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Ask the Resident: First Year Residents Share Insight, Advice, and Lessons Learned

Matthew Justus, DO, and Spencer Peterson, DO, are residents in the newly established traditional rotation internship (TRI) program at MountainView Regional Medical Center. Both have military service requirements to complete after they finish the one-year TRI program and both plan on going into pediatrics. They graciously took time from their busy schedules to answer some of the first-year BCOM students’ questions.

In your experience, what makes a competitive applicant for a residency position?

MS: I had good board scores. That helps a lot. I like to think I’m a personable person, so that helps in the interview process. Ultimately though, I think it’s about what you can put on your resume that pops. For me, I played Division 2 basketball. Having something to talk about really helps.

SP: Boards are a big deal. GPA is a big deal. Those are going to make or break you.

How important are community service and volunteering?

MS: It matters, but the feedback I’ve received is that it matters more how well you can explain why you’re doing it. Just doing it to say you fed the homeless isn’t going to cut it if you don’t have any passion or reasoning behind it. A lot of my volunteer work wasn’t typical. I did Osteopathic Finish Line. I would help treat athletes after races with Osteopathic medicine and manipulation. I got to do something I love and people get to feel better out of it. You have to have something to show how you give your time, but it’s better to have a few meaningful activities rather than a list of 20 things that you can’t explain why you did.

What about research?

MS: It depends on what you want to do. It’s a bonus sometimes, but again, if you can’t say you did it and what you were actually trying to accomplish it doesn’t matter.

SP: If you don’t have the board scores to begin with, research isn’t going to make it up. But if everyone applying to a competitive program already has a good board score and you need those little things, than research could boost you. That’s especially true for more research heavy fields. Primary care, not as much. If you want to go into something fellowship based, they will look at research more heavily just because they want to know you can do it.

How beneficial have you found the TRI program to be towards your overall career goals?

SP: This type of program was more common 20 years ago. A lot of residents did an intern year like we’re doing before they started their residencies—and there are still a lot of programs out there that require it, like radiology and dermatology. It does take more time, but it always helps you in the end. We’re going to have one more year of experience compared to other interns just starting residency. It always helps. It’s always more educational.

MS: You end up more well-rounded, whether you initially wanted to be or not. We’re doing OB, we’re doing surgery, we’re doing Internal Medicine. It’s a good rounding year; you end up becoming a better physician because of it. You are a jack-of-all trades for a year so when you are treating patients in your specialty, you can say, “I’m going to refer you to this doctor and this is probably what’s going to go on,” instead of just saying, “I’m going to send you here and I have no idea what they’re going to do.”

What is life like financially as a resident with medical school loans to pay off?

MS: We’re not the best people to ask because we’re both military so we don’t have loans to repay. From a financial standpoint, I will say that they pay well here. Going off pure numbers, the pay is slightly above average, and when you factor in the low cost of living in this area, we’re making good money. My wife and I are not having problems at all.

SP: If you’re single and have no kids, you will probably have some extra salary. Me personally, married with two kids, we’re living pretty tight right now. I would add though to those who think they are going to pay off a substantial part of their student loans in residency, it’s not going to happen. I don’t have personal experience because I’m Air Force, but my collective knowledge from friends and colleagues is to not plan on paying off any substantial portion. You’re just not going to make enough in residency. You’re not going to be rich as a resident.

If you could go back to medical school, what would you do differently?

SP: You have to study in a way that helps you pass all your tests, but study it too in a way that will help you remember it longer term for your career. It will be of great benefit if you can organize very nicely all your lectures and notes. It can be used as a decent reference post medical school—if you’ve organized it and made it accessible. Occasionally you’ll be out there and think, “I remember studying this in medical school and I know I had a great lecture on it, but I can’t find those notes.” You can find other sources, but sometimes those notes will be helpful.

What qualities or characteristics can help a med student stand out?
SP: Being a hardworker. Not complaining. In the first and second year, it’s going to be more difficult to stand out other than just grades. In your third and fourth years and in your rotations, just be friendly and hardworking. Those are the types of qualities that will help you stand out in your rotations.

MS: Always be willing to at least give it a shot. Don’t be that person who won’t ever answer because you’re scared of being wrong. And don’t be the person who answers everything. You don’t need to be arrogant, but at the same time you have to stick your neck out once in a while to be noticed.


Matthew Justus
Born and Raised: Lincoln, Nebraska
Medical School: Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Des Moines, Iowa
Health Professional Scholarship Program: United State Navy
Medical School Awards: Recipient Health Professional Scholarship
Member: DMU Chapter of the Student American Academy of Osteopathy (served as Vice President); Osteopathic Cranial Academy; American Fascial Distortion Model Association; Association of Military Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons; Sports Medicine Club
Volunteer Work: Carl Junction High School Sports Medicine training staff; Des Moines University Drake Athletic Clinic; Des Moines University Osteopathic Finish Line; Senior Health Fair; Mission Active
Hobbies: Basketball

Spencer Peterson
Born and Raised: Salt Lake City, Utah
Medical School: Midwestern University, Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Glendale, Arizona
Health Professional Scholarship Program: United States Air Force
Medical School Awards: Recipient Health Professional Scholarship; Honors in Cardiology; Psychiatry Clinical Clerkship Courses
Member: American College of Emergency Physicians; Emergency Medicine Residents Association; American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians; American Osteopathic Association; American Medical Association; AZCOM Emergency Medicine Club
Volunteer Work: LDS Church missions and Sunday School teacher; Midwestern University Kankakee Rotation Representative; Riverside Healthcare, Midwestern University Student Ambassador; Homeless Outreach Medical Education (HOME) Clinic; Team of Physicians for Students providing free physical examinations to underserved high school athletes; Intermountain Healthcare
Hobbies: Basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, running, piano, guitar, and singing

Stay tuned next month as we pick the brain of Ugonna Ezeh, DO, a resident in MVRMC’s 5-year orthopedic surgery program in the March issue of the BCOM Pulse.