Researching Residency Programs

As you begin to prepare your residency application, take a comprehensive approach to researching residency programs by optimizing multiple data sources. This will result in:

  • A strong program list that fits your level of competitiveness and your goals
  • Maximizing your likelihood of matching
  • Saving you from over-applying and spending more money than necessary

Your likelihood of securing residency training depends on many factors including making sure you apply to the right number of residency programs.

  1. Use multiple data sources to collect program information
  2. Choose programs that align with your preferences and your career and residency goals
  3. Identify target programs and reach programs for your level of competitiveness
  4. Talk with your Specialty Career Advisor to make sure your program list has the right number of programs on it and is aligned with your level of competitiveness and your goals

Steps to Follow When Building Your Residency Program List

Is is extremely helpful to first clarify your career and personal goals. While there are many ways of approaching this, AAMC Careers in Medicine provides a couple of useful resources to get you started:

  1. Use the Residency Preference Exercise tool to aid in your identification process:
    • Breaks down criteria for residency training
    • Helps you rate individual programs based on how well you believe they fit your preferences
  2. The Physician Values in Practice Scale (PVIPS) Values Assessment will help you consider what is important to you in your work and, specific to a physician career, how you want to practice medicine.

As you narrow down your specialty choice(s), you should be working with your Specialty Career Advisor to determine the appropriate number and type of programs to apply to in order to maximize your likelihood of securing ample interviews.

Both the number and type of residency programs to which you should apply are specific to your unique situation and application profile.

  • There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to building your list

Factors that you need to take into consideration when building your list include:

  •  Your application profile and personal competitiveness
  •  The competitiveness of the specialty you are pursuing
  •  The competitiveness of the programs you are pursuing
  •  Your geographic restrictions
  •  Your couples match status
  •  Program “fit”
  •  Any other constraints

The more competitive the specialty and programs, and the more constrained you are by location and other factors, the more programs you will need to apply to for a successful match.

Additionally, any red flags can limit your likelihood of matching, and must be accounted for when building your program list:

  • Expansion in medical school beyond 6 years without a second degree
  • Receiving poor clerkship comments or failing a clerkship
  • Failing a board exam
  • Experiencing professionalism concerns

Each of these situations requires a specific approach to maximize your likelihood of scoring interviews and matching.

  • Meet with your Specialty Career Advisor or career advisors to discuss your unique situation and to receive advice for strategies to increase your likelihood of matching

When identifying a realistic application strategy, it is important to consider a number of factors.

Speak with people in your support systems as you process, especially if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. We are here to help.

  1. Ground your application strategy decisions in your values, career goals, priorities, and your capacity for adaptability and flexibility
    • The earlier you think through these choices, the more prepared you will be throughout the process as you come to decision points
  2. Consult with your Specialty Career Advisor and career advisors, who will help you:
    • gauge your level of competitiveness relative to the specialty(ies) you are applying
    • develop a strategy of applying to a range of residency programs that addresses your needs and interests
    • identify an appropriate number of “reach,” “target/comfortable,” and “safety” programs for your respective level of competitiveness
    • review UW-specific specialty data
  3. Consider the different types and levels of competitiveness involved in the application process:
    • The competitiveness of your desired specialty
    • The competitiveness of the individual residency programs you are considering
    • Your individual competitiveness as an applicant (i.e. academic profile)
  4. Consider how different factors may influence your overall application profile

The AAMC “Apply Smart” data assists U.S. medical school students and their advisors in working together to develop a smart residency application strategy. Using U.S. MD applicant data from ERAS, including the number of programs an applicant applied to and the applicant’s most recent USMLE Step 1 score, AAMC researchers investigated the relationship between the number of programs to which an applicant applied and subsequent entry into a residency program.

Diminishing Returns

AAMC researchers have determined that there is a point of “diminishing returns”—that varies by specialty, USMLE Step 1 score, and applicant type—at which submitting one additional application results in a lower rate of return on your likelihood of entering a residency program.

Data on the point of diminishing returns is available for US MD applicants in most specialties.

  • Scroll to the bottom of the page, select U.S. MD applicant type, and then the specialty of interest
Note on Apply Smart/diminishing returns data for 2021

Historically AAMC data is based on a rolling 5-year average that is updated each year. For 2021, the AAMC does not plan to update this data. The data presented is from 2020.

The AAMC urges applicants to consider these findings as only one of many factors that should influence their residency application strategy, and to evaluate a wide variety of information, in collaboration with their advisors, when ultimately determining how many and which programs to apply to.

