Match, Program Director Interviews, Advising, MSIII, MSIV

Program Director Interview Series: Mary Westergaard, MD, FACEP | University of Wisconsin

This month we interviewed Mary Westergaard, MD, FACEP, Program Director at the University of Wisconsin Emergency Medicine residency program.

What sets the University of Wisconsin's EM residency program apart from others?

We set high expectations for our residents and balance those expectations with individualized investment to help residents reach their goals. We are also flexible- no matter the career path, we will go the extra mile to help residents succeed. In recent years, the majority of our graduates have pursued academic emergency medicine, but the ratio fluctuates from year to year.

Our program provides an environment of growth and innovation. Our space, faculty, and resident cohort have expanded significantly over the past five years, and it's been a blast to be a part of that growth trajectory. We pride ourselves on being a high-energy place to learn and practice emergency medicine.

What is something students may not know about your program?

Well to begin, the city of Madison is a phenomenal place to live. At work, we serve a unique and diverse patient population, including Hmong and Amish patients. Our acuity level is high, partly due to our busy helicopter EMS system and Level 1 Trauma designation. We've been recognized as the “No. 1 Hospital” in Wisconsin for the past 4 years by U.S. News & World Report, so we get a lot of complex patients and referrals.

Our MedFlight program has a physician on every flight. Interested residents have the opportunity to fly (in place of the faculty physician) for MedFlight, with expert support from experienced flight nurses, of course. Participating residents love this program, which is optional.

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

We don't have a floor Step 1 score. In fact, we (rarely) have accepted outstanding applicants into our program with scores below 220. When applicants interview with us, we like to consider the “whole package,” and the faculty interviewers are blinded to the applicant's Step scores.

Do you look for residency candidates with research experience? What kinds of opportunities for research exist for residents in your program?

We aren't looking for any one certain type of resident. Rather, we're looking for residents who are passionate and who have a great work ethic. If your passion is in research, you would be very happy to match at Wisconsin, given our research program is in the Top 20 for emergency medicine.  Manish Shah, MD, MPH, our Vice Chair of Research, is hugely invested in the residents, and we also have resident research scholarships available.

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

Yes! This is one of the strengths of our program. We have two month-long electives in second and third year, and these electives can be done internationally. Recent popular destinations for EM rotators include South Africa, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Guatemala. Residents have also chosen to work with the IHS in Gallup, New Mexico.

We provide a lot of support for residents pursuing global health electives. For example, residents are eligible for $1,000 scholarships to help with expenses associated with their elective, and salary and benefits are maintained.

For the past several years, our residents and faculty have led a special program to take University of Wisconsin first-year medical students to Guatemala to learn basic physical exam skills and a bit about global health. We definitely encourage medical student-resident interaction!

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

We look for applicants with passion and work ethic. Passion is key for me. It doesn't matter if that passion is for education, quality, research, flight medicine, ultrasound, simulation, advocacy, or whatever(!) - we promise to help you realize your potential, all the while ensuring you grow into an outstanding emergency physician.

As mentioned, a great work ethic is my other “most wanted” quality for applicants. Residency is challenging. We want people who are willing to work hard to gain the incredible skillset needed to give outstanding care to emergency patients over the course of a career!

Interested in learning more about the emergency medicine residency program at the University of Wisconsin?