VSAS Pearls and Pitfalls (Tips from a ‘Tern)


Authors: Patrick Grace MD, PGY-1, Linda Katirji MD, PGY-3, Sameer Desai MD, Program Director at the University of Kentucky and Adam Kellogg MD, Associate Program Director at UMMS-Baystate, on Behalf of the CORD EM Student Advising Task Force (SATF)

This post will provide students applying to emergency medicine and those who advise them with up-to-date recommendations on how to navigate the VSAS system.

It may be hard to believe, but the closing of this interview season means that a whole new group of MS3s are gearing up to start their applications. The first of many hurdles Emergency Medicine applicants will encounter is scheduling away rotations using VSAS. VSAS stands for Visiting Student Application Service. This year, VSAS and GHLO (Global Health Learning Opportunities – for international students who want to obtain a rotation in the US) merged into one single program called AAMC Visiting Student Learning Opportunities (VSLO).

As Emergency Medicine grows in popularity, there are more students applying to more places, making away rotations very competitive. A lot of students struggle with obtaining the away rotations they want due to the many unique program requirements and deadlines, as well as the somewhat complicated process of applying. Being knowledgeable about the process and its potential pitfalls will increase your chance of obtaining the away rotations that you want.

SATF teamed up with Patrick Grace, a current intern at University of Kentucky, and a survivor of last year’s VSAS cycle, to highlight some of the pearls and pitfalls in navigating through VSAS.

  1. Apply early

“The number one reason people do not get away rotations that they want is that they apply too late. This cannot be overstated. Applying early gives you the best opportunity to get the rotation you want. This is the number one pitfall!”

  1. Make sure your vaccinations are in order

“The number one reason people end up applying too late is because they do not have their vaccination forms completed in a timely manner. It takes times to have your titers drawn and then if the titers are insufficient you have to get revaccinated and have new titers drawn. This can end up taking a while. Most programs fill their away rotation spots on a first come first serve basis so having your titers drawn early in the year and having the documentation in place can really give you a leg up.”

  1. Do your research & read the instructions!

“Each program on VSAS has a listed date that the program allows you to start submitting your application, but you can see all the different requirements (mostly different pieces of paperwork that need to be filled out and scanned) in advance, so it’s good to get your ducks in a row early and not after they start to accept applications. What nobody told me is that while some programs have a listed date that they take applications on VSAS, some of these programs actually allow you to go ahead and submit your application before this stated date. I would recommend trying to submit your application once it’s ready regardless of whatever the date says on VSAS. Please do not email programs to see if they’re taking applications earlier than the stated date. Additionally, make sure to note any unique elements you need to upload for an institution. Some may ask for a letter of interest, and if you did not read the specific requirements for a program this can really hold you up as well.”

  1. Stay organized

“One of the most difficult things about the process is keeping everything organized. Consider making a spreadsheet that lists the program you are applying to on VSAS, what dates you are applying for, and what forms you still needed to complete in order to submit your application.”

  1. Think ahead about rotation dates

“On the topic of rotation dates, recognize that your home medical school rotation weeks will likely not align perfectly with the visiting program weeks for the rotation. Start considering your strategy for finding a solution to this. It may be wise to schedule a more flexible rotation at your home institution the block before or after the blocks you have set aside for away rotations, in case you need to travel to an away rotation on the last week of the previous block. While some away rotations will try to be flexible with accommodating your schedule, recognize that they are under no obligation to do so and you may lose your rotation spot if you cannot conform to their schedule.”

  1. Use your resources

“The program director at my medical school’s affiliated program was the most helpful resource in trying to find away rotations. He was able to point me to programs that my school’s medical students had positive experiences rotating with in the past. He was also able to point me towards programs that fit what I was looking for in terms of diversifying my exposure to types of Emergency Medicine programs (i.e. academic vs. community vs. county programs). Use your mentor as your advocate during this process.”

  1. Choose your away rotations wisely

“One last thing I’ll say about picking programs on VSAS is that if you’re interested in matching at a program at a particular institution or geographic region that is different from your medical school then you should give strong preference toward applying to that program or other programs in the region. Geographic location ends up being one of the most important considerations to a majority of applicants and programs are much more likely to offer a residency interview to somebody who interviewed with them or at least showed interest in their geographic region by rotating at a nearby program.”

Additional VSAS Online resources:

SAEM Clerkship Directory

ALIEM EM Match Advice: VSAS 101

CDEM Open spots for rotations *this spreadsheet has not been updated since last cycle


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