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Filling Forms

This section is intended to provide guidance on filling application forms. I expect that you have already read the page on Elective Application and that now you at least know little bit about various components of elective application process. Incase you have not, it is advised that you do so now.

In general, despite some minor variations, Forms by most institutes more or less are composed of three sections:

Section I: Personal Information

Section II: Information to be completed by Medical School's Dean or Registrar

Section III: Clerkship/Elective Information Form


Descriptions on each of these sections to their entire detail are discussed separately below.



Name: It may sound stupid to tell you how to write your name, but trust me its one of the very sensitive issues that if not done carefully, can go wrong easily and can create a lot of trouble in future. In the era of digital computerized world, your name should spell the same EVERYWHERE. I repeat EVERY official document that is related should bare the same name spellings.

Name spellings in your application form are important because these will be used in the letter of recommendation by your attending and for your evaluation. It should match the spellings on your USMLE Step1 /Toefl/Passport/Deans letter/future Degree. So go now and verify for your self on these documents that your name spellings are the same. If not then you must take relevant action to rectify your name spellings.

The information provided below is intended to lay a basic foundation and to create a general awareness on filling forms for these fields. I personally feel that this is where it all starts when you are filling forms for your elective application. The info on this page will also be handy for future purposes when you will confront several instances down the road where you will need to fill for name again and again ( example: filling application forms for USMLE steps that you will be taking in future) and where your name spellings matter ALOT. It may sound like an overkill at this point, but thats because at this time, it is likely that you are unaware of what bad things a misspelled name can do to you in future and about the potential it has to rob your time and instill frustration. So my advise for starters is to read carefully at least for once.

Lets start with an example:

Robert James

In this name Robert is the 1st name, there is NO middle name and James is the Last name.

last name is some times also referred to as Surname or family name. Therefore in this example, James is also this person's surname as well as family name. First name is usually YOUR name that was given to you when you were born. You cannot have more than one first names. If you were given more than one names when you were born ( other than your surname/family name or last name) then they are your middle names. Example:

Robert William James

In this example william is the middle name. In another situation, William may be the name of this person's father, in that case James will be his family name and last name. Note that your father's name is not necessarily always supposed to be your last name if you have an additional family name. If this person does not use a family name (means no James in his name) then his first name will be Robert and the last name will be William.

In US, there is a tradition to write your last name before the first and middle name (if any), separated by a comma.

Example: If you find this name to be written as

James, Robert william

This still reads as: James=last name, Robert=1st name William=middle name.

Some times your name is categorized into two proportions

1- Last name, 2- Rest of the names. The latter includes first name and the middle name. continuing the same example: James= last name, Robert William= rest of the names.

It may have sounded repetitive to someone who already knows it, but this information can be very useful to someone who is new to filling forms. More relevant information can be consulted at the ECFMG website under biographical information.

Address: This information is important. It must be accurate because thats the address that program coordinator will use to send you official documents like Acceptance letter that you might request. These can also be really important ones like I-90 form for F1 visa sponsorship. Errorous address will unnecessarily delay your application. It is natural to make mistakes while writing/typing, so it is advised that you double check at the end (before submitting/posting) to verify if you have filled in for the address correctly.

e-mail: Make sure that you provide a functional e-mail- the one you use regularly, and keep checking your e-mail frequently once you have submitted your application. Also make it a habit to peak into your junk e-mails frequently. I have had instances where I had an acceptance/confirmation e-mail that was received in my junk folder.

If you are fortunate to receive an elective acceptance/confirmation in your e-mail, there is usually a window period of a week or two in which you must reply back to confirm your acceptance. Failure to do so results in automatic cancellation.

Rotation dates and specialty: I cannot provide 100% advise on this one as most of it will ultimately depend on your personal preference and circumstances. However I'll sill provide you specific guidelines on what choices can increase the probability of acceptance of your application.

Usually the electives starts on the 1st Monday and ends on the last Friday of a month. But this is not a hard and fast rule- variations can be there, Example: Mayo Clinic will make your 4 week schedule from whatever start date you provide them for a given month (probably the only place I know of that provides such flexibility) . Usually the weekends are off.

Most institutes have there own specific Elective start and end dates for a month and they strongly request that you follow their schedules. Example: Take a look at the personal information section of the application form of the Northwestern University. You will notice that they have enlisted pre-set dates for various months, out of which you can make your choice. Most places do not allow electives during the months of July (mostly) or June. The reason is that these months mark the start of a new academic year. This means new schedules for new (native) students, residents, fellows at those places, so the staff (including your future attending) are overloaded with overwhelming work, and they don't want to invite more hassle. Again this is not a hard and fast rule. There can be instances when your application can get accepted during these months. I my self was able to secure an elective during the month of July that too at a place that clearly stated on their website that no students are allowed during the same month. Part of it depends on your luck, how much your elective coordinator/attending liked your application and availability.

