Medical Student Career Exploration Guide


*click headers to jump to section

Student Affairs Office: Office Hours and Contacts 

The Big Picture


Developing Your Interests & Exploring Career Options


Physician Licensure

What Do I Need to Know about Applying for Residency?

Addendum: Class Meetings by Year

Student Affairs Office: Office Hours and Contacts

Student Affairs Office

72 East Concord Street

A Building, Second Floor

Boston, Massachusetts 02118

Phone: (617) 358-7466

Main Email:


The Student Affairs Office (SAO) at the Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

In the case of an emergency after hours and on weekends, medical students should page the dean on duty by calling (617) 638-5795 and sending a page to #4196 or sending a text page to pager #4196 through the pager directory.

Office Hours with Deans

Monday @ 1 – 2 p.m. – Dean Chen

Tuesday @ 11 a.m. – noon – Dean Symes

Tuesday @ Noon – 1 p.m. – Dean Sanchez

Wednesday @ Noon – 1 p.m. – Dean Young

Thursday @ 1 – 2 p.m. – Dean Curran

Friday @ Noon – 1 p.m. – Dean Bryant


The Big Picture

While some students begin medical school with a specialty in mind, many students will change their minds and many have no idea what specialty will be the best fit for them.  Because making a career choice is a complex process, the Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine’s Student Affairs Office provides students with guidance through a comprehensive career development program beginning in the first year. 

Your interests and activities outside of the classroom and clinical space are of notable importance during your time in medical school, and specifically in your career exploration.  Spending time focusing on things you care about outside of school is something we encourage as part of your career exploration journey.

We encourage students to take time to engage in Student Activity Groups, which can be valuable tools for career exploration and for gaining insight into the type of physician you want to become. Likewise, your path to achieving excellence in patient care starts with a commitment to attend to your own wellbeing. Visit the Medical Student Wellness site for  resources, opportunities and strategies. 


This is your PATH

PATH encompasses the following key areas of professional development, complementing the academic curriculum:

P – Professional Identity Formation

A – Advancing to Residency through Mentoring and Advising

T – Techniques for Lifelong Learning, Resiliency and Wellness

H – Humanism and Advocacy


Career Exploration Timeline



Each Advisor you have during your time in Medical School is prepared and eager to support your career exploration journey. 

Click Here to Learn More about our Advisor Network 


Who Are My Advisors?

Student Affairs (SAO) Dean (assigned in your M1 year)

Student Affairs Deans are available to help you, providing mentorship and guidance in the professional and personal aspects of your medical education and career development. All students are assigned an SAO Dean when they arrive at medical school, and receive another assignment in third-year, which is the Dean who will write your MSPE for residency application. This may or may not be the same Dean you were assigned upon matriculation.

Core Advisors (AMEs) (assigned in your M1 year)

The Academy of Medical Educators (AMEs) are clinically active faculty members who teach doctoring to a cohort of students and serve as their core advisor.  Core AMEs do not grade   students advisees. You will have formal advising with your AME throughout the first three years and your advisor willremain available to meet and advise in your M4 year to the extent you wish. On average, students meet with their AME Advisors 3-4 times per year. This may be less in the M3 and M4 year when students begin meeting with their Field Specific Advisor (below). AMEs provide advice and support to students, helping them network, navigate problems, identify additional faculty members, research projects, summer plans, and general career advice.

Peer Advising (elective program available in your M1 year)

Peer Advisors are fellow medical students who are committed to student leadership and who show strong commitment to helping new students make the transition from undergraduates to informed, successful medical students. All M1 students have the opportunity to participate in the Peer Advising Program

Faculty for Guided Exploration  (available in your M1 and M2 year)

Faculty for Guided Exploration are not formally Field Specific Advisors, but have made themselves available to meet with students in their M1 and M2 years who may have questions about their specialty.  If you are interested in a specialty that is not listed, please contact the Student Affairs Office ( who can connect you to a faculty member in your interested field.

Field Specific Advisor (FSA) (selected in your M3 year)

FSAs are faculty members who work and teach in your specialty of interest. They are an important part of your career development and education in your M3 and M4 years, and serve as a resource to help guide and mentor you through the residency selection and application process. On average, most students meet with their FSA 1-4 times a year to get MATCH advice and counseling. Visit our website to learn more about the role of FSAs, student responsibility, and how to select an FSA. Students in their first or second year can utilize the ‘Faculty for Guided Exploration’ (above) as a resource for discussing particular career interests, as well as their SAO Dean and AME Advisors (above).

MSPE Dean (selected in your M3 year)

Your MSPE Dean is a Dean in the Student Affairs Office who you will meet with to discuss your residency application strategy and materials, prepare you for your interviews and other residency-related matters. This Dean will write your Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE) Letter. Your assigned MSPE Dean may be the same SAO Dean originally assigned to you in your M1 year.


Many Alumni of the Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine are open and eager to connect with current students to discuss career exploration. See the Alumni Association’s Student Resources and their Alumni Directory.

How Do I Use My Advisors Effectively?

