Summertime is high-season for away rotations. After the grueling gauntlet of required 3rd year rotations, many medical students welcome the beginning of the 4th year, when they can do rotations in their specialty of choice.
Away Rotations Are Important
Away rotations serve many purposes. First and foremost, they are audition rotations. They give you a chance to show a prospective residency program your skills and personality, and are essentially residency interviews. Some programs will not even formally interview you later in the year because they have already made their judgment about you during their rotation and know where to rank you.
Many students will use away rotations to get letters of recommendations from “big-names” in their specialty to improve their residency applications.
Away rotations also allow medical students to show an interest in a particular geographic region, especially in competitive specialties like surgery or dermatology. When a hospital gets hundreds of applications for just a few residency spots, they can’t interview every great candidate. Unless they are a top-ranked hospital, they can’t just interview the best candidates either — the best candidates will likely match elsewhere. Instead, most programs take a selective approach where they will interview qualified candidates who have demonstrated an interest in their region. Doing an away rotation in the region shows that interest.
Away rotations also give you a way to see how other institutions practice medicine. The opportunity to do a rotation at a “big-name” institution is pretty cool, even if you don’t eventually match there.
Away Rotations Are Expensive
But away rotations are not cheap. Application fees, travel, housing, and food can put a huge dent in your medical student budget.
According to a recent study in the journal BMC Medical Education, the average cost of an away rotation was $958. But in some specialties, such as neurosurgery or radiology, the average cost exceeded $2,500 per rotation. Many students reported spending in excess of $5,000 or even $10,000 on their away rotations.
Reduce Your Away Rotation Costs
Here are ten tips to help lower the costs of your away rotations, while not scrimping so much that you can’t do your best at your audition rotation:
1. Live close to the hospital
The first thing to remember about housing is that you won’t be spending much time in your housing anyway. You’ll be spending most of your time in the hospital or the medical library. Therefore, you don’t need to stay in someplace nice for your rotation. The most important thing is to live close to the hospital. You’ll be working very hard, and the last thing you want to do is trade 30 minutes of precious sleep for 30 minutes of commuting time.
2. Look into free housing options
Some hospitals will offer free or heavily discounted housing. One of the hospitals at my medical school offered free housing to rotating students. The housing options were quite meager, but you could wake up at 4:55 am and be at the hospital at 5:00 am if you wanted to. Friends or family at other medical schools can also be convenient for free housing, but I would rather pay and live closer to the hospital than to stay with family 30 minutes away.
3. Find a place on RotatingRoom.com
RotatingRoom.com is the go-to website for medical school sublets. Craigslist and Facebook are other good options. You can search Airbnb for options, although it’s unlikely you’ll get the best price on a monthly sublet, since that website is designed for vacationers.
4. Rent out your place on RotatingRoom.com
Since you’ll be out-of-town and be paying someone else for their room, you should be renting out your place on RotatingRoom.com as well.
5. Drive instead of fly to your rotation
Consider making the long drive from your home medical school to your audition rotation. You’ll often save money this way. However, take into consideration the location of your rotation. If you’re rotating in a big city like New York City or Chicago, it might be better to fly, since you’ll be taking public transportation everywhere anyway. Parking a car in a big city will be more expensive than using public transportation.
6. If you must fly, fly Southwest.
Southwest has a pretty expansive network that reaches most of the places you would be doing away rotations. They don’t always have the cheapest airfares, but they are the only major airline they lets you bring 2 checked bags for free. Delta charges $25 and $35 for the first and second checked bags, respectively. Since you’ll be packing your entire life into two checked bags, a carry-on suitcase, and a backpack/purse, you’d save $120 in checked bag fees flying with Southwest compared to Delta.
In addition, Southwest does not charge change or cancellation fees. You can even cancel your ticket on the same day as your flight. This could come in handy if you plan to cancel your rotation or change your travel dates at the last second.
7. Take public transportation whenever possible
If you’re in a big city, use public transportation. It is cheaper than taxis or Uber. It does take a little bit longer, but it’s worth it. See whether getting a monthly pass can save you money compared to single-ride tickets.
8. Cook instead of eating out
Of course, cooking your own food will be much cheaper (and healthier) than eating out. The problem is that you won’t have much time to cook. A reasonable compromise would be to buy semi-homemade or freezer meals. During one of my away rotations, I ate a steady diet of Trader Joe’s freezer meals. Most of the “cooking” was simply defrosting/heating the food on a frying pan, and it was cheaper than eating out.
9. Buy books used or borrow them from a friend
I almost never bought books new during medical school. Always check the Used section on Amazon.com or Half.com — often you can get “Like New” books for significantly less than the “New” price. Then, when you finish your rotation, sell your books.
10. Check if your hospital has online subscriptions to your textbooks.
Often your medical school will have the textbooks or review books you will need for your rotation. Before your rotation, go to your medical library and see whether it has any of the books you want. If they do, check them out from the library and bring them with you on your rotation.
Also, check if your hospital has any online subscriptions to specialty textbooks. My hospital has online subscriptions to many of the major radiation oncology textbooks, so I don’t need to purchase them.
What do you think? Did you do away rotations during medical school? Did you use any tips or tricks to reduce costs?