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NBOME

Applying to Residency – Carisa Champion, DO, MPH, JD

October 16, 2020

At this point, you’ve researched residency programs until you can’t see straight and are figuring out where to apply, which is never easy. To share some helpful advice we sat down with Carisa Champion, DO, MPH, JD, who opened up about the strategies and game plan she used while applying to residency. Read about what worked for Dr. Champion to see if it will work for you before hitting ‘Submit’ on your residency applications.

At this point, you’ve researched residency programs until you can’t see straight and are figuring out where to apply, which is never easy. To share some helpful advice we sat down with Carisa Champion, DO, MPH, JD, who opened up about the strategies and game plan she used while applying to residency. Read about what worked for Dr. Champion to see if it will work for you before hitting ‘Submit’ on your residency applications.

Dr. Champion is currently in the midst of completing her Grey’s Anatomy Surgical Communications Fellowship, and is completing her 4th year as a general surgery resident at the University Of Florida College Of Medicine at Jacksonville, Florida. Before beginning her residency in Florida, she did her first two years in General Surgery in Pennsylvania prior to the program’s closure. Dr. Champion is a graduate of the Nova Southeastern University Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, earning her DO, MPH and JD degrees in 2016. As a former member of the American Osteopathic Association’s Bureau of Emerging Leaders (BEL), Dr. Champion currently serves as a BEL Committee Chair. She is also an active member of the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association (FOMA), working to attract residents to serve on FOMA committees.

The Road to DO Licensure has so many twists and turns and unexpected challenges. Talk to me a little about some of the more major challenges you’ve experienced and have been forced to tackle.

When my original residency program closed, I went from a program that was entirely osteopathic to a completely different world in a large academic Level 1 trauma center. My program has DOs, but there are still programs out there that won’t accept the COMLEX-USA exam, and that can prevent many DO students from applying to them. That’s something that I’ve been working against since I was a student. Any time I learned about a residency program that did not accept COMLEX-USA for DO applicants, I would contact the AOA or the NBOME and ask them to reach out to the program. Personally, I refused to take the USMLE examination. For me, it was important that I had chosen osteopathic medicine from the start, and I only wanted to go to programs that were going to accept my osteopathic credentials and not because of what exam I took. Ultimately, you need to decide what your priorities are and what is most important to you.

How would you advise DO students considering residency programs that might not be as familiar or accept COMLEX-USA scores?

I think that it depends on what you’re applying for because there are still some specialties that are difficult about accepting COMLEX-USA. When I come across those programs, I try and broker the relationship to show them that COMLEX-USA exists because we are a distinct profession and need to be evaluated as such. And I think that’s something that’s special that we bring to our programs—we DOs bring a special culture and background with us, and it benefits the programs to take DOs. I think that our heritage is something that is beneficial to patients and I think it’s something that DO students should be proud of and not something that they should try to hide.

What are some tips you would give DO students who are preparing to apply to residency?

I always tell students to figure out what their priorities are because it’s different for everyone. If your priorities are specialty, location, strong community, emphasis on research, or a community that values mental health, those are all things that you need to look at and apply to programs with those priorities in mind. Honor your priorities because it’s a big decision, and you’re going to spend a lot of your life in that place. It’s really beneficial when you choose the places you want to interview at so you can make sure they’re places that will have your priorities in mind. Make sure it’s a good fit for the program and a good fit for you. I think it’s so important that you rank places in the order of where you think you fit in well. I didn’t even rank places if I felt I’d be miserable there. Why would I want to spend five to six years of my life miserable when I could be somewhere I feel like I’m a good fit?

There is a perception that applying to residency has gotten so much more competitive—many students are applying to more and more programs every year. How many programs did you apply to and interview at? And how did you land where you are today?

My priority was to only apply to osteopathic residencies, and at the time, I think there were only about 20-30 surgical residencies that were osteopathic. It goes back to what I said about considering your priorities. A lot of it comes down to doing the best you can in your COMLEX-USA exams, getting good letters of recommendation, and volunteering for causes that you really care about.

Be authentic in the things that you’re passionate about—in the things you choose to pursue. I was really involved in medical school, and it wasn’t because I wanted titles or recognition. I was really passionate about a lot of things, and because I was passionate about them, I was able to be more effective. An unintended consequence was that I had a much better application because I went really far with the things I was passionate about. I had the energy to do that—it wasn’t just an obligation—I was excited about the opportunities it brought me. Do things that you’re passionate about, let your application reflect who you truly are. I think everything works out the way it needs to in that way, if you’re genuinely honoring who you are.

What skills did you bring to the table during your interview that made you stand out as an applicant?

In osteopathic medicine, we have a culture of attracting people to our profession who have grit, have had unique life experiences, and have an intentionality about them. There’s just a culture in our profession that is different—one that I recognized as healthy and part of why I chose osteopathic medicine. When I interviewed for residency, there was something about my interest in being involved, my interest in preventative benefits, and my genuine passion for healthcare that my program recognized and felt would be a good fit. I’ve been part of the profession now for 14 years, and our profession is still working to find the right words we can all agree on to define osteopathic distinctiveness. While it’s hard to define, it’s definitely there.


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