time as a privilege to soak in what you would like to learn – everything you have been doing during your entire third year of medical school!

Q: How many away rotations should a student do to be a competitive applicant?

A: There really isn’t a particular number of away rotations that the program directors would recommend to be a competitive candidate. Do aways for your own interest and to get to know how IR is practiced at other institutions. A recent publication in JVIR has shown that according to the Match data from 2017, an average number of away rotations that matched students have done were an average of two to three. In summary, the attendings noted if you have a convincing reason and curiosities about other institutions, do away rotations. However, it is definitely not a requirement that the program directors are looking for from an applicant.

Q: Sub-I vs. elective rotation

A: Whichever that allows you to maximize your experience at an away rotation and get the most out of your goal. For example, if your goal is to get a strong recommendation letter from the program director, then do a sub-internship and work hard.

Q: If a student is coming from an institution without an IR department or even a strong IR department, should he/she/they do an away for a recommendation letter by an IR?

A: A letter from an IR is not necessarily “better” than a strong letter from a diagnostic radiologist. A letter that speaks highly of you with depth and sincerity is the kind of letter a program director would like to see. For students who are in the described situation, the PDs recommended away rotations for getting more experience in IR primarily for more experience and mentorship before deciding on a specialty.

Q: Will turning down an away rotation look bad?

A: Be judicious about where and how many away rotations you apply to – remember, they are about $100 per application. However, most PDs will not hold a student accountable and fault her/him/them for declining an offer for an away rotation. PDs understand there are many potential schedule conflicts and quite frankly too many to remember the names of the students who declined.

Q: How many away rotations should we apply for?

A: A general advice is apply to three for one and five for two. However, this is all based on scheduling and individual differences, so this may be very different for many students.

We would also like to put a disclaimer that these are written based off of the opinions and advice of a selective group of students and faculty. Please keep in mind that there is not one clear cut path to becoming a successful applicant for an IR residency.