Matching into a residency program can feel a little bit like “pin the tail on the donkey”– you’re hoping for the best match but feeling a little blindfolded as the process is really out of your hands and within the hands of the matching algorithm. 

The residency application process is extensive and takes time to compile documents, write personal statements, and take tests. Sometimes it’s hard to prioritize what you should focus your energy on the most!

In this blog post, we want to highlight how the match process works as well as what program directors rank most important in resident applications…

How the match works

The matching algorithm is applicant-proposing. This means it attempts to place an applicant (Applicant A) into the program indicated as most preferred on Applicant A’s rank order list. If Applicant A cannot be matched to this first choice program (because the program doesn’t also prefer Applicant A), it then tries to place Applicant A into the second choice program, and so on, until Applicant A obtains a tentative match, or all of Applicant A’s choices have been used. Here is an excellent video that explains this process in more detail. 

Remember, a program needs you to match just as much as you need to match into one. Don’t try to change your CV, personality, and personal goals to seem more attractive to potential programs. Be yourself. Matching into a residency program will affect all aspects of your life for the next 3-7 years including where you will live, and work, who your friends will be, and where you potentially end up after your training. 

What program directors consider most important on your application

Results of the 2021 NRMP Program Director Survey, break down specific qualifications program directors are looking for in candidates for across all specialties, as well as how it differs among specialties. 

Here are the top education and academic performance characteristics considered in deciding whom to interview (across all specialties):

  1. USMLE Step 1 score
  2. MSPE
  3. SMLE Step 2 score
  4. Grades in required clerkships
  5. Any failed attempts at USMLE
  6. Class ranking
  7. Grades in clerkships of preferred specialty
  8. Any failed attempts at COMPLEX-USA
  9. Consistency of grades

Like it or not, Step 1 is probably the most important, central component of ranking applicants. With the change of USMLE Step 1 to pass/fail (which went into effect Jan 1, 2022) many believe there is more attention paid to Step 2 scores and that applicants are expected to complete Step 2 before the application submission deadline.

In addition to these, here are a few other important factors program directors are looking for in applications:

  1. Personal statement

Your personal statement should highlight your interests in the field, tell your story, and make you a unique applicant. Make sure the first sentence is exciting and that the voice of the narrative sounds like you. Describe what experience you have and your goals and achievements in your clinicals and rotations. If you have other personal experiences that influenced you to choose your specialty, include these in your personal statement. Learn more about why your personal statement is so important here

  1. Strong letters of recommendation

​​Most residency programs will require three to five letters of recommendation. Some programs ask for specific references from certain rotations and others are less specific. Always check your program’s website for the ERAS letter of recommendation requirements before making requests. 

You need to ask 2-4 months before the deadline for submitting your letters. Most students ask a professor or professional they worked with on a research project or clinical activity. The goal of the letter is to distinguish you from other candidates. 

  1. Professionalism and experience

According to a study of supporting factors used by residency program directors to select applicants for interviews, professionalism, and ethical conduct were ranked as highly sought-after traits. 

According to the study, unprofessional behavior was linked to worse performance in residency, which is why program directors take this seriously.

They will look for these attributes in your clinical rotations and in your Medical School Performance Evaluation (MSPE). These will give them an overview of your academic performance and clinical strengths. It gives them an idea of your characteristics, academic history, progress, experience, etc. They can also get a sense of a candidate’s level of professionalism and ethical conduct.

To make your MSPE strong, talk to your performance evaluators or supervisors about your clinical performance.

  1. High performance in clerkships

Grades in your required clerkships will determine your class rank, which program directors will look at when evaluating your application. They will look at specific grades in specialty clerkships to determine if you are a good fit for their program.

Are you working on your residency application this year? Our team at Code Blue Essays can help you through this process as well as with writing and editing your personal statement so you can be a stand-out, strong applicant.

Unfortunately, many residency applicants underestimate the importance of the personal statement and are disappointed with their match results. 
Check out our Residency Personal Statement Editing Services today!