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SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you give me a brief description of the field? What are the key elements of this field that define it?

Orthopaedic surgery is a specialty that treats congenital, acquired and post traumatic diseases of the musculoskeletal system. Substantial expansions of the breadth, depth and capabilities of the discipline in the past 50 years have coincided with the emergence of sub-specialists and super-specialists in the fields such as arthroplasty (joint replacement and related surgery), musculoskeletal trauma, hand surgery, bone and joint oncology (both primary and metatic disease) and spine surgery. The demographics of our aging population as well as the emergence of new methods of imaging and treatment suggest that the demand for these services will be significantly higher in the future.

What is the patient population that I will encounter? Will it include both children and adults? Will there be emergency work? What types of technology will I encounter?

Students will see a wide range in patient demographics based on differing socio-economic background, ethnicity, gender, age, cultural background, sexual orientation and other relevant patient type criteria. Students will work with both, children and adults as well as emergency work as residents cover consults at both Downstate and the County. Students will encounter electronic medical records as well as technologies specific to the individual hospitals and specialty categories, i.e. Hand surgery, Spine surgery, adult reconstructive surgery etc.

Is it possible to describe the personality characteristics of many physicians in this field? 

Personality characteristics of physicians in this field: decisive, hard working, knowledgeable, effective communicator.

How long is the training program/residency?

Students matched to this categorical program will be enrolled in training for five (5) years.

Are there fellowships available after residency?

The department currently hosts a Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship; there are no Orthopaedic Surgical fellowships hosted at SUNY Downstate, yet almost all of our residents secure top-flight fellowships around the United States.

How do I know if my academic record/grades will make me a suitable applicant?

The applicant pool is highly competitive. The academic record is felt to be the most important credential. Performance in the third year clinical curriculum is particularly important. Students with academic records not in the top tier of their class will find it difficult to secure interviews in this specialty.

What is the role of my USMLE Step 1 score? What is a competitive score to qualify for an interview? If I failed Step 1 what are my options? Should I take Step 2 early?

The USMLE Step 1 score is also important when considering applicants for interview. A competitive score is 240 and above. A failed Step 1 score should be retaken and upon completion, Step 2 should be taken immediately. With stronger scores and a clear explanation for the failed score in your personal statement, programs may sometimes overlook a failed attempt.

Do I need a Step 2 Clinical Knowledge score to be screened for an interview? To be ranked?

No, you do not.

Is there anything that I can do in my rotation or elective experience in this field to enhance my qualifications?

Research electives with the department are also beneficial to your application to the program. Students are expected to show up to rotations on time, be team players and possess the appropriate medical knowledge base for his/her year of education.

Should I take outside electives in other institutions? If so, how many are advised and allowed?

Students can take electives at other institutions, though not required. It would be beneficial to them when they apply to residency programs, to have recommendation letters from physicians at other institutions as well as Downstate to further bolster their applications. Students can take at least one (1) or two (2) outside electives.

If your field requires a preliminary year what are your recommendations regarding that year?

This field does not require a preliminary year.

Is a research experience important in my application to this field? Do I need to do a one year research experience? Will research offset a low Step 1 score? Should I have publications to qualify for your field?

Research is very important and makes the applicant more competitive. Research electives are fine as there is no research mandate to apply to the field. It should be noted that research will aid students with less competitive USMLE Step 1 scores. No publications are required when applying to this field.

Is community service important in my application to this field?

Though not a requirement, community service presents a well-balanced applicant to the program.

What do you advise on obtaining letters of recommendation? Should they all be from the field? How many should I have? Do I need a chair's letter? If so, how do I obtain that letter?

Letters of recommendation play a major role in the interview selection process and as such students should have a minimum of three (3) letters with one being from the Chair. Though letters don't all have to be from the field it is advisable that they are. To obtain a letter of recommendation from the Chair please contact either Yvonne Henry, Residency program Coordinator, 718-613-8652 or or Nathalie Mendez, Executive Assistant to the Chair, 718-270-2179 or

How do I meet with residents in the field and ask them to share their experiences and advice? Can I find residents with educational backgrounds similar to mine?

Students meet and work with our residents when they rotate through our services as part of the General Surgery MS 3 rotations in Orthopaedics or by taking one of our many electives (Ambulatory Care in Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine, Pediatrics in Orthopaedics, Orthopaedic Surgery, and Research). Additionally, the department holds its Grand Rounds on a Thursday mornings, in Lecture Hall 1B, at 6:30 AM; this is another great meeting place for students to interact with residents. Students can also contact the residency office to obtain contact information of residents with similar educational background: Yvonne Henry, Residency program Coordinator, 718-613-8652 or or Nathalie Mendez, Executive Assistant to the Chair, 718-270-2179 or

If I want to learn more about the field, can you recommend how I do that?

Information about the field can be obtained by visiting the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website, To obtain more in-depth insight into the field and the program, it is advisable to set up an appointment to meet with Dr. Stanley L. Gordon, Chairman Emeritus, as his experience and knowledge in the field will prove beneficial to students when making decisions about choosing this specialty and applying to the field. He can be contacted at 718-270-2179. We recommend that students who believe that they maybe interested in the specialty contact the department early on in their medical school experience and make a concerted effort to keep their academic records as competitive as possible.

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