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"The official name for this specialty is Otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. This specialty involves both the medical and surgical care of all structures related to the head and neck (basically, above the clavicles and excluding the brain and eye). … Although most physicians and patients still refer to these surgeons simply as ‘ENTs,’ this specialty is, in reality, so much more than ears, noses, and throats. Otolaryngologists are also experts in the management of head and neck tumors (e.g., thyroid and salivary gland), chronic pediatric infections (tonsillectomies, adenoidectomies, and tympanostomy tube placement), facial trauma and cosmetic deformities, and diseases of the airway and phonation (laryngoscopy, bronchoscopy, palate surgery for snoring and sleep apnea), and assessing and treating hearing loss in adults and children."

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York. p.340.

M1 and M2 Students

 What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?

Spend some time in our specialty, shadowing both in clinic and the operating room.  We have a very diverse specialty made up of many subspecialties - the more exposure you have, the better you are able to decide if this specialty is for you!  Otolaryngology is also a highly competitive residency program with importance placed on USMLE scores, clerkship evaluations and research.  Most applicants have a high score on USMLE Step 1 and have done well throughout medical school.

 How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?

Research experience, including presentations and publications, are looked upon very favorably and at this point would say usually expected. Otolaryngology research is ideal, but any research is good. Start as early as possible - a case report at the beginning of your fourth year of medical school is better than nothing, but a more substantial research project starting in your M1 or M2 year is much better and will give you a leg up! 

M3 and M4 Students

 What M4 electives would you recommend to a student who is interested in pursuing your specialty?

Besides the M3 2-week ENT elective and the M4 one-month ENT elective, other potentially beneficial specialties would be:

  • Neuroradiology (where you learn head and neck anatomy from an imaging standpoint)
  • Allergy and Immunology (where you see rhinology patients, chronic cough patients, and patients with immunodeficiencies who often overlap with us)
  • Radiation oncology (where you can see nonsurgical treatments for head and neck cancer patients)
  • Audiology and Speech Pathology are also great resources and learning opportunities, as we work with them a lot.   

 Does your specialty recommend doing away rotations?

In general, yes, as this is a good way to get exposure to other institutions and departments.  Away rotations can help you, as often programs do interview their rotators, but they can also hurt you if you do not give your best effort.  I would tell students to give "110%" for their away rotations and be strategic.  Go to programs you are genuinely interested in, but it can help to be strategic.  For example, if you've done all of your training/schooling and lived in only one geographic area your whole life, consider doing an away rotation in another geographic area to show programs that you are willing to travel (if you are).    

 If your specialty recommends doing away rotations, how many "aways" do you recommend?

The number of away rotations is usually one and sometimes two. 

 If away rotations are necessary, when should they be completed?

July through October.

 Which month do you recommend taking off to interview?

December or January.

 Does your specialty recommend that all letters of recommendation be written by members of your specialty?

No, but at least two of the three required letters should be from otolaryngologists.  If the third letter is not from an otolaryngologist (or researcher within the Otolaryngology Department), then there should be a good reason for this.  An example would be a research mentor or a mentor from a meaningful clinical or volunteer experience who knows you well. 

 If letters can come from other disciplines, do you have a recommendation as to which disciplines are more highly valued?

There is no one specialty that is valued more highly than another - it matters more that the person writing the letter knows you well and would be able to write a good letter (as this would be the reason you are seeking outside the specialty for a letter).

 Does the academic rank of the letter writer matter?

No, but the more well-known the person, the better the letter.  As Otolaryngology is a relatively small specialty, the bigger names are usually known well by people at most programs.

 Does your specialty require a letter from the chairman?

Yes. Every student should have a letter from the chair, and they should also consider one from the residency program director.

 ENT Specialty Session - Winter / Residency Application Information

During the winter of the M3 year, students should attend specialty sessions sponsored by the ENT department to more about the specialty and meet attendings and residents in the field.

Request an ENT Adviser

Contact our ENT Advising Coordinator:


Alan Micco, MD
ENT Career Advising Coordinator
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For More Information

Department of Otolaryngology
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
676 N. St. Clair St., Suite 1325
Chicago, IL 60611