March 7, 2008

VUSM students’ site shares tips on cutting residency travel costs

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VUSM students Randon Hall, left, and Ben Rosenbaum created a Web site to help fellow students find travel deals. (photo by Anne Rayner)

VUSM students’ site shares tips on cutting residency travel costs

It's not unusual for fourth-year medical students to spend $2,000 to $10,000 in travel costs interviewing for residency slots.

Some students even acquire special loans of up to $10,000 to assist with the additional costs of interviewing at sometimes as many as 20 sites during the October-February interview season.

Ben Rosenbaum and Randon Hall, fourth-year Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students, know the financial struggle all too well. So the two frugal medical students started coming up with alternatives to lower the interviewing costs. Rosenbaum, while applying for a residency in neurosurgery, slept in rental cars twice in interview cities and found $15 hostels in other locations. Hall found out about a $70 roundtrip Chinatown bus from Nashville to New York City, costing less than either airfare or several tanks of gas, took along a good book, and enjoyed his long ride.

The results: they both came in well below the national average interviewing cost: Rosenbaum spent $2,687 on travel, accommodations and food for interviews at 15 sites; Hall spent $1,200 for interviews at eight sites, but did not add in the costs of food.

The two classmates, after months of trading travel tip-filled e-mails with each other and their classmates, decided to compile some of their best ideas, and in January launched a Web site:

The Web site includes a personal blog from the two students and a trip planner for interview cities (which include most of the major U.S. cities).

“Residency programs don't really send out a full brochure about their city, so everywhere we went, we'd call each other (for cost-saving tips),” Rosenbaum said. “We'd find out that someone took a $40 cab instead of a $2 bus, and that they didn't even know about the bus. That's what was bothering us. If people choose not to take the $2 bus, that's not a big deal. But if they don't even know about it, that's bad.”

One applicant, who was interviewing at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., took a $150 one-way cab ride from Minneapolis because he was flying home from Rochester and didn't know he could get a regional, one-way rate on a rental car.

Hall, who hopes to land a pediatrics residency at either Vanderbilt (his No. 1 choice) or Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, says two of his best inexpensive travel finds were a bus company called Megabus that offers inexpensive bus rides from many major cities and a shuttle bus called Michigan Flyer from the Detroit airport to Ann Arbor that cost $10. “Plus, it had free wireless Internet the entire ride, and free bottled water,” he said. “Man, I was e-mailing the whole ride.”

Finding out about good deals like these takes a lot of work, and often the information isn't easy to find. Having it all on the Web site will save time, the students said.