Understand Your Odds of Getting into Residency

MARCH 08, 2017
Heidi Moawad, MD
In recent years, we have all been hearing more and more in the medical community about doctors who are not able to successfully get into a residency training program in the United States. Physicians in this predicament are in a difficult jam, unable to proceed with a career they have spent so much time and money working toward, while at the same time, unable to get work in most other desirable professions, which also require years of specialized education and internships.
 
Many aspiring physicians wonder about the numbers behind this bleak situation and what it means for them. If you have been unable to match so far – or if you are apprehensive that you may have a low chance of matching – the statistics behind this problem can help you gain some insight into your chances of getting into an accredited residency program.
 
MATCH PROGRAM FACTS
The National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) itself, which is the organization that matches physician applicants to U.S. residency training programs, provides a uniform process for all applicants, with consistent application deadlines and scheduled announcements of match results.
 
According to the most recent NRMP results from 2016, there were more than 35,000 applicants for approximately 27,000 PGY1 positions. The gap between applicants and positions is the reason that there are so many medical school graduates who are not able to work as doctors. Of these applicants, about 20,000 are graduates of U.S. medical schools, and the remainder of physician applicants are International Medical School graduates.
 
While there are certainly a substantial number of physicians who do not match in a residency spot, there were more available positions for PGY1 spots this past year than ever before. But, the number of applicants for the 2016 match reached an all-time high. The number of U.S. allopathic medical school and osteopathic medical school applicants was only about 20,000, which is substantially fewer than the number of residency positions available. And, it turns out that most (more than 95 percent) U.S. graduates did match in a residency program.
 
However, there are hundreds of U.S. medical school graduates who do not match each year. U.S. medical students who were not recent graduates had a significantly lower match rate than recent graduates, for various reasons. And American students who graduated from international medical schools did not fare as well as American students who graduated from U.S. medical schools, with a slightly higher match rate than non-U.S. citizen International Medical School graduates, which was little more than 50 percent in 2016.
 
LARGER NUMBER OF APPLICANTS
There has been a larger number of applicants than ever before because most of the applicant groups are growing. There are slightly more U.S. allopathic medical school graduates, more U.S. citizen International Medical School graduates and more Osteopathic medical school graduates, which adds up to more applicants. And, there are more non-U.S. International Medical School graduates applying for residency spots as well. Despite all of the negativity about the medical field, there are still huge numbers of people who want to work as physicians, particularly in the United States, where most doctors perceive the system to be relatively fair, uncorrupt and of high quality.
 
Interestingly, there are also many non-U.S. International Medical School graduates who do not even apply for the match because they have not passed USMLE tests, have scored low on the examinations or have other concerns that make it impractical to apply. And a large number of non-U.S. International Medical School graduates apply for residency, but receive no interviews, and thus do not have the option to proceed with ranking programs in the match.
 
DO YOU HAVE TO MATCH TO WORK AS A DOCTOR?
While you can take USMLE parts 1 and 2, and there are special circumstances that allow for you to take USMLE part 3, each state has its own requirements for medical licensing. At least one to two years of residency or internship training is typically required in order to obtain a medical license. If you want to work as a clinical physician, it is best to try to get a position through the match, or shortly after the match during the so-called scrambling period if you do not match. In fact, there are even instances in which physicians become ill or leave training programs, opening unexpected slots that need to be urgently filled at any time during the year.
 
Physicians who want non-clinical work can succeed without residency training, but residency training even helps open the non-clinical route to better options. Therefore it is worthwhile to continue in the process, even accepting a position in a less desirable specialty, whether your aspiration is patient care or non-clinical work.
 
There are options for doctors who do not have residency training, however. To get the most updated information, visit Careers for Physicians Without Residency, which is regularly updated with more opportunities. 


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