Medical Students, Program Director Interviews, Match

Program Director Interview Series: Michael Galuska, MD | EM Residency Program Director at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, Johnstown, PA

In this month’s addition to the Program Director Interview Series we got to chat with Michael Galuska, MD to learn about the Conemaugh Memorial Residency Program. Dr. Galuska tells us more about residency in the Keystone State.

What sets your program apart from others?

First and foremost, our residents and faculty are a very close-knit bunch. This residency truly has a family feel to it. The residents are supported by faculty they know they can call/text anytime for help in or out of work. Our hospital serves a large catchment area, so we see a large volume of sick patients, but in a smaller rural area, which appeals to many candidates looking to live and work in a less populated region with a low cost of living. And our residency is truly focused on wellness. Our resident clinical work hours in the ED average about 40-45 hours/week, we don’t do any 24-hour call on our off-service rotations, and we organize group team-building activities every few months into our didactic schedule. Lastly, our didactics are somewhat unique, based largely around the flipped classroom model of learning.

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

While some of our residents have pursued fellowships and/or an academic career after residency, most of our graduates go on to work in community EM, which is typical of most EM residencies. While a fourth year of residency certainly allows for more elective opportunities and growth as a resident, it also comes at the cost of losing a year of attending salary, which is not insignificant. Ultimately, I think any student needs to weigh what is important to them when choosing a residency, and this is just one of those choices. There are benefits and downsides to both.

What is something students may not know about your program?

The founding of our hospital is steeped in history. In 1889, one of the biggest natural disasters in US history, the 1889 Johnstown Flood killed several thousand people and devastated the region. Clara Barton traveled to Johnstown to establish a medical response in the first domestic effort of the American Red Cross. The Conemaugh Valley Memorial Hospital was born after The Red Cross turned over its field hospital facilities a few years later. While our EM program is 13 years old, our hospital has been training residents for over 100 years.

What range of USMLE/COMLEX Step 1 scores do you look for in an applicant for the program? Or alternatively, how do you feel about the change to pass/fail Step 1 grading?

We don’t have a cutoff and consider applicants with all ranges of scores, including those with failures that were able to successfully remediate the exam. We firmly believe the strength of an applicant has nothing to do with the score on standardized tests. Personally, I welcome the change to pass/fail for all standardized tests in medicine, not just Step 1.

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

Like every program, our residents must be involved in some form of scholarly work and our faculty have publication requirements. That being said, research itself isn’t a big focus of our program. We certainly welcome applicants with research interests, but it’s not a focus of ours in terms of selecting candidates.

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

We have had several residents and faculty choose to go on medical missions in the past few years. Our residency has two electives in our curriculum, and we are flexible moving those months around to accommodate someone interested in going on a mission if interested.

What are some qualities that your program looks for in applicants?

We spend a considerable amount of time trying to find good people first. People who are honest, are receptive to feedback, hardworking, and have a positive attitude. We want to find people who want to fit into the family feel of our residency, who will support their co-residents, and help our program continue to grow.

Can you describe any attributes and qualities that make applicants stand out?

Leadership, ability to multi-task, teamwork, honesty, a sense of humor, and intellectual curiosity… to name a few. I always find leadership on an application impressive. Along those lines, people who have had previous jobs that taught them to multi-task in a busy environment, or people who have played sports or worked in another team-based job often easily assimilate into the team-based work environment of the ED.

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