It’s no secret that you want to become a doctor. You’ve had your sights set on medical school for long enough that your friends and family have started offering advice. Some of them have even made suggestions about which schools you should consider. While you appreciate their support, you also know choosing a school involves carefully weighing certain criteria.
There are some obvious factors that can help you identify a few front-runners, like how well students perform on licensing exams, or whether it’s possible to pursue research. But there is one thing you should definitely look into before making any final decisions: a school’s data from the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) — Main Residency Match.
“The Match is how you get your residency,” explains Dr. John Madden, an Emergency Medicine Physician who serves as Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Career Guidance and Student Development at St. George’s University (SGU).
"The Match is how you get your residency."
Securing a residency is important for obtaining the critical training needed to practice medicine, but how can a school’s match information help you? First, you need to know a little more about how matching works.
How does residency match work?
Most medical students apply for residency programs through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) following a pretty specific schedule outlined by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). You’ll also need to register with the NRMP while you’re working on the application.
You will start getting interview offers after schools release Medical Student Performance Evaluations (MSPEs) at the beginning of October. It’s ideal to have at least 10, according to the AAMC. Do your best to absorb as much information as possible during interviews, because the next step is to list your programs in order of preference. Programs do the same thing, except they list applicants from most desirable to least desirable. Both students and schools can list as many or as few choices as they would like.
“A match occurs when a medical student and a residency program both choose each other,” explains Dan Lee, co-founder of Solomon Admissions Consulting. Results for the Match are released in March.
"A match occurs when a medical student and a residency program both choose each other."
You don’t technically need to rank any more than one program, but you would be wise to make as long of a list as possible to make sure you get placed into a program. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) outlines the entire process near the end of Strolling Through the Match and also reports that those who fail to match into a program tend to have shorter lists.
Why does matching matter so much?
Simply put, you will not be able to fulfill your dream of becoming a practicing physician without matching. This experience provides the specific training you need for a given specialty.
Lee says medical school only devotes a few weeks to different disciplines. “Residency programs, on the other hand, provide in-depth training in a particular specialty over the course of years,” he explains.
"Residency programs, on the other hand, provide in-depth training in a particular specialty over the course of years."
So what happens if you do not get placed through the Main Residency Match? There are other options, such as the Supplemental Offer Acceptance Program (SOAP) or internships, but these are certainly not ideal choices.
How does residency match information help with school selection?
Securing a residency is arguably the single most important step toward becoming a doctor, so you will want to evaluate Main Residency Match information from each school you are considering. Here are some of the benefits of using this data to help make your final decision on which medical school to attend.
You can easily see which schools are worth your time
First and foremost, you want to go for a school where the vast majority of graduates match into a program. You might even be able to find out how many residents matched from each school you are considering through online research. U.S. News & World Report says many programs make this general information available, some listing data from multiple years.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t always know the full picture. “Schools will list where their graduates matched, which gives you an idea, but you don’t know the denominator,” Dr. Madden points out. It might sound great to read that 250 graduates obtained a residency, but it’s not particularly impressive if there were 500 people in the class.
"Schools will list where their graduates matched, which gives you an idea, but you don’t know the denominator."
Lee agrees that the percentage of placements can be more telling than the number. “All medical schools would like to brag that 100 percent of its students matched, but that is not an easy accomplishment,” Lee says. In his opinion, 93 percent or higher is exceptional. You have some reason to be skeptical of schools that are far below this or those that hesitate to share the percentage with you.
You can pick the right school for the specialty that interests you
A school’s residency placements can tell you a lot about how well the program can prepare you for a specific career path. Lee suggests prospective students ask about a school’s percentage of residency placements in the specialty they find most interesting.
“Some schools have higher percentages than others, because those departments have outstanding training and opportunities, such as research for medical students,” Lee says.
"Some schools have higher percentages than others, because those departments have outstanding training and opportunities, such as research for medical students."
A medical school can also earn a positive reputation for certain specialties among residency programs. This is a big advantage for graduates. Lee explains residency programs tend to choose applicants who have completed their education at institutions they hold in high esteem. That said, you shouldn’t expect any school can guarantee you the residency you want.
Residency placement data can help you plan your life
Aside from finding out which specialties students at a given school match into, you might also want to consider looking at the specific residency locations. This might sound nitpicky, but residents need to spend a handful of years living where their program is located.
An article from the American Medical Association’s AMA Wire points out that residents with families may want to prioritize a smaller city with a low cost of living that fits their lifestyle. On the other hand, those who crave city life and lots of social opportunities will want to make sure they take those things into consideration when analyzing residency placement information.
Take your investigation a step further
You now know how important it is to learn about each school’s residency match information. You might find you have to directly contact individual admissions teams for answers to all your questions about each school’s residency placements.
Making initial contact with several medical schools is going to be beneficial as you get further into the application process, too. Admissions departments are prepared to answer questions about the curriculum, student organizations, and just about anything else prospective students need to know.
Make sure you get the most out of these conversations by reading, “8 Questions You Should Be Asking the Medical School Admissions Team.”
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