Your interests and advising needs will evolve over your time in medical school, and the Advisor Network is designed to support you in your professional growth and career selection process.  1-on-1 meetings with an advisor can be tremendously beneficial to assist with career advice and planning for the future. To maximize your meeting, plan your meetings and come prepared. Have a purpose for the meeting, be proactive in arranging the meetings, be self-reflective and ready to share details about your activities and academic record, and initiate a follow up time or plan.

Developing Your Interests & Exploring Career Options


Meet with your AME and SAO Dean early on so you can get to know one another, discuss your interests, and learn about resources and opportunities for career exploration. See Advising section.


Shadowing exposes medical students to observe different fields within medicine as well as to the types of practice and work performed by physicians. This may occur in varied clinical settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities and/or office practices, always under the supervision of a licensed physician or care professional.

Career Interest Groups

There are approximately 30 Career Interest Groups at the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. Each group is student-led with the support of a faculty advisor who works in the field of interest. Among providing an overview of specialties and career paths, the Career Interest Groups engage through efforts such as hosting Match Panels with graduating students, providing access to shadowing opportunities, holding journal clubs, engaging in research, networking with professionals. In your M2 year, you may become a leader of one of these Career Interest Groups, or other student organizations.

Career Expo

The Career Interest Groups with support from SCOMSA and Student Affairs host the Career Expo annually in the winter. The Expo allows students to explore various Career Interest Groups, specialty paths, and speak with both student leaders as well as faculty advisors in those specialty areas – all in one place.

Careers in Medicine Resources

The Academy of Academic Medicine’s (AAMC) Careers in Medicine website is a trove of resources and recommendations for medical students. The AAMC has developed a useful on-line resource that directs students through a 4 step process to specialty selection and the residency application process: Understand Yourself; Explore Options; Choose  Your Specialty and Prepare for Residency. Read about the profiles of more than 160 specialties and subspecialties in the United States, with descriptions of the work the physicians do, salary, training requirements, match, salary and workforce information, and links to relevant organizations and publications.

Meet the Chairs

The Student Affairs Office hosts a “Meet the Chairs” series as part of our Student Wellbeing programming. Each session features one of the Clinical Chairs at the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. In this informal and personal environment, the Chairs discuss their academic, personal and professional journeys, sharing lessons they learned along the way. 

Practical Aspects of Practicing Medicine Panel Series

This Series brings together a panel of physicians with a variety of specialties, perspectives, backgrounds and journeys in their medical career paths in honest discussion about becoming a medical professional. The format of this series begins with a moderated panel and ends with a Q&A session with the panelists. Past topics have included: different practice settings and degree application, compensation negotiations, common career mistakes, the effects of changing healthcare coverage, work-life balance, and much more.

CV Workshops with Student Affairs

Keeping your CV up-to-date is a great way to keep track of your activities through medical school. It is also important to have on hand for applications (e.g. for grants, scholarships) for those writing letters on your behalf. The SAO offers CV workshops throughout the academic year to help you create and organize your CV in a standardized format, and to provide feedback.



Where Does Research Fit in?

According to National Residency Match Program (NRMP) data, medical students who have published research articles, presented at national conferences are reported to have a higher chance of matching into competitive specialties such as plastic surgery, neurosurgery, ophthalmology and orthopedic surgery. Quality of the research conducted is more important than quantity or the specific specialty in which you conducted your research. While research can be an important and rewarding component of your medical school experience, it is not a requirement for a successful residency match. The summer between 1st and 2nd year can be a convenient time to initiate research, but is not the only opportunity for research. Visit the Research Webpage early on and meet with the assistant dean for Student Research to discuss your plans. 


Physician Licensure

Where do the Step exams fit into residency applications?

When applying for a state medical license, primary verification of your education and graduate training will be reviewed. All states require physicians to submit proof of successful completion of all three steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The USMLE is a three-Step examination for medical licensure in the United States. The USMLE assesses an examinee’s ability to apply knowledge, concepts, and principles, and to demonstrate fundamental patient-centered skills. These skills constitute the basis of safe and effective patient care. Health care consumers throughout the nation enjoy a high degree of confidence that doctors who have passed all three Steps of the USMLE have met a common standard.

While in medical school, you will take Step 1 and Step 2 CK, which there is information about below. Step 3 assesses in-depth clinical knowledge and decision-making to be able to care for patients independently and is generally taken after the first year of residency.

What to Know for Step 1

Step 1 is the first of three exams that you will take. Step 1 is a one-day examination. It is divided into seven 60-minute blocks and administered in one 8-hour testing session. The number of questions per block on a given examination form may vary but will not exceed 40. The total number of items on the overall examination form will not exceed 280. You can find more information about Step 1 here. You will register for Step 1 in the fall, and you will receive registration instructions at that time.

Incorporating UWorld into your daily study schedule in each module is essential for being ready to take your exam on time. The Academic Enhancement Office will provide Step prep sessions to enhance your Step 1 preparation.

