Clerkship grades are more important than those on basic science courses as they are more indicative of your real-world performance in the hospital. Of all of your clerkships, it is most important to achieve high marks in your ophthalmology rotations. Although it is not essential, it may be useful to schedule your first ophthalmology rotation late in the first semester of your third year. This allows you to become accustomed to the hospital during other less-crucial rotations, yet it is still early enough in the year to confirm your interest in the field and pursue other ophthalmology-related activities. It is also a good idea to let your residents and faculty know that you are interested in ophthalmology as they will pay extra attention to you during your time in the clinic and it may even net you a better grade.
During your third year, be thinking about who you may want to ask for letters of recommendation. It is helpful to have letters from well-known faculty in the ophthalmology department, but only if they know you well. Try to obtain your letters from individuals you have worked with for at least a month, so the letter is meaningful and personalized, and supply them with your curriculum vitae (CV) and transcript so they have even more information on which to base the letter. You will need 3 letters for your ophthalmology application with the option of adding another one to your application for intern year. There are no strict guidelines regarding who to ask, but I recommend obtaining 2 from ophthalmology faculty and 1 from faculty in another department to diversify your application. You will need copies of your letters before you are able to send your application materials to the SF match in early August. Do your writers a favor and ask them for the letters at least a month or two before you need them so they are not forced to write them on short notice. If you are planning on asking someone with whom you worked early in your third year, it may be wise to let them know after you finish working with them so they may make some memorable notes to keep you fresh in his or her mind come letter-writing time.
Though I did not personally experience this, I have heard that some prelim medicine programs for intern year require letters from the chair of internal medicine at your school or at least an internal medicine doctor. You may want to keep this in mind when identifying people who may be well-suited to write your letters.
If you attend Iowa you will receive a cover sheet complete with directions for your letter writers. Check the box indicating that you waive the right to view your letters. This assures programs that your writers are giving a complete, accurate, and uncensored description of you. Despite checking this box, some writers may still send you a draft to make sure it is accurate.
Begin preparing your curriculum vitae in late spring or early summer, prior to requesting your letters of recommendation. In contrast to a resume, a CV is more focused on your professional and academic activities. In other words, you do not need to mention the summer you spent as a pizza delivery boy. Only include things that are relevant to your residency application unless they are very distinctive activities or achievements that will set you apart from the crowd. You will not actually send this CV with your application, but it useful to organize your achievements and you can usually copy the information directly over to your residency application later in the summer. Additionally, it is useful if you provide your letter writers with a CV so they may learn more about you before writing your letter of recommendation. The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine has an excellent website containing several example CVs.
It is wise to set up a meeting with a faculty member in the department during your third year to express your interest in ophthalmology. This helps introduce you to the department and he or she can assess your competitiveness for the specialty. It is helpful if you can provide him or her with a CV and transcript to help with this process. If you do this earlier in your third year, you should have time to buff out any potential weaknesses in your application before you have to start preparing it for residency programs.
Closer to interview season, you may want to set up a brief meeting with the department head and residency director to introduce yourself. At Iowa, these people are Dr. Keith Carter and Dr. Tom Oetting. Make sure you come prepared with specific discussion points, questions, or material to review, otherwise you may find yourself in an awkward silence – not a great first impression.
The University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology maintains an excellent website called EyeRounds. The site contains a collection of interesting photos, videos, and cases provided by residents, fellows, faculty, and students from the University of Iowa. The site generates huge amounts of web traffic and the articles quickly shoot to the top of the Google search results. This is a peer-reviewed website and you can later list all of your articles as publications on your application. You may write as many articles as you wish and this is a great opportunity to meet faculty members in the department. I would recommend writing at least one article during medical school. Eye Rounds is an exclusive opportunity for students at Iowa as you must attend the university to submit materials for the site. Contact Dr. Tom Oetting if you are interested.