All About the Medical Residency Match: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Medical Career

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You’ve made it into medical school and are progressing through your training. Towards the end of your third year in medical school, you’ll need to turn serious attention to the next phase of your medical professional training – the residency.  The National Resident Matching Program was created to connect medical students with a residency program that best fits both the talents of aspiring doctors and the needs of hospitals. Here’s what you need to know about residency matching:

National Resident Matching Program (NRMP)

The National Resident Matching Programs was created in the 1950s with the goal of easing the process by which medical students applied for their residencies.   It’s an impartial process that uses a mathematical algorithm to match the preferences of aspiring medical residents with the needs of teaching hospitals.  The NRMP is such a novel process that its creators received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

The process itself takes seven months to complete, beginning in August and ending in March. You’ll follow a step-by-step process to match:

  1. Create your residency match application through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) through the Association of American Medical Colleges. Do this as soon as the system opens in August.
  2. Register for the Match Participation Program for the upcoming year. You’ll make a binding agreement to attend the residency program to which the NRMP selects for you. Be ready to pay the necessary fees for this part of the match process. Register by November 30th to avoid late fees.
  3. Between October and January, you’ll be out interviewing at the residency programs which are most interested in your application.  Put your best foot forward during this most critical time of the residency program match process.
  4. In January and February, you’ll create and certify your Rank Order List. Residency programs will also create their own list, ranking candidates that they most prefer to attend their residency training programs based on the interview process.
  5. The NRMP will work its magic to match candidates to residency programs. The results are revealed around the country during Match Week.

Medical professionals who received their medical degree abroad can also apply for a residency through the NRMP.

This past March, the NRMP matched nearly 30,000 medical students with residency programs across the country. The match process has been so precisely tuned that over 94% of fourth year medical students were matched to one of their top three choice residencies, and over 50% match to their number one choice of residency program.

For those who do not match in the first round, they get a second chance in the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP). They can submit an application to the programs where unfilled residency positions remain. Even after the first round of the residency Helping out with plastering a patients legprogram matching process, over 1,000 unfilled residency position typically remain, and SOAP allows these to be filled by qualified, but unmatched, doctors.

One of the unique features of the NRMP is that is can provides matches for couples.  Any two people can be considered a couple in the match process, and the NRMP works its algorithmic magic set place both people in the same geographic location for their residency training programs.  

There’s an App for That!

Tech-savvy aspiring residents will be happy to know that there is an app to help you create your Rank Order List. Because your Rank Order List is one of the most important components of the Residency Match process, you’ll want to be organized and strategic in your planning.  The Match PRISM app allows you to track interviews, take notes, rate programs, and generate a draft Rank Order List which will help you finalize the official one for the NRMP.

Strategies for Making a Match

There are a number of tips that the NRMP makes to help you in making the perfect match.  These include:

  • Choose a sizable number of residency programs on your Rank Order List.  These should include a combination of both safety programs and reach programs. The more residency programs you list, the more likely you are to match. Choose too few, and you may find yourself unmatched on Match Day.
  • Choose programs where you know you will be happy. Consider geographic location, competitiveness of program, culture of the program, and your true interest in a specialty.  If you aren’t honest with yourself in your selection, then you’ll end up in a residency program which will fail to meet your professional needs.
  • Don’t wait till the last minute to complete your list or, relatedly, make last minute changes to the list you’ve already certified.  Last minute decisions are not always well thought out and are based on impulse rather than rationality. In addition, technology is notorious for becoming overloaded durin the most critical times, so the sooner you can make your Rank Order List, the sooner you’ll be able to relax and let the NRMP do its job. 

The Big Day! Residency Match Day

Match Day is the biggest day of the year for fourth year medical students. On this day in March, you’ll find out where you will spend the next three to seven years of your life training in your medical specialty.  Medical schools turn this process into an event akin to the Oscars, where medical students hold onto their envelopes and open them in the most suspenseful and rewarding way.  Across the country, as medical students tear open their envelopes, lives are changed, and our future doctors continue their journey towards board certification.

The NRMP releases an annual report which provides a detailed statistical analysis of the matching process.  In 2014, the NRMP revealed that surgical residencies were the most competitive.  These surgical programs include plastic surgery, orthopedic surgery, and neurological surgery. Radiation oncology also proved to be a highly competitive residency match program.  The NRMP also finds that primary care continues to be an undermatched field.

The National Resident Matching Program is an established and proven system for matching medical students with residency programs. All you’ve got to do is present your best self, and trust in the matching process! — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury. 

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