Usually the academic year starts in July/August and ends in the following June. The year may be divided into summer/fall/spring months. The months of May-June-July-August are hardcore summer months. These months are most competitive to secure electives because most US students prefer to do their electives during these months, which means more competition and less availability and therefore lesser chances of acceptance. Every institute gives 1st preference to their on students, but usually there are many spots that are unfilled after clerkships have been assigned to their own students. These spots are then available to medical students of other medical schools (including international students). Most institutes prefer Medical students from other US based medical schools over international students. However some places look at your application as an independent entity and decide on the bases of your credentials. Example: Mayo Clinic, Harvard. Usually places with high academic requirements will consider your application on the basis of your capabilities rather than US vs International or first come first serve basis. Regardless the bottom line is that summer months are competitive as the availability is reserved and contracted during these months so the chances of acceptance 'overall' are considerably decreased (especially true for international students). So if you have the liberty of choosing between summer months/ fall or Spring, then Spring has the greatest , Fall lesser and summer least availability. Also remember that this still does not mean that you shouldn't apply for these months at all. If your application is strong and you feel that you do not have an alternative choice for selection of dates then you should go for it and take your chances. Generally however, November to April is the safe period when the chances of acceptance are pretty decent, provided you fullfil the basic prerequisites.

When you are choosing specific dates for your rotations, MAKE SURE THAT YOU ALWAYS PROVIDE ALTERNATE DATES, which will be considered incase your dates of 1st preference are not available. This is the MOST IMPORTANT factor in the application form that I think plays a very important roll in ensuring acceptance. Most institute forms ask for 2 additional alternatives in addition to your primary preference. My advise: You should NEVER leave the part asking for alternative dates blank.

Deciding the specialty can be tricky. You should have at least decided by now that you wanna pursue your medical carrier in Medicine or Surgery or other (like Ob/Gyn,Pathology, radiology, Ophthalmology, Urology, Otolaryngology, Pediatrics). You should not choose a combination of two in your choices for electives. If you are the 'medicine guy' then you should pick your medical choices as Internal Medicine or its subspecialities (Cardiology, Gastroenterology, Hematology, Infectious Disease, Rheumatology, Nephrology). Conversely if you are passionate about surgery then you should pick for choices on General Surgery or its related subspecialities (Endocrine Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Trauma, Surgical Oncology, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Laparoscopy Surgery,Transplant Surgery) If you wanna pursue your future residency in General Surgery then the best bet will be to get General surgery electives or the ones enlisted in related subspecialities, because as a General Surgery resident in future, you will rotate through these specialties during your PGY1 ( post graduate year one). Avoid Urology, Plastic Surgery, Orthopaedics or Neurosurgery electives as your first priority (if any of these specialties is not your primary residency target), because these specialties are independent and do not emerge from a general surgery route and attendings from these specialties are less likely to know the attendings from General Surgery.

At the end of the day, its really important who writes your letter and what type of community is he/she popular in. e.g. if you do your elective in GS at Cleveland Clinic OH then when you'll apply for match, the Program Director (PD) of GS residency at Cleveland clinic will probably know your letter writer personally. Similar is the case for any other GS residency program in the Cleveland city or even the Ohio state, there is a high chance that the PD of that particular program will know about your attending. This makes your letter much more valuable and they would want to truly believe in what the letter says in your favor !

Most institutes usually request that you provide 3 choices for 1 elective. In order to ensure acceptance, your 1st choice should be the elective of your 1st preference ( no matter if its in a competitive specialty) and the other two choices can be the electives that are not so competitive. Internal medicine, General Surgery, Cardiology and pediatrics are usually competitive. Specialty electives like Transplant, Bariatric surgery, hematology are generally not so competitive. The time of the year in which you are applying is a far more important determinant of acceptance than the specialty choice. For example if you apply during the spring, you may be able to secure cardiology or general Surgery fairly easily compared to if you apply during summer, which are competitive months.

SSN (Social Security Number ): This number is comparable to National Identity Number. If you are or will be entering USA for the first time then you probably wont have one, and you need not worry if you don't have one ! Its in no way related to your Elective rotation. For now leave it blank. Do NOT fill it with your home country NIC number or equivalent.

Just for your curiosity (incase you don't know whats it about and are curious to find out more about it) SSN helps you to function like a normal US citizen with routine 'official' things. Most important of which is 'employment.' You cannot make a legal earning in USA if you don't have an SSN. If you are visiting USA on an F1 visa then you can be issued an SSN, you can also apply for an SSN if you are entering USA on an employment visa (example: J1, H1). You will be able to open a Personal Bank account in USA even if you don't have an SSN.