What to Know for Step 2 CK

Step 2 CK is the first of three exams that you will take. Step 2 CK is a one-day examination. It is divided into seven 60-minute blocks and administered in one 9-hour testing session. The number of questions per block on a given examination form may vary but will not exceed 40. The total number of items on the overall examination form will not exceed 320. You can find more about Step 2 CK here. You will register for Step CK in your M3 year, and you will receive registration instructions at that time.

Based on our experience with previous medical school classes, the best preparation for Step 2 CK is to perform as best of your ability on Step 1 and all your clerkship shelf exams.

Incorporating UWorld into your daily study schedule in each clerkship is essential for being ready to take your exam on time. The Academic Enhancement Office will provide Step prep sessions to enhance your Step 2 CK preparation.


What Do I Need to Know about Applying for Residency?

Defining Key Terms

The Match – The Match, which is sponsored by the NRMP (see below), is the primary U.S. program for medical students and graduates to secure a position in accredited residency training programs within the United States.

NRMP – The National Resident Matching Program

ERAS – Electronic Residency Application Service. The primary application platform for U.S. residency applicants.

MSPE – Medical Student Performance Evaluation, sometimes referred to as the ‘Dean’s Letter’. An evaluation letter based on student performance and credentials as part of the residency application.

AAMC – Association of American Medical Colleges. The AAMC represents MD-granting medical schools located in the United States.

CaRMS – Canadian Residency Matching Services

For other terms about and related to the Match, please visit the NRMP’s Match Terms and Topics website.

Preparing for Residency Application

Helpful Resources for Exploring Programs

  • AAMC Residency Explorer – Explore programs and assess competitiveness in various specialties
  • AMA FREIDA – Personalized search engine for researching residencies and fellowships
  • Texas STAR – Access granted in your Fourth Year. A database of self-reported application and Match information from recently Matched medical school graduates around the country

During your third year, as you develop your clinical skills and experience some specialties first hand, you will begin to narrow your list of possible specialties. 

Ask yourself “What made today a good day?”, make note of what you enjoy doing – do you enjoy the OR? What patients do you find most interesting? Consider keeping a journal to keep track of your observations. 

As Third Year begins, you will have the opportunity to meet with programs directors from the different specialties during the fall Third-Year Career Fair, to continue to explore possible career specialties. You will also select the SAO dean who will work with you to create your MSPE and help you assess your competitiveness, guide you in the development of your 4th year schedule and your review of residency programs, along with your FSA, who will be assigned towards the end of the fall semester. 

Class meetings will provide you with additional information about selecting electives in 4th year, further exploring career options and the application process (such as who, and how to ask for  letters of recommendation, tips for personal statement and residency interviews).  

During Fourth Year, you will continue to work with your SAO dean and FSA, as you write your personal statement, ERAS application and program selection. You will be invited to attend workshops for Personal Statement development, effective Interview strategies, using ERAS. Each student will have at least one Mock Interview with a SAO dean, and all students will meet with the Associate Dean of Student Affairs to discuss their residency application process.


Addendum: Class Meetings by Year

Class Meetings in Your First Year

Settling into First Year


  • Student Affairs Office on perspective-taking as you’ve settled into year 1. Topics discussed include: career exploration, advising, student wellbeing, and what to look forward to.


Planning your Summer


  • Student Affairs and Enrichment Office on framing summer as an opportunity for personal and professional growth, as well as specific opportunities for summer going into your M2 year.

Class Meetings in Your Second Year

Meeting on the Third-Year Schedule


  • Student Financial Services on Affording Costs of the M3 Year
  • Academic Enhancement: Registering and Preparation Strategies for Step 1
  • Medical Education Office on Choosing your Clinical Sites
  • Registrar on Selecting your Fourth-Year Schedule

Overview of the Third Year and Wellness


  • Student Affairs on Letters of Recommendation, How to Succeed in Third-Year and the Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE)
  • Student Affairs on Wellbeing Entering your Clinical Years, Reflection & Journaling


Class Meetings in Your Third Year

A Look Ahead


  • Student Affairs on Letters of Recommendation, Approach to Electives, Looking Ahead to Applications & Licensing, Field Specific Advising
  • Registrar on Rotations, Electives and VSLO
  • Student Financial Services on Affording Costs of the M4 Year
  • Academic Enhancement on Step 2CK

On the Fourth-Year Schedule


  • Student Affairs on Planning for M4 year, Biosketch Deadlines, Requesting Leaves or Modified Curriculums
  • Registrar on Scheduling, Electives & VSLO
  • Medical Education Office on Clerkship Grading, Time Off, Longitudinal Requirements
  • Meet-and-Greet with current M4 students

On Residency Applications


  • Student Affairs on Overview of Application Processes, Upcoming Workshops, Scheduling Interviews, Important Timelines
  • Academic Enhancement on Step 2CK
  • M4 Panel on Lessons Learned
  • Meet with Residency Directors


Class Meetings in Your Fourth Year

On the Rank Order List


  • Student Affairs provides guidance on creating Rank Order Lists, as well as covers information about Match Day & Commencement in this final Class Meeting

Physician Health Services and Licensure


  • Physician Health Services representative discusses role and resources of PHS as well as implications for Licensure