Taking a good ERAS photo can do wonders in helping your residency application look more competitive. But in the age of social media, and the ill-timed selfie, it’s very easy to get your ERAS photo wrong. So here’s an answer to perhaps the most important question…
What are the best tips for a residency ERAS photo?
Wear what you’d wear for a residency interview (formal/suit jacket). Get a professional haircut. Drink enough water in the days leading up to the shoot and definitely do not wear your white coat.
If you still have a ton of questions on the do’s and don’ts of taking the best possible ERAS question, don’t worry. We’ll get into all that in this article.
Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- ERAS photo requirements
- If you should use a professional photographer/stylist
- Further tips on dress and setting
- Solid ERAS residency photo examples
As a med student who has all this to worry about myself, I’m hoping my research here can also help others!
Ready to get into this? Let’s go.
ERAS photo requirements
First things first, here are the requirements you need to fit:
- Dimensions: 2.5 x 3.5 inches
- Resolution: 150 dpi
- File size: 100 KB
- Color photo
- Frame: frontal view of head and shoulders
- Centering: face in middle
- Background: plain white or light
So nothing too complicated but definitely make sure you get these right.
Failing to do so could cost you time and (dependent on whether you use a professional) money.
As for the best way to get it to that file size? Go digital and convert it to a .jpg right away. Follow this handy tutorial here if you’re confused.
Why is it important to get your ERAS photo right?
Besides the points mentioned above, it’s important to get your ERAS photo right because many residency programs will file it on an online roster that could make it to Google.
Once in, however, most programs will do another round of headshots after giving you a white coat. These are the ones that usually go up on a school’s main website.
But still, this isn’t always the case. So getting it right the first time is duly important!
How do I take good residency photos?
Taking good residency photos is a bit of an art. If you’re not used to having a professional photo taken of yourself, then knowing what to do (or how to approach) may not come all that naturally.
Some of the main things to avoid include:
- Wearing your white coat (most consider it cliched and less smart than a suit jacket)
- Wearing loud colored ties (probably best to avoid red here)
- White button downs (they tend to exacerbate the loudness of a tie)
- Patterned shirts/blouses (add too much contrast/distraction)
- Unkempt facial hair (although beards are somewhat back, tread with caution)
And to reiterate some of the top tips I began this article with, here’s what you do want to do:
- Hydrate (helps reduce any bags under your eyes)
- Consider a facial tan (obviously don’t overdo it)
- Insist on photo editing (more on this later)
Conservative is best. And that goes for both males and females.
When’s the best time to take a residency photo?
Obviously, preparation for applications happens toward the end of med school (late M3/early M4) so you’ll need it in time for them.
Getting at the end of the 2nd year, however, when you have the pressure of studying for STEP 1 and you’re likely frazzled from a hectic year, might not be the best idea.
Perhaps consider holding off the summer between your 2nd and 3rd year (or a little later), when you’ve likely recovered from that brutal period and probably looking a lot healthier.
You don’t want raccoon eyes!
Do I need a professional?
Yes. Hiring a professional can definitely be worth it considering the significance of your application. But don’t feel the need to pay anything too crazy (anything north of $100 is verging too much).
The benefits of hiring a professional mean you’re much more likely to come out with a great result. Especially if that person has extensive experience taking residency headshots in the past (ask your school or colleagues for referrals/recommendations).
Here’s what to look for:
- Good portfolio of work
- Access to professional lighting
- Retouching/resizing skills
Also, check Google as there are a ton of specialized photography services designed exactly with ERAS residency photos in mind. JC Penney does good headshots!
A good professional will also probably be better placed to advise you and prevent you from committing the photography sins above. And if you pass them the ERAS photo requirements beforehand, the whole process will run a lot smoother.
They’ll most likely have access to more neutral backgrounds too. Specifically, if they operate in a studio.
Still, if you’re really strapped for cash (it’s understandable, being a med student), don’t feel an absolute need to go with a professional.
If you have an experienced friend with a good camera, it’s still definitely possible to get a decent photo for your application.
Some successful residents even claim to have had success with an iPhone, portrait mode, and a blank wall!
Perhaps a bit risky.
What about retouching/resizing?
Retouching can definitely help. Smoothing out tired eyes, brightening up a background, and generally making subtle changes that can help your photo pop a bit are all sensible ideas.
Obviously, stay away from any Instagram-style filters and get the advice/hire the service of a professional if possible.
And a couple of things about make-up (if you excuse me, even though I’m a guy).
Getting your makeup done professionally for a residency photo definitely isn’t important. Although it can be nice!
What’s the best setting?
The best setting is a light background. That fits the bill for the vast majority of residency programs.
Avoid outdoors as that’s likely to throw your profile out and add unnecessary shadows. As mentioned before, photos taken inside of studios, with appropriate lighting, are best.
You can go with an outdoorsy background if you’re dead-set on it (sometimes it can also be a bit of a differentiator), but only do it if the requirements aren’t stringent and you’re fairly confident you can get it right.
What should I wear to my ERAS headshot?
The universal rule applies to both males and females applying for residency; dress like you would going to a residency interview.
Research suggests that the most positive outcome comes from suit jackets, hair down (women), and glasses.
Here’s what a paper in the Dermatology Online Journal says when it comes to analyzing the ERAS photos of successful residents…
Candidates who smiled, wore glasses, and wore jackets in their photographs were more likely to match. There was no difference in the rate of matching among applicants depending on whether their photograph was of professional quality or whether they wore formal attire in their pictures. Gender specific characteristics were not found to be influential in the match outcome for male applicants. Among female applicants, having hair to the shoulders or longer was associated with a positive match outcome.(Source)
Obviously, there’s a couple of problematic points to that study, namely that if you don’t need glasses you probably should consider a fake pair!
So take the above with a grain of salt.
Here’s what most medical residents actually suggest when it comes to ERAS photos over on Reddit (Source)…
- White or light blue shirt
- Semi spread or spread collar (no cutaways or button downs)
- Solid block tie (blue with subtle pattern – avoid elaborate knots, a half windsor is fine)
- Navy or charcoal suit
It’s bland but professional. Just make sure you get a shirt with an appropriate neck size.
Let the collar shape be dictated by your face. Maybe consider shaving if you’re gunning for an old-school surgery residency (they can be funny about that).
- White or light blue shirt
- Navy or charcoal suit
- Hair down
- Limited jewelry
The business casual of clinical rotations is probably too informal for a photo of this nature. And definitely avoid anything potentially revealing or low-cut. That could make the wrong impression!
What about facial expressions?
Granted your teeth aren’t in an absolute state, it’s definitely best to smile and at least look friendly.
Don’t overthink it. You don’t need to be all-out cringe, just professional and warm enough!
ERAS residency photo examples
Probably the best residency photo examples that you can find on the web are those of HeadShotDC.com.
Their ERAS Application Sessions page is absolutely on-the-money in terms of the dos and don’ts discussed above.
Definitely check them out if you happen to be in the DC area.
Otherwise, YouTuber (and medical resident) Paloma Alvarez’s outcome is pretty awesome too. Check it out in the video below – notice no suit jacket!
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.