What the Diminishing Returns Data Tell Us
  1. The likelihood of entering a residency program varies by specialty and Step 1 scores.
    • On average, applicants applying to primary care specialties have a higher likelihood of entering a residency program compared with applicants applying to competitive specialties
    • Those with higher Step 1 scores have a higher likelihood of entering a residency program compared with applicants with lower Step 1 scores
  2. The point of diminishing returns varies based on Step 1 scores.
    • On average, applicants with higher Step 1 scores require fewer applications to reach the point of diminishing returns compared with applicants with lower Step 1 scores
  3. The point of diminishing returns also varies by specialty.
    • On average, applicants to competitive specialties had to submit more applications to reach the point of diminishing returns compared with applicants to primary care specialties.
How to Interpret and Apply the Findings

Use these findings as a starting point for considering the number of programs you will ultimately apply to. There is no magic number that applies to all applicants, so consider the point of diminishing returns in the context of your overall residency candidacy and application.

Evaluate a wide variety of information—such as your unique experiences, qualifications, and residency application strategy—as you work with your advisor to determine how many programs and which ones to apply to.

First, use the external and internal resources listed further down this page to identify possible residency programs and to research the individual programs’ characteristics.

  • Begin to narrow your list based on the program elements you value and how you prioritize those elements.

Next, identify your preferred program characteristics. Consider your professional and personal goals, including what skills and experiences you desire from your residency program. This provides an objective framework for identifying programs.

Prioritize your criteria for programs and locations and determine which trade-offs you are willing to make. Considerations might include:

  • Geographic location
  • Residency program size
  • Faculty areas of expertise
  • Populations served by the program
  • Type of residency program and training

Then, narrow your initial list to include only those programs that you will apply to.

  • Your Specialty Career Advisors will be your best resource for assisting with this process

Finally, as you refine your list remember to:

  1. Incorporate the three levels of competitiveness (yours, the specialty’s, and the programs’) into your decisions.
  2. Apply to several programs within different tiers of competitiveness — highly competitive (“reach”), moderately competitive (“target”), and less competitive (“safety”) programs.
  3. Ask your advisors for guidance so you can realistically assess how competitive you are and optimize your likelihood of securing interviews.

Due to the importance of the program application list, review your list with your Specialty Career Advisor or career advisors before submitting your application.

One of the primary reasons that UW students have ended up in SOAP in recent years is due to the mismatch of their personal competitiveness with the competitiveness of the programs they have selected. Do not skip meeting with an advisor.

External Resources for Identifying Programs

The following are helpful in researching and identifying programs for your application list.

It is always important to say current on specialty and program requirements, which can change from year to year.

ERAS 2022 Participating Specialties and Programs

  • View ‘ERAS Specialty Information Report’ located at the top of the page

FREIDA is the AMA residency & fellowship database and allows you to search from more than 12,000 programs – all accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

FREIDA uses filters to identify programs by criteria such as program size, geographic location, academic vs. community programs, etc.

Residency Explorer is an AAMC tool to explore and compare residency programs in 20+ specialties. You can compare your profile (your experiences, standardized exam scores, and accomplishments) to applicants who matched at each program.

  • The tool is built on original, source-verified data from nine national organizations involved in the transition to residency.
  • Note: ophthalmology is not included because it does not currently utilize AAMC services for applying or matching to residency.
  • Residency Explorer does not tell you where to apply or predict where you may match to a residency program.
Getting Started with Residency Explorer

To begin, click Login to Account and sign in using your AAMC username and password.

  • We recommend you use the “explore” and “compare” features to research programs based on your chosen criteria.

You will be limited to 3 entries of your scores for USMLE Step 1 and Step 2CK.

  • This entry limit will be applied across all specialties, not per specialty
  • You will not be able to delete or reset the number of entries; once you reach the maximum of three entries, you cannot enter more

TexasSTAR is a national resource used to demystify the residency application process. This tool allows you to review specialties and programs, and to compare your profile against students who received interviews and matched to programs in your specialty. It is built from an annual survey of 4th year students at 110+ medical schools, administered by the UT Southwestern Medical School.

You can target your program lists by using the “search summary tab” to filter for programs and specialties based on specific criteria.

Getting Started with TexasSTAR

A tutorial video for using the system is found in the Career Advising Applying to Residency Video Channel.

  • While this session was recorded in 2020, the information provided is relevant to Match Cycle 2022.

Once logged in, review the “User Guide” which will provide you with helpful information on using the tool and interpreting the data.

