Program Director Interviews, Match, Medical Students

Program Director Interview Series: Isaac Shaw, MD | Program Director at the University of Louisville Emergency Medicine Residency, Louisville, KY

In the latest installment of our PD Q&A series, we are highlighting the University of Louisville EM residency in Louisville, KY. We spoke with the current PD, Isaac Shaw, MD, in 2022 about what makes his program unique and what he looks for in potential residents.

What sets your program apart from others?

Thank you for offering me the opportunity to speak to you about the University of Louisville Emergency Medicine Program. Established in 1972, we are one of the pioneer programs in the country. We maintain an excellent training environment by seeking the feedback of our residents and making the program better each year. We are defined yet always refining. We pride ourselves in preparing our residents to work in any practice environment, with training sites at an academic tertiary care hospital, a pediatric tertiary care hospital, an urban community ED, and even a free-standing rural ED.

What are the benefits of attending a three- vs. a four-year EM residency program?

There are advantages to both 3-year and 4-year EM residency programs. The advantage of a 3-year program is obviously a faster path to becoming an attending or pursuing a fellowship. Graduates will be practice-ready out of either type of program. Additionally, graduates of either program length are eligible for the wide variety of fellowship opportunities available to EM graduates.

With these considerations, 4-year programs need to justify the opportunity cost of an additional year of training. Typically, these programs will allow more time to teach, refine a niche, or explore career opportunities in emergency medicine.

However, program length is just one factor in deciding where to train. I encourage applicants to apply to a variety of programs to find which programs will best fit their needs.

What is something students may not know about your program?

Our program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year! We look forward to celebrating with alumni from around the country at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby.

Additionally, our program offers many extracurricular opportunities that are outside of the traditional curriculum of emergency medicine. One such opportunity is to provide event medicine around the Greater Louisville Area. Residents have provided medical care for events such as triathalons, music festivals, professional boxing matches, and more. We want residents to use the skills they have developed in the ED to help their community and pursue their passions.

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

The USMLE/COMLEX is only one piece of an application. While higher scores can help demonstrate that an applicant has a good fund of knowledge, it alone cannot tell us who will be successful and happy as an emergency physician. We match applicants with a range of different scores and do not screen for a particular board score threshold.

It is for this reason that we do not anticipate the change of Step 1 to pass/fail will significantly impact our ability to find applicants who are a good fit for our program.

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

We have a robust research program with the infrastructure to help any residents pursue research that are interested. Our department has both a full-time statistician and research coordinator to help with any departmental research projects. Additionally, we operate and publish the Journal of Wellness, which is the first free, open-access, peer-reviewed journal on physical, mental, and psychological wellness.

We do not specifically screen for candidates with research experience, but it can help. In evaluating applicants, we look for applicants who display commitment, tenacity, and follow-through. This can be shown through participation in research, but also in many other extracurricular activities.

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

We do. Our program offers two months of elective time in the third year of residency, which previous residents have used to explore global health opportunities. Most recently, one of our residents used this elective time to travel to Lithuania last year and help teach prehospital and emergency medicine to the local healthcare workers.

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

Our program looks for applicants that are self-driven, inquisitive, and motivated. We respect our residents with autonomy and attract applicants who thrive in such an environment. Faculty are always available to help guide management, but not control management.

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

When reviewing past extracurriculars and experiences, seeing that an applicant demonstrated a longitudinal commitment to a project is always impressive. That longitudinal commitment can be shown in a variety of experiences though- research, service, global health, or many others. Seeing that the applicant was passionate about something and carried it through to completion demonstrates the above qualities of being self-driven and motivated.

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