FAQ: Application Process for Residency Programs

A complex question that should be given much attention in the early process of choosing a specialty and compiling a list of programs. FREIDA Online®, the American Medical Association’s Residency & Fellowship database allows prospective residents and fellows to search through more than 10,000 programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). You can search by comparing programs, saving lists, and view pertinent data relating to the programs (salary, benefits, residency and fellowship demographics, training specifics, etc.).

Some of their newer enhanced search features will allow students to compare their own United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) scores to that of current residents in that program, which is a helpful when determining your competitiveness for the specialty or specific program.

In order to avoid SOAP or worse – not matching – it is critical to understand the competitive nature of the specialty you choose and to position yourself best with a program list that includes attainable programs based on what your application will look like.

The application process is completed through the Electronic Residency Application System (ERAS®), maintained by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Application submissions for ACGME programs start in early September, and ACGME programs can start reviewing applications on September 15. A full match calendar provided by the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) is helpful to have on hand as it lists all the big dates from the time applications open to Match Week.

ERAS® Applications are composed of the following components: curriculum vitae (CV), medical student performance evaluation (MSPE), USMLE score transcripts, medical school transcripts, personal statement, and letters of recommendation (minimum of 3).  It is imperative that your application is complete (save for the MSPE – not released until October) by September 15, so that programs do not skip over your application in the initial review.

Make sure that the physicians you ask for letters of recommendation have worked with you closely in either a clinical or research capacity. You will also want to ask for letters of recommendation from physicians that will speak of you favorably.  When asking a physician, it is best if you:

  • Identify the physician you would like to have write a letter on your behalf at the beginning of the rotation
  • Ask the physician what expectations they have for students of your medical student year in the clinic, on the wards, and in the operating room
  • Demonstrate a strong performance relative to those expectations
  • Ask for formative feedback during the rotation so that you can show growth/improvement
  • Ask for summative feedback at the end of the rotation so that you can gage your performance

Following this advice gives you the best idea of the strength of the faculty member’s recommendation.  Generally, faculty will presume that you want a letter if you are completing a fourth-year elective.

No. Program directors and application committees want to see extra effort (outside of coursework) on your application, but this can also be reflected in leadership positions and/or extracurricular activities (especially those that demonstrate a long-term commitment and/or investment).