Nationality/Citizenship/US citizenship: there is nothing more to tell about it except what you know already, so fill it as appropriate about your country of citizenship. Most forms will specifically ask if you are a US citizen, especially those of institutes that sponsor F1 visa. Visa requirement does not influence your elective application.

Emergency contact: Some forms will ask you to fill in for contacts that can be contacted in case of an emergency. You can fill in with the information about your parents or a close friend, as appropriate. Provide phone number,e-mail, address as requested. This information in most cases in not mandatory and does not effect your application pre se.

As an example you can take a look at the elective application form of the Weill Cornell Medical College.


SECTION II: Information to be completed by your medical school Dean/Registrar

The purpose of this part of the form is to verify that you are a final year medical student at your institute who is approved to undertake an elective course for academic credit and if you will be covered for Malpractice and Health Insurance during the time of your away rotation. Most forms are formatted to select/encircle 'yes/no'

The above information is infact just the basic information that you will find common to almost every form. However some institutes will require your dean to verify additional information:

- If your English speaking skills are adequate or your TOEFL Score

- If you have taken USMLE Step 1 and have a passing score

- If you have acquired HIPAA and OSHA training at your home institute.

In an ideal case scenario the answer to all above questions should be YES.

Take a look at the sample dean verification forms at Case western Reserve University and University of Cincinnati

Do not freak out if all these requirements are not possible to be verified by your dean! Your application will still be processed if the answer to malpractice/health insurance coverage, step 1 score (university specific) HIPAA OSHA training is NO. Answers to all other questions must be yes ! There is no way around if your college dean or registrar does not approve your elective and does not verify your status as a final year medical student. However in regard to other questions you will then need to supply your own documentary evidence of malpractice and health insurance coverage, HIPAA OSHA training. See Elective application for more explanation), to fulfil the application requirement.

Therefore one simple advise will be to take all your results of TOEFL,Step 1, HIPAA/OSHA-that you might have completed online, and proof of your self purchased malpractice and health insurance to your dean's/registrar's office and have them fill in for all the requirements as 'yes'. Note that even if your Dean's verification form says yes for your TOEFL and Step 1 and other, you will still need to attach copies of these documents along with your application as proof. Contrarily if your dean refuses to say yes for HIPAA/OSHA, malpractice and health insurance, it wont hurt your application as long as you have a documentary proof of all of these for yourself. But its preferred that your dean verifies it as well, because this will make the elective coordinator believe in your application more easily.

SECTION III: Clerkship/Elective information form

Almost every institute will request you to provide information about your Core Clinical Experience at your home institute. Compulsory specialties are Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Obs/Gynae, Psyshiatry. Rarely : Neurology, Community/family medicine.

If you are an international medical student then the 3rd, 4th and final year ward rotations at your University/College affiliated hospital will constitute as your Core Clerkships, which are basically the Clinical Experience you gained from working at your parent institute's hospital ! So if you spent 4 weeks in your clinical wards of medicine in 3rd year, another 4 weeks in 4th year then another 12 weeks or so in your final year, then your collective core-clinical Medicine Clerkship duration will be 4+4+12=20weeks. Similar for other specialties. Note that electives are not clerkships (see Types of USCE for more info). But they will count towards your clinical experience.

Most institutes require you to have completed your core clinical clerkships for the specialties as enlisted above. As a general rule if you have completed 8 weeks in major specialties like surgery/medicine and 6 weeks in specialties like Psychiatry/Neurology: you can meet this requirement for almost every institute. Most institutes however accept 4 weeks in minor specialties as sufficient, others do not even ask for any duration at all but rather simply for a verification from your dean that you have completed core clinical clerkships at your parent institute.

If you are a US medical student then there is a high possibility that you know these things already. Still if you feel like testing my knowledge and have some free time to spend then you are welcome to follow through. For US students the rotations they do at their University affiliated hospital as a third year medical student, constitute towards their core clinical clerkships. These are usually 8-12 weeks in major specialties and 4-6 weeks in minor. The fourth year is usually the elective year, when most US medical students rotate through other US hospitals in the specialty of their interest.

Take a look at the clerkship forms of CWRU and the eligibility requirements page of the Mayo clinic visiting medical student clerkship program as examples.

Most institutes will also require you to supply them with your clerkship grades. Marks can be considered equivalent., but however an explanation on how your marks should be interpreted, must be provided along with (example: 50% and above is pass). Some institutes will ask that your institute also provides your Class Rank (1st/2nd/3rd etc) or your percentile performance compared to your peers (e.g.:among top 10% etc) as a compulsory requirement.

Hope you found this article helpful ! Keep spreading the word about !


Jahanzaib Idrees



Last updated September 2010