In this month’s addition to the Program Director Interview Series we got to chat with Dr. Matthew McCarthy to learn about the St. Vincent's Erie Emergency Medicine Residency Program in Northwest Pennsylvania.
What sets you apart from other residency programs?
The residency program at St. Vincent’s has been serving the Northwest Pennsylvania area for a number of years by training excellent physicians who practice not only in the greater Erie area, but throughout the United States. Our focus here at St. Vincent Hospital is providing the highest level of care possible to an incredibly diverse patient population living here in Erie. Within the Allegheny Health System we are the busiest ED seeing approximately 69,000 patients per year in our brand new 46 bed ED. This area has proven to be an incredibly diverse place to train future generations of emergency physicians, and we as a program have made it a point to guide our residents to be strong, independent practitioners who gain tremendous experience in diagnostic problem solving as well as procedures. Being only one of two residency programs at this hospital, our residents have unhindered access to any and all procedures that come through the door. Our residents also have the ability to moonlight in our ICU during their second year, allowing them to gain extensive managerial experience of some of our sickest patients. Having such an extensive faculty roster and being a 6 resident per class program also affords our residents the opportunity to work 1:1 with our board certified EM attendings, many of whom have 20+ years of experience in the field of EM. Though we are not a trauma center for the greater Erie area our students rotate at AHN Pittsburgh to gain their trauma experience during two separate months, one during second year and one during third year. During those months we provide the housing to our students while they learn all there is to know about managing trauma from a highly experienced and well versed teaching faculty. In addition to the two months of trauma our residents are also given the chance to rotate at AHN Children’s Hospital for their pediatrics rotation, of which all of the same benefits are also afforded. Last but not least we are a family here in the ED at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Every one of our students works to pick each other up as often as possible, in all types of medicine there are good and bad days, but in our EM program we stick together on the tough days and we celebrate together on the good ones. Personally, that is what I think truly sets our residency program apart from all the others.
What are the benefits of a 3-year program vs. a 4-year program?
Having experienced both, as we were a 4 year osteopathic program that became a 3 year allopathic program during the ACGME merger, I don’t believe one is necessarily better than the other. There are programs that may have significant competition from other residency programs within their hospital to get procedural experience or to work a bit closer with a few attendings to gain more confidence when managing patients on your own, but we haven’t had this issue since switching to a 3-year program. The fourth year did give our residents a chance to “practice as attendings” with oversight from a more experienced physician ensuring good decision making, however we’ve found that our third years are just as confident in their decision making capacity as the classes before them. Some may argue that the fourth year also gives students more time to do research or perform academic duties but we’ve found that with our current research director, Dr. Jestin Carlson, our residents have more than enough opportunity to venture into academic research.
What range of USMLE/COMLEX Step 1 scores do you look for in an applicant for the program?
We would like to see you pass both, but after that there is no hard “cut-off” point. I like to see applicants as a whole rather than a score (much to the dismay of our selection board). It means more work on the administrative end for myself and my colleagues, but it also means that the residents we select to join our work family here at the hospital are well rounded, intelligent, and hard-working individuals that are ready and eager to learn about emergency medicine.
What kinds of opportunities for research exist? Do you look for residency candidates with research experience?
Our hospital has a truly incredible research director who lives for asking questions, designing methods, and looking into topics within emergency medicine. Our students get a tremendous amount of opportunity to experience research, and while we don’t push our students to be textbook published contributors, we have a number of students who go on to publish amazing research articles and present them at prestigious venues.
What are some qualities that your program looks for in applicants?
This is easy. At St. Vincent’s, we want someone with integrity and maturity who keeps their “head in the game” while they're at work. The education afforded here is incredible, and to select residents that will take every opportunity to learn and become better doctors once they get here. We also want students who are aware, who look out for one another, and help out in any situation-- whether that be helping change bedding from under a patient or reaching out to a co-resident who seems to be struggling. We want to produce incredible physicians, but even better people.
Can you describe any attributes and qualities that make applicants stand out
In addition to what is stated above, we look for students who show interest in our program. Traditionally that meant rotating here, however, in the current climate, that's become a bit more difficult and our selection committee certainly understands that. During this year we will look to understand what helped you decide to apply to our program. I personally want nothing more than happy residents. I would hate to see someone spend three years at our program miserable because they misunderstood what we were about as a hospital. This match year comes with a brand new set of challenges for all of us, and we want to ensure your happiness and success as you move on to become the future of our specialty. In summation, we want to know that you want to be here just as much as we want you here. That is what makes a student truly stand out to us.