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Residency and Fellowship Interviews: Travel Tips

Headed on the interview trail? Jet-setting across the country interviewing for your dream job can be a pricey endeavor, especially for medical students and residents. Keep reading for Dr. Zore's savvy tips on responsible travel.

Interviewing for residency and fellowship is an exciting time for everyone as you move one step closer to your ultimate goal: becoming a practicing physician! Despite the excitement, interviewing can be stressful. On top of the constant travel, jet lag, flight delays, and life coordination, your wallet may be taking a big hit depending on where you are going and how many interviews you choose to go on.

Here are my top tips for saving money and making interview season more enjoyable. Some of these tips I utilized on the interview trail, while others I wish I would have done. I hope my experiences can help optimize yours!

1) Consider a Travel Credit Card

If you don’t already have one, consider applying for a credit card that maximizes earning points on travel. My favorite credit cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve and the American Express Gold or Platinum. The annual fees look hefty, but when you do the math and take into account the bonus points earned, access to travel lounges, reimbursement for TSA Pre-Check, travel reimbursements, AND trip protection, those fees become negligible. Some of these cards have great sign-up bonuses too, maybe even earning you enough miles for a round-trip flight (or two!) The Southwest Rapid Rewards card is another one to consider. While allowing you to earn double points when booking flights, Southwest doesn’t charge baggage fees and they have free cancellations which can definitely come in handy when plans change last minute. Flight upgrade options, annual travel credits, and discounts on in-flight purchases make this one a great choice for anyone in the market for a travel rewards card.

2) Apply for TSA Pre-Check

If you don’t have TSA Pre-Check, get it. This service allows you to go through airport security in a separate, “pre-checked” line, which moves significantly faster than the general security lines. The TSA Pre-Check fee is reimbursed by some of the travel credit cards listed above, and if you’re a frequent international traveler, it is included in Global Entry programs. The cost is eighty five dollars for five years, so for seventeen dollars a year you essentially have an airport fast-pass. On top of the shorter line to get through security, you also get to keep your shoes on and you don’t have to remove your laptop or liquids from carry-on baggage. All of these benefits save significant time when you are in and out of the airport frequently.

3) Pack like a Pro

Try to only pack in a carry-on suitcase, this allows you to avoid checked-baggage fees, those awful bag drop lines, and waiting forever at baggage claim when you land. If you must check a bag due to prolonged travel, ALWAYS carry-on your suit and dress shoes. One of my favorite carry-on bags is the Away Bigger Carry-On. It has a hard shell, organized pockets on the inside, and an easily removable charging battery for your phone. While it may seem pricey at first, it has a lifetime guarantee and over two thousand five-star reviews, making it well worth the investment.

4) Email the Program Coordinator

I would always email the program coordinator a few days before my interview to get the names and email addresses of the other applicants with my interview date. This allowed me to potentially coordinate rides from the airport to the hotel and save on transportation costs. It also allowed me to network and make friends.

5) Stay Loyal with Your Airlines and Hotels

If you stick to one or two airline or hotel brands, always sign up for their rewards programs. You can quickly rack up travel and hotel points on the interview trail. Usually by the end of several trips (especially if you are flying cross-country) you can earn enough points for a free flight or hotel stay.

6) Keep Programs Organized with a Calendar

Before you start hearing back from programs, write out every program you applied to and their interview dates in a calendar. Then try to figure out how to maximize your travel by bunching interview dates in the same parts of the country together to prevent flying back and forth needlessly. I always had a first, second, and third choice interview date to request as soon as a program contacted me. If you are using a hand-written calendar, make sure you take a picture of it in case you’re not home when the emails come!

7) Check Your Email and Check it Often

Once interview invitations start to go out, the best dates may get picked through quickly. Additionally, some programs may send out more invites than interview spots and if you don’t respond quickly you could end up on a waitlist. (This is rare but has happened) If you have a smartphone, set up your email so you can be one of the first applicants to respond, and get your ideal interview date.

8) Limit Your Interviews

The number of interviews you go on will be highly dependent on the type of programs you are applying to, your own CV, your board scores, and the specialty you choose. If you are a competitive applicant for your specialty, you may only need ten or so interviews to match. If you are couples matching or applying to an extremely competitive specialty, you may need to go on more than ten interviews. I would definitely recommend speaking to a mentor to determine how many interviews are recommended for your individual situation. This way, you aren’t wasting time or money on unnecessary interviews, and you can apply these savings to your moving expenses (or loan payments…)

9) Remember to Have Fun and Make Friends

Overall, remember to enjoy the interview process. It’s a unique experience and while it can be stressful, it is short-lived. I met great friends along the trail, many of whom I still regularly keep in touch with. I hope these tips help along your journey, good luck!

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