How to Select and Apply for Medical Residency Programs

The process of becoming a physician is daunting. One of the toughest and biggest steps taken by each future physician is applying for medical residency programs, and deciding where to complete training.

Doximity, a leading network of U.S. physicians, recently launched its 2015-2016 medical Residency Navigator, an interactive online tool designed to help the next generation of doctors research and compare residency training programs nationwide. According to the firm, nearly 75 percent of all senior medical students used Doximity to research the programs where they would train as new physicians. 

In addition to the guidance provided by the Residency Navigator, we obtained some additional advice from Dr. Amit Phull, Doximity's Director of Medical Content. Dr. Phull provided several helpful hints for new physicians for applying and selecting a residency program.

Tips and Best Practices for Residency Applications From Dr. Phull of Doximity

1. Be proactive: Start thinking about and researching programs in your second and third year in medical school. If you think about it early on you’ll have more time to form opinions on the kind of physician you’d like to be and what you want in a program, and a strong sense of self will come through in the application, personal statement and interview process.

2. Don’t overextend yourself: Many med students believe they’re better off applying to 50 programs to increase the probability that they’ll match. This is unrealistic and can get very expensive—both in money and time. It’s best to focus your efforts on researching programs thoroughly and pursuing the ones you’re really interested in.

3. Leverage your contacts: Some med students feel nervous about reaching out to their network. This is a huge missed opportunity. Residents and attending faculty are the most valuable sources of information about a program and are typically more than willing to share their experiences.

4. Know that everyone talks: During your on-site interview, remember to be at your best in every interaction you have. There is no shortage of stories about med students who aced their formal interviews but treated a coordinator discourteously and ended up blacklisted from the program. And the consequences can easily spill over into other applications—program directors talk to one another.

Additionally, Dr. Phull provided some additional insight for new physicians regarding how to select a residency program:

1. Schedule sub-internships at institutions you’re really interested in: Away rotations are extended, two-way interviews. Spending a month or two with a program can really help you evaluate the academic, cultural and geographic fit for you. Plus there’s no better way to be known (and appreciated) by a resident selection committee than to have worked side-by-side with them in the OR, the ED or on the wards.

2. Again, leverage your contacts: Talk to everyone you know at programs you're considering and get the details on what life there is really like. Is the culture collegial or militarily hierarchical? How is the case diversity? Is mentorship formalized? What kind of schedule flexibility can you expect around major life events? Recent alumni and current residents are a critical inside resource wherever you can get access to them.

3. Location, location, location: Residency is not just a several-year stint spent learning a craft. It is also a time when you build working relationships inside an institution and with the broader community—relationships that contribute as much to your clinical efficacy as your procedural skills or your fund of knowledge. These connections represent a huge investment, and about half of US physicians end up establishing their long-term practices in the communities where they trained. If you’re considering ranking a program somewhere you absolutely wouldn’t settle, be aware of the human investment you’ll be leaving behind.

Choosing a residency program is one of the biggest decisions new physicians face in their careers. In an effort to help medical students discover programs best-suited to their personal interests and career goals, over 38,000 U.S. physicians contributed insights. The Residency Navigator tool combines their feedback with objective data on residency programs across 22 specialties, and "alumni outcomes" analysis of the curriculum vitae (CVs) and career paths of over 700,000 U.S. physicians.

"When medical students ask for advice regarding applying to residency, I often deter them from the idea that there is a single 'best' program," said Dr. Jamey Snell, Instructor in Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School. "Some excellent clinical training environments are not associated with Ivy League institutions. Factors such as the type of patients (private vs. public), city environment (urban vs. suburban), and geographic location should be taken into account. The Doximity Residency Navigator does an excellent job of displaying programs according to these factors and is now a frequent resource when counseling students on their rank list."

As medical students prepare to submit applications for residency programs where they will spend 80 hours a week for at least three years, they can use Doximity to discover:

  • Detailed program statistics: Physicians in training can visualize and compare alumni subspecialization rates, time spent at affiliated hospitals, gender balance, and now have the ability to connect with volunteer alumni "mentors" for one-on-one career guidance.
  • Satisfaction reviews: New this year, current residents and recent alumni have shared over 94,000 anonymized ratings and hand-written reviews on important aspects of their experience such as career guidance, schedule flexibility for pregnancy and other life events, program culture and clinical diversity.
  • Personalized discovery: Students customize their lists based on their personal interests and career goals.
    • Practice setting: Interactive maps highlight where alumni settle, and applicants can discover and filter programs by region, urban vs. rural environments, or training at large public hospitals.
    • Clinical reputation: Over 95,000 peer nominations provide insight into which programs board-certified U.S. physicians hold in the highest regard for quality of clinical training.
    • Research: Doximity's comprehensive database of physician CVs can highlight which programs actually turn out graduates that go on to publish most extensively, bypassing commonly used proxies for quality of research training such as faculty grant funding.
    • Board Pass Rates: For specialties such as internal medicine, board pass rates highlight which programs teach to national exam standards. For specialties whose medical boards have yet to release pass rate data, Residency Navigator offers the percentage of board-certified alumni as a surrogate.

U.S. medical students can access the free Residency Navigator tool on Doximity.

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