Frequently Asked Questions about Away Rotations

Frequently Asked Questions:

Away Rotations

Sabin Shah, MS-IV

Howard University College of Medicine

Who should do an away rotation?

Anyone who:

  • Is applying for a competitive field.

  • Wants to live in a specific region of the country

  • Wants to match at a specific program.



What specialties “strongly suggest” away rotations?

Most surgical specialties, and occasionally emergency medicine, anesthesia, or radiology.


What are the advantages of away rotations?

An away rotation can give you experience with a different hospital, faculty, and patient population.   It can help you decide what type of residency program is best for you.  While an away rotation can serve as your “audition” for that residency program, you are also auditioning the program!  Spending a month at a program can provide you substantial insight into the daily functioning of that residency. An away rotation can give you practical and procedural experience that you may not get during your home rotation.  Away rotations can give you the chance to live in a different city for a month, allowing you to see if that is a city you would enjoy living in for your entire residency.  By successfully completing an away rotation, you are showing residencies that you are adaptable and work well in a new environment.  While doing an away rotation, you have the opportunity to form new relationships with other medical students, residents, and faculty members within your selected specialty.  You may also be able to acquire a strong letter of recommendation.  Finally, you get to spend an extra month in your selected specialty, which is always a plus!


What are the disadvantages of away rotations?

  • Applying for an away rotation can be time-consuming, stressful, and expensive.  Even more expensive is the possibility that you may have to pay two rents during the month of your away rotation! It can be emotionally difficult to leave your family behind for an entire month. There can be a lot of paperwork and yellow tape that you must complete prior to the start of your away rotation (i.e. proof of insurance, immunization records, HIPAA training, medical records training).  

  • You must present your best self during the entirety of your away rotation.  If you rub any faculty member (or resident, for that matter) the wrong way, that could negatively influence your chances of matching to that program.

  • It can be stressful adjusting to a new setting; finding the parking garage, locating the cafeteria, and figuring out how to log into the system may seem simple until you try to do them while simultaneously impressing your attending!  By the time you get settled, your month-long rotation may practically be over.  

  • Some program leaders may believe that by completing an away rotation at another program, you are expressing more interest in that program than in their program.  (For instance, if you rotate at Program A and then apply to Program B, the leadership of Program B may correctly or incorrectly assume that you are more interested in Program A).  


How do I choose where to do an away rotation?

It can be very overwhelming to choose places to apply for your away rotation.  Consider selecting a practice setting that is different from your home institution, so that you can get a broader view of how that specialty is practiced.  For instance, if you attend medical school at a strong academic tertiary care center, consider rotating at a county or community facility.  If you have a strong desire to live in a certain city for residency, it is an excellent idea to complete an away rotation in that particular location.  Use VSAS website!!!


What is VSAS? When should I start planning my VSAS application?

The Visiting Student Application Service (VSAS) is an AAMC application designed to streamline the application process for senior "away" electives at U.S. LCME medical schools and independent academic medical centers that are members of the Council of Teaching Hospitals and Health Systems (COTH). This service requires students to submit just one application for all participating institutions, effectively reducing paperwork, miscommunication, and time. VSAS also provides a centralized location for managing offers and tracking decisions. It was created at the request of two GSA committees: Committee on Student Records (COSR) and Committee on Student Affairs (COSA).


VSAS opens in March and it's tremendously helpful to have the following things ready to go by then:

  • An updated CV

  • Copy of your medical school transcript

  • Copy of Official USMLE Score Report

  • One letter of recommendation

  • Personal statement

  • Immunization record and medical clearance


When should I do my away rotations?

Certain schools will only allow you to do away rotations in certain months. Otherwise, most students choose to rotate between August and October.  One may even do a rotation as late as November. There may be some advantage to doing late away rotations, as you are fresh in the program's mind when it comes to interviews and actual ranking. However, you may need to travel for your own interviews in November, and wouldn’t want to miss time on an away rotation, for any reason.