Context: As the number of medical school graduates continues to outpace the available residency training positions, applying for residency in the United States has become a highly competitive process, often associated with a low rate of selection and invitation for interview. The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Program Director survey provides data assessing factors considered by Program Directors (PD) in selecting and inviting candidates for interview. Assessing the evolution of these factors over time is efficacious to inform and guide prospective applicants toward improving preparation for residency application.
Objectives: We aim to synthesize NRMP data showing factors that PDs reported and rated as important in their decision to select and invite applicants for interview.
Methods: Data from residency PD surveys from 2008 to 2021 were accessed, but after applying inclusion/exclusion criteria, only the data from 2016 to 2020 were reviewed and analyzed. The NRMP survey reports provided two metrics that characterized PDs’ evaluation of the residency factors for interview, namely, “percent citing factor” and “average rating” on a 0 to 5 Likert-type scale. These two metrics were combined into an aggregate measure of importance (AI), and another measure of relative importance (RI) was constructed from normalizing the AI of each individual factor to the sum of the AI within each survey year.
Results: The top ranked factors were United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1/Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) Level 1, Letter of Recommendation (LOR) in the specialty, Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE/Dean’s Letter), and USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK)/COMLEX Level 2 Cognitive Exam (CE) score, any failed attempt in USMLE/COMLEX, and perceived commitment to specialty. Factors rising in importance were Audition Elective/Rotation Within Your Department, Personal Statement (PS), Perceived Commitment to Specialty, Perceived Interest in Program, LOR in the Specialty, Other Life Experience, and Personal Prior Knowledge of the Applicant. Factors with declining importance were Interest in Academic Career, Awards or Special Honors in Basic Sciences, Graduate of Highly Regarded US Medical School, Awards or Special Honors in Clinical Clerkships, Lack of Gaps in Medical Education, Awards or Special Honors in Clerkship in Desired Specialty, and Consistency of Grades. Compared to the 2021 PD survey, our findings show continued predictive consistency, particularly related to specialty and program commitment.
Conclusions: The factors identified for the selection of medical school graduates for interview into a residency program reveal that PDs move toward a more integrated approach. Specifically, PDs are placing increasing emphasis on factors that border on subjective qualities more so than the more traditional, quantitative, and objective metrics. Medical students and educators need to continually apprise themselves of the NRMP data to inform students’ preparation endeavors throughout medical school to strengthen their application portfolios and enhance their competitiveness for the matching process.