ERAS | VSAS Headshots Tips


ERAS | VSAS Headshots

ERAS/VSAS headshots show your determination & enthusiasm in specialty-appropriate style to the selection committees of the top programs.

Headshots are used in medical residency, fellowship, or med school application processes as a post-interview memory aid, although the actual use varies among programs (AAMC 2022). This is essentially an “audition headshot;” and is an opportunity to replay your strengths to the selection committee at the time of making decisions.

A recent study by Maxfield et al. (2019) indicated that attractiveness rating of each applicant’s photograph had 0.30 regression coefficient with the overall rating, only a tiny bit under the Step 1 exam score of 0.35. The photograph was found to have more weight in the overall rating than med school class rank or clinical clerkship grades. The data points in their scatter plot is dense near the cutoff threshold; the impact of any improvement in the photo is most significant for the ambitious applicants.

My previous clients matched with very competitive or the top programs in their fields.  Do not underestimate the power of a profession headshot for your application.

Your preparation effort will easily show in your photograph, and my service is designed to guide you to do just that.

1. 2020 MyERAS Residency User Guide, AAMC, p. 33.
2. Maxfield CM, Thorpe MP, Desser TS, Heitkamp DE, Hull NC, Johnson KS, Koontz NA, Mlady GW, Welch TJ, Grimm LJ. 2019. Bias in Radiology Resident Selection: Do We Discriminate Against the Obese and Unattractive? Acad Med. May 28.

Image format and backdrop

AAMC issued headshot specification for ERAS and VSAS that specifies a light drop.  Generally, we recommend a neutral backdrop like light gray or white.  Our studio has offered ERAS photo’s for many years and never heard of any problem related to the backdrop as long as they are neutral and not distracting.

Medical school applicants

Medical school applicants are increasingly required to submit their headshots. The specification varies from school to school, unlike the residency match process. Gather those requirements and forward them to the photographer in advance of your session to make sure you can use the picture for all the medical schools that you apply.


I recommend taking your residency match photo early in the year, from January to April, when you have a break between rotations. This improves the outcome, because 1. you are less busy, with manageable schedule, lower stress level and more sleep hours than the summer, 2. you have the time to prepare well for the photo (arrange your outfits, hair cut, etc.), and 3. you can use the picture for your away rotation. If you are sleep-deprived or under stress, your experience will feel rushed. Many exhausted residency applicants book their sessions and come in and out from August to the last minutes of September 15th, and many regretted not shooting a few months earlier.  Our studio gets very busy with ERAS and VSAS headshots in August and September, so plan ahead to make sure you have a spot.

Some of the last-minute clients changed their mind last-minute. They were initially planning to use a cell phone photo or inexpensive service from their school/hospital photographers but later doubted that decision. Out of many things you submit, your headshot is one element that you can make a significant improvement in a relatively short period of time and at a small fraction of applications fees and travel expenses.

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