The data dashboards include the following sections:

  • Summary: Summary of survey statistics by specialty
    • Drill down (sub-sorted) by residency program
  • STAR Search: Statistics by Program Institution and Specialty
    • Count and average step 1 scores, multiple slicers to pinpoint specific data set of interest
    • Enter your data and search for where comparable students received interviews, did not receive interviews, and matched by specialty and by program
  • STAR Advice: summary of survey advice from graduated medical students by specialty
    • Sort by specialty, survey year, or matched status
  • Quartile/Step 1 Score: Scatter chart by Quartile and Step 1 Score
  • Clerkship/Step 1 Score: Scatter chart by the number of Clerkship honors received and Step 1 Score
  • Research Experiences/Step 1 Score: Scatter chart by the number of Research Experiences a student report completing and Step 1 Score

Using the different filters (“slicers”), you will be able to create visualizations that are unique to your particular query. When using them, bear in mind that by using too many filters, the contributing source data might be limited so you run the risk of the data not being representative.

The NRMP has developed a collection of reports and publications that inform and advance the matching process. The NRMP’s data and research efforts:

  • Assists you in making informed decisions about your competitiveness as candidates in your preferred specialties
  • Educates you about issues that most affect resident selection decisions
  • Describes important trends in Match rates by state, specialty, and program type
Getting Started with NRMP Data Reports

NRMP Program Directors Survey helps you understand what residency program directors care about: Step scores, transcripts, personal statements, volunteer or research experience, summary words, and other factors. Each specialty varies in how they value each of the elements of your application, so it is recommended that you use this information to inform your application strategy.

  • At-A-Glance Program Director Survey tool uses data visualization software and draws from the same data source as the Directors Survey. This tool will allow you to look at results for a single specialty and quickly compare data across specialties.

Charting Outcomes in the Match (Senior Students of U.S. MD Medical Schools) documents how applicant qualifications affect match success.

  • 10+ measures are examined in the report, including the number of contiguous ranks in a preferred specialty, the number of distinct specialties ranked, USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK scores, and the numbers of research experiences, publications, and work and volunteer experiences.”
  • Information is provided both in aggregate and by specialty
  • Interactive Charting Outcomes in the Match provides data visualization to complement this report
    • this tool is NOT designed to predict an applicant’s success or failure in the match, and the data become less representative if the criteria are refined too narrowly/the same size becomes very small

Main Residency Match report contains data and lists by state and sponsoring institution every participating program, the number of positions offered, and the number filled

  • SOAP data is also presented

Review program websites directly for specific recruitment and program information.

Talk with residents, faculty, alumni, mentors. These individuals can offer program suggestions and recommendations and may be able to help connect you with someone at the program. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.

Every other year, the AAMC publishes a Report on Residents, which provides data on certain characteristics of residency applicants and residents, as well as information on post-residency professional activities.

Data tables include statistics by specialty on MCAT scores, Step 1 and 2 CK scores, and a variety of experiences, such as research, work, and volunteer experiences.

The public site for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) contains numerous reports on ACGME accredited programs.

We recommend that you use this site to determine if a program is on probation.
  • Select “programs or institutions with probationary status” and then sort for specialty.

UWSOM Resources for Identifying Programs

The following are helpful in researching and identifying programs for your application list.

SCAs are your best resource for identifying programs.

Contact them well before the application deadline to review your program lists before submitting your applications.

This specialty data outlines where UWSOM students with varying academic profiles have secured interviews and matched.

All UWSOM clinical students have access to the Interview and Match data.

Detailed instructions are included on each spreadsheet.

If you are a Foundations student, speak with Career Advising to discuss access to this data. Schedule an appointment.

If you are looking to connect with a current resident in your specialty(ies) of interest, Career Advising maintains a database of Residents in Medicine (RiM).

All UWSOM clinical students have access to RiM.

If you are a Foundations student, meet with your Career Advisor to discuss access.

When contacting residents, please be mindful and respectful of their time.

Virtual HOST (Help Our Students Travel)

If you are looking to connect with UWSOM alumni, consider the Alumni Association‘s signature program.

  • Through Virtual HOST, you can be connected virtually with alumni based on geographic location or medical specialty.
  • Sign up online to begin the process of being matched with alumni
  • After a match is made, you and the alum may communicate via Zoom, email or phone calls
  • While HOST conversations are intended to answer questions about residency or a particular region, you are welcome to keep in touch after

Donated by former UWSOM students, these electronic documents contain information given out by programs during the interview day.

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