Residency Interviews Part 1: Your Suitcase

It may seem kind of strange to write a post on just suitcases, but bear with me.  For many medical students, the trips they will make for residency interviews will be their first real “professional” travel.  If you haven’t travelled a lot, you don’t know everything that can go wrong…. So here are some rules to help you.

p.s. I’m doing this first in a series of blog posts on how to interview in case anyone needs to drop a hint that they need a new suitcase (and possibly new clothes) as an early holiday present.

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Rule 1:  Try not to check your bags

Make it a goal that no matter where you go (or for how long ) you will always have what you need in a carry on suitcase. I went to Russia last year for two weeks – in the winter – with two carry-ons. Once you practice this, it’s not hard.

Why bother? What could go wrong?  Just ask around.  It won’t take long until you hear the story of someone who to ended up at an interview in New York when their bag was in Nebraska.  Which brings me to rule 2.

Rule 2:  Assume you will be sitting next to the chairman of the department on the plane.

You don’t have to wear “interview clothes” on the plane but don’t have on anything that you would regret.  It is really remarkable how many times you will end up sitting next to someone you will see the next day in your interview…. or someone who lives next door to your future program director.

Rule 3:  Have clothes in your small carry on bag that you could use in a pinch to interview.    Ditto your toothbrush, razor, etc.

Even when you plan to carry on your suitcase, there are times you get on last and there is no room for your bag.  Although it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible they will mess up and your bag isn’t there when you arrive.  Think ahead.  Pack your shirt, tie (or female equivalent) in a small travel “folder”.  Put it in the outside pocket of your suitcase so you can grab it if your bag can’t be checked.

Rule 4:  Make a travel checklist and go over it before you leave to make sure you have everything. 

This is something you learn the first time you get to a meeting and you don’t have a jacket to put on in the cold room.  I’ve put the outline of the one I use at the bottom of this post for you to modify for your use.

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The next thing to do is make sure your suitcase is appropriate.  Residency interviews are often a catalyst for buying a new suitcase.  This is a good time to ask for an early holiday present if you need some help to buy a good one.

Options for suitcases

The regulations for suitcases vary a little by airline, but the take home message is get a suitcase that is 22 inches tall and not too wide if you plan to carry it on the plane.   There are many other options, but the two companies that have really focused on good quality, lightweight carry ons are TravelPro and Eagle Creek.  TravelPro suitcases are used by pilots and flight attendants, which tells you a lot.  I personally like Eagle Creek because of their packing system.  There are other companies, too, so look around.

eagle-creek-hovercraft-221

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How to pack without wrinkles

One way is the Eagle Creek system, but there are others like wrapping your clothes around a bag with smaller items, rolling your clothes and using plastic covers, and packing little items around the bigger ones to avoid movement.

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How to get more things in the suitcase

Think of packing like a puzzle.  Put all your clothes on the bed to start with, then fill in spaces.  For example, pack your socks in your shoes.  Roll up workout clothes to pack in the edges.  But – unless you want wrinkles – don’t overpack.

Here’s a great video on how to pack more clothes with less wrinkles – seriously, watch this one.

Your “other” carry on bag

You’ll need to carry something with you when you interview for your papers and to collect the things they give you.  This is a good time to carry something a little more professional than a back-pack.  At a minimum, have a portfolio or a nice, small briefcase.

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For the plane, choose a carry on bag to carry your folio, the “emergency” interview clothes, whatever you are reading, your music, etc.    These carry on bags, which often match the luggage, are designed to have as much room as possible but still fit under the seat.

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Travel Checklist (as promised)

Interview/meeting clothes

Suits/business wear x ___ days

Undergarments

Sweater/fleece (cold rooms?)

Heavy coat, scarf, gloves, hat?

Small purse/briefcase

Might need for some locations

? formal wear

? rain wear

? umbrella

? Passport

? Sunglasses

? cap

Toiletries

Toothbrush/toothpaste

Deodorant

Hair product

Hair brush

Razor etc

Sun screen?

? Extra glasses

? contacts

Workout

Gym wear

? Swimsuit/goggles

? exercise bands

Miscellaneous electronics

Camera/batteries

Computer/cord/plane power cord

Thumbdrive

Kindle/cord

iPhone/charger

iPod/earbuds

iPad/charger

(Rental car? – garmin, phone charger)

For the plane

water bottle

neck pillow

snacks

Attending Medical Conferences

When you first start going to professional meetings, it’s easy to feel a little awkward.  If you are a student or resident, you will hopefully be with a faculty who will be able to act as a guide for you.  But, if the attending doesn’t make it (or isn’t really helpful) you may find yourself on your own… so I thought some guidance might help.

Go to the meeting. 

This might seem a little obvious, but if your department or school is paying for you to attend a meeting, you should attend the meeting.  If it’s your own money… you should still attend the meeting. This is part of being a professional. Your peers have put a lot of work into their presentations.  Put yourself in their shoes – and stay to hear their talks. Stay engaged during the sessions.  Don’t be the person in the back row surfing the web on a smart phone during the entire conference. Listen actively and ask questions.  If you ask good questions, people will notice and it will reflect well on you.  However, be gracious.  Always thank the speaker for what they said, and don’t be antagonistic when you ask your question.  That will be noticed, too, and not in a positive way.

 

 

Look like a professional.

No matter where you are in your training or practice, you will be making a first impression on people who may play a role in one or more of your future position(s). Start off with a suit and tie (or the equivalent for women) the first day.  If you are a woman, make sure you dress as if you are going to an interview – not a party.  If everyone else shows up in jeans the first day, move to more casual wear… starting the second day.  Don’t dress down too much – even if everyone else is doing it.  It’s never wrong to look professional at a professional meeting.

 

Take advantage of the social events.

Even though it is tempting to sneak off with a couple of our friends and skip the evening reception, don’t do it.  The social events are where you meet the important people in the field.  If you have time, do a little homework about who is attending the meeting and where they are from – just to be able to start a conversation.  Most of the “celebrities” in the field are delighted to talk to people in training, so don’t be intimidated.  You’ll also meet peers at your level at these meetings who will become lifelong colleagues and friends. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know!  If you are invited to dinner or if there is a formal banquet associated with the meeting, you’ll feel awkward if you don’t know the basic rules (like what to do if there is more than two forks).   If you aren’t familiar with formal dinner etiquette, here’s a great site to learn what to do:  Dining Etiquette Guide.

 

Be fiscally responsible.

Just because someone else is paying shouldn’t mean you pick the most expensive restaurant and order the most expensive items. If you come in under budget people will notice. If you turn in receipts over budget, they will really notice. Save all your receipts, and turn them within a few days of returning.  It’s always a nice touch to thank the people who paid for you to attend the meeting, either in person or with a note.

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man  –  Francis Bacon

Attending Professional Meetings for Beginners (a previous post on Wellness Rounds)

Handy hints for attending national meetings from KevinMD.com