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Alphabet Soup

Next week, the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) will officially start allowing 4th year medical students to be able to send their residency application to residency programs across the country. At the same time, students will already be applying through the San Francisco Match‘s CAS for Ophthalmology. Students applying to Urology will need an AUA number. What about the USMLE? MODS? NRMP? Don’t forget about SOAP (actually try not to be in SOAP.) If you are confused, don’t feel so bad because applying for residency really can feel like a giant confusing swirl of acronyms. This is why every year I give a presentation to try to help sift through this giant bowl of Alphabet Soup. 

Click here to go to the IUSM Mediasite where you can get the recording of my presentation back in April entitled Alphabet Soup – MSPE, NRMP and SOAP! It is an overview of some of the main elements of applying for residency and tries to decode the mystical Alphabet Soup. Below are some brief highlights of some of the common acronyms and how they factor in to your application.

MSPE – Medical Student Performance Evaluation

Formerly known as the “Dean’s Letter”, this used to be essentially an extended letter of recommendation. Now it is an objective summary of your medical school experience written by your advisor. There will be a portion that you put together called the Unique Characteristics where you can reflect on your most meaningful research, service and leadership experiences in medical school. It will also include the Summative Comment from all of your 3rd year clerkships. They are uploaded by our office into ERAS and released automatically on October 1st. The biggest key to remember is that you have a right to see and review your MSPE before it is released, so make sure to do that!

ERAS – Electronic Residency Application Service

This will probably be somewhat familiar to you as you had to do something very similar when you applied to medical school. This is an online application for residency that you fill out with your biographical information, leadership experiences, research experiences, publications and any other parts of your story that you want to share with potential residency programs. There  will also be places to upload letters of recommendation, personal statements and submit your USMLE scores.  Unless you are applying for military match or the San Francisco Match (mainly for students applying to Ophthalmology), which have separate online application sites. The key thing to remember is that you can always update your biographical information and add new personal statements and letter of recommendation writers, but once you “finalize” your application you cannot update experiences or publications. So, if you are waiting for one last abstract or manuscript to be accepted, it may be beneficial to wait an extra few days before finalizing. But don’t wait too long because, I constantly remind the 4th year class that they should have their application ready for transmission when the site first allows applications (this year on September 15th). Of course, most students across the country get the same advice so invariably the site crashes at about 10:38am. They are working on ways to avoid this giant rush, but they are not quite there yet. So, when the system crashes, take heart and take a deep breath. If you don’t get your application in until September 16th, it will still be fine.

USMLE – United States Medical Licensing Examination

This probably does not need much explanation as most every student is well aware of the Step exams and the role they play in applying for residency. The one point that I will make about the USMLE regarding your application is that you pay a one time fee which allows you to send your USMLE transcript to residency programs as many times as you want. This is important because you will need to send your Step 1 score to residency programs when you first apply, but if your Step 2 CS and CK scores are not back until later in the Fall you will have to resubmit the transcript. You can click to resend the transcript as many times as you want or need, but you are limited to once a day.

NRMP – National Residency Matching Program

Also known as “The Match”, you must register with the NRMP separately from ERAS. The tricky thing is that there is a spot on your ERAS application for your NRMP ID number and yet you cannot register for The Match until September 15th at noon when you first can send applications. This invariably causes some distress amongst students as to how to proceed. I always tell students to send their applications on September 15th and then worry about registering for The Match later. You can always update your ERAS application with your NRMP ID later. The key dates to remember for the NRMP are November 30th, 2015 and February 24th, 2016. You should register before November 30th so as to save yourself a $50 late fee. In the end, as long as you register for The Match prior to February 24th at 9pm EST when Rank Lists are due, then you will be okay. But why not save $50?

SOAP – Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program

This is the one acronym I hope that students do not have to learn more about. SOAP is the process by which students who are unmatched try to get one of the unfilled residency slots after the Initial Match. This can be for students who are fully unmatched or only partially unmatched. Partially unmatched means that they have applied to Advanced Residency Positions (starting as a PGY2) as well as Preliminary or Transitional Residency Positions (starting as a PGY1) but only matched into a PGY2+ spot or a PGY1 spot. Essentially, SOAP is like interview season on fast forward. Starting the Monday of Match Week, there are multiple rounds of applications, interviews and offers, hopefully culminating with a residency spot on Match Day.

Remember that you can always contact us if you have application questions or  concerns. and we are happy to help you use the Alphabet Soup to spell out better words than “HELP”. Might I suggest “AWESOME” or “TREMENDOUS” or “MIKE IS THE BEST”?

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Michael McKenna

Dr. McKenna is a graduate of IU School of Medicine, where he also completed a pediatric residency. He served as chief resident and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Associate Program Director for the pediatric residency p...