The MATCH Series: Away Rotations (Part 1)

What’s an away rotation?

An away rotation is an opportunity for you to rotate at another institution’s program. Not all specialties require away rotations (ie., internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, etc), but other specialties really like them (ie., emergency medicine, orthopedic surgery, dermatology, etc). You should ask your dean or student advisor what students have done in the past, and what they would recommend.

Away rotations can be a double-edged sword. If done successfully, they can help you establish ties you otherwise would not have had; and more importantly, help you figure out if you want to spend the next few years of your life at a program. However, if you botch an away rotation, you probably won’t be getting an invite. This post will focus on the reasons for doing an away rotation and what you should expect.

For information on how you should apply for away rotations, check out Part 2!

Reasons to do an away rotation

  1. You don’t have a home program
  2. Show interest in a specific program or region
  3. Figure out your “fit”
  4. Get a letter of recommendation
  5. Secure an interview

There are many reasons for doing an away rotation. It should come as no surprise that if your school does not have a home program in the specialty you’re applying to, you NEED to do an away rotation to get enough letters of recommendation.

Another common reason is to show interest in a specific program. If you have your heart set on your dream program, you should definitely do a rotation there to meet the faculty and residents. Your enthusiasm for the program will be genuine and that will shine through during your rotation. And if you happen to dislike the program, at least you’ll know sooner rather than later. Interview days are a good way to get to know a program, but it’s obviously not the best way. Programs will usually put their best foot forward on interview day, so it will not be a great opportunity to assess the weaknesses of a particular program.

That brings us to figuring out the “fit” of a program. Searching for residency programs is like shopping for a job. It’s important that you pick a place that you know you’ll be happy at for a few years. For some, geography is the most important thing so they can be closer to their family, spouses, etc. For others, it’s important to find a program with like-minded colleagues. You want to make sure you’d enjoy spending time with your co-residents, whether it’s during night float or grabbing drinks during happy hour. A one-month rotation is plenty of time to assess if you would be happy there.

Others rotate to show interest in a specific geographic region. For instance, if you go to school on the East Coast but you are interested in moving to California, it might be a good idea to do an away rotation at a California institution to show that you’re serious about moving out there. And for some specialties, if you are able to get a letter of recommendation from a certain region, that might increase your chances of obtaining other interviews in that specific region. If you’re interested in obtaining a letter, it’s best to schedule your away rotation before September 15 (or when ERAS is due), so you can give your letter-writer plenty of time to write before applications are due. And it’s in good form to ask at least one month before the due date. I’ll write another post about asking for letters later!

Probably one of the more important reasons to rotate elsewhere is to secure another interviewThis requires a little bit of strategy on your part. If your goal is secure an interview at your away institution, then you should pick an institution that historically interviews its rotators. That’s not to dissuade you from rotating at your #1 institution, but if you know they don’t always interview their rotators, then you should be prepared to work very hard to stand out amongst your peers.

What to expect on an away rotation

It’s important to have an enjoyable time, but remember, it’s an audition. Away rotations can be mentally draining since you are expected to be on your best behavior at all times. Any red flags during your rotation can count against you and result in you not interviewing or matching there. Red flags can include unprofessionalism, being rude to staff or patients, not getting along with other rotating students, not being well-liked by the department, etc. It’s important to be nice to everyone and while you want to stand out, making other students look bad is a big no-no. One resident told me that one rotating student was absolutely brilliant, but made a few unprofessional remarks to patients and was essentially black-listed from the program.

You can also stand out by showing them what you know. Read up on your specialty, look up cases afterwards, ask good questions to show that you’re engaged. Some ambitious students even volunteer to do case reports with residents. But, it’s never a good idea to bite off more than you can chew. It reflects poorly on you to not deliver on something you initially promised on.

In summary…

  1. Be a team player
  2. Be on your best behavior
  3. Have fun!

Check out Part 2: How to apply for away rotations!

7 Thoughts

  1. This is so great! I just have a quick question about securing an interview! How do you know if a program historically interviews the rotators? Is this something the program will mention or is is just hearing through the grape vine? Thank you!


    1. Hey! It’s usually something heard along the grapevine unfortunately. It’s a good idea to ask prior rotators what their experience has been. Although I hate to admit it… SDN can sometimes be useful in this case…

      Liked by 1 person

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