Program Director Interviews, Match, Medical Students

Program Director Interview Series: Gillian Baty, MD | EM Residency Program Director at University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

In this month’s addition to the Program Director Interview Series we got to chat with Dr. Gillian Baty to learn about the UNM EM Residency Program. If residency in the Land of Enchantment sounds appealing to you, then Dr. Baty has a lot to share below.

What sets your program apart from others?

Okay, I’ll take a stab at the classic question. First off, I would say we are known for the mix of elements we’ve got here, not one single thing. The ingredients that stand out are acuity, patient mix, expertise and institutional and department culture. Because we are the only academic referral center and the only Level 1 trauma center in the state, we see a high level of acuity due to inter-facility transfers, long distance scene transports as well as preferential transport locally. And because we are a busy safety net hospital, our admission threshold is often higher than similar hospitals nationally so our statistics may not tell the whole story. In addition to the patient mix that comes with some of the unique roles we play in the community, New Mexico has a unique population including the highest percentage of those identifying as Hispanic and the 2nd highest percentage of Native Americans, 2nd only to Alaska. We have breadth and depth in our faculty expertise but are most well-known for the number of EM-trained intensivists and long-standing commitment to a high level of critical care, for one of the best EMS programs in the country, and one of the few Wilderness Medicine programs with a Diploma in Mountain Medicine course. And in terms of department culture, our chair is a committed educator and former PD, and we have Emergency Medicine faculty at all levels of institutional leadership with a similar commitment to education.

What are the benefits of attending a 3- vs. 4-year EM residency program?

Well, I think this depends on the resident. Some folks will be competent in three years, some may take a bit longer. But in general, I think a 3-year program provides a little more flexibility and this also depends on post-grad plans. For those that know they are fellowship-bound, a 3-year program may make a bit more sense. No matter who you are or what you are doing, EPs are definitely a lifelong learner group, and I think there is a tremendous amount of learning that happens your first year out.

What is something students may not know about your program?

There are two things that I talk about during interview season – one is our roots in the Department of Family Medicine, as well as the fact that our hospital began as the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. So these roots as the Indian Hospital, then the County hospital, now the safety net hospital and our roots in the Department of Family Medicine have given us a very community-centric start which remains important to our mission and approach today.

What range of USMLE/COMLEX Step 1 scores do you look for in an applicant for the program?

We have historically looked for a USMLE Step 1 score above 210. Of course, this will all change with the move to P/F for Step 1 and will be harder to overcome with a single low score, because this is not absolute. Currently, if an applicant scores low on Step 1 but significantly improves their Step 2 score that is taken into account. Likewise, we have always looked at Step 1 as a single point in time, so we look for evidence that an applicant will ultimately be able to pass the ABEM Qualifying Exam such as shelf scores, didactic grades if available, or other evidence of standardized test-taking skills.

What kinds of opportunities for research exist? Do you look for residency candidates with research experience?

Like all residencies, we require a scholarly project. We have a robust group of faculty within the department, a team of undergraduate students studying research methodology who help with department projects and an unusually high number of MD/PhDs on faculty. This means that we have a fair amount of research going on at any given time with opportunities for resident involvement. There is a robust research curriculum and a group of dedicated faculty that help teach, guide and support resident research. Research experience is a plus, but certainly not a requirement.

Do you have opportunities to explore global health at your institution?

Pre-pandemic most residents used their non-UNM-based elective to do an international elective, most of them with a global health focus. At any given time we generally have a handful of faculty with ongoing projects or organized offerings outside of the US. The most consistent and organized opportunity in the last couple of years is with our sister institution in Japan. Over the last several years we’ve had residents do electives in Thailand, Nepal, Mexico, Central America, South America, Uganda, Myanmar, Haiti, Zambia, and France with faculty or alumni who continue their work in those regions and countries. During the last year of restrictions no one travelled internationally. That said, we also have a robust tele-health program with increasing interest in how this might be applied not just to the rural areas of our state but also internationally.

What are some qualities that your program looks for in applicants? Can you describe any attributes and qualities that make applicants stand out?

I’ll answer both of these together, because qualities we are looking for are generally also the ones that make applicants stand out. And this probably comes down to the infamous “2 am test”. I would say besides the usual advice to rock rotations, grades, and standardized exams that can get lost in the number of qualified applicants on paper, we look for longitudinal commitment to humanistic experiences outside of medicine. We infer from demonstrated commitment that this is a candidate we would want to train, work alongside and share space with at 2 am when energy is usually flagging and teams aren’t at their best. This experience really stands out when combined with comments by Deans or faculty that emphasize this perception. We are looking for those applicants who have retained just a little more than your average commitment to marginalized populations that we all came into medicine and EM with, because we know that these are the applicants who will ultimately thrive at UNM.

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