Residency application lists: time to get started! (2024)

by Amy Blake, MD, Internal Medicine PGY-1, Carolinas Medical Center

It is that time of year again: time to start thinking about applying to residency programs. M4s, get excited — I’m talking to you! I was in your shoes last year, so I understand what you are going through. There is an unreasonable amount of stress and uncertainty throughout the process, but it gets better once you make it to the other side; I’m thrilled to have matched at my first choice dermatology program at the University of North Carolina, and I’m excited to be starting my intern year in internal medicine at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC.

You (hopefully) have decided on a specialty, so now you have the daunting task of coming up with a list of programs for your applications. Not only are you considering the type of academic setting you want, but you also have to think about how big you want your program to be (food for thought: more co-residents = more people to share call), where you want to live, and whether you want to train in an urban, suburban, or rural environment. Then, you need to try to get a sense for each program’s culture and whether you would match up well with their preferences. And, if you are lucky enough to be applying to a specialty that requires a separate preliminary year, you get to do it all two times over!

How on earth are you supposed to manage all of that?

First, let me reassure you: you will figure it out. Everyone has their own system, and you will find something that works for you. Let me also caution you: applying without researching programs ahead of time will result in you wasting your precious time and money. Do the legwork at the beginning to make sure you are well-positioned for the rest of the application and interview craziness.

Personally, I like spreadsheets. When I was making my list, I wanted to be able to compare programs based on certain characteristics that I decided were most important to me, and also to rule programs out. I added columns to the spreadsheet throughout the application process to ensure I submitted the required documents for each program, to monitor deadlines, and to track my progress. If you are not a spreadsheet person, that is okay — just find a way to keep the important things organized in a way that makes sense to you.

I tried a variety of residency search tools to find the information I needed, and I am a believer in the benefits of always using more than one source for anything I do. However, I found myself relying most heavily on Doximity’s Residency Navigator, which had the right balance of being user-friendly and providing the most pertinent information. It even gave insight into some areas that I did not realize ahead of time were going to be important to me. Whether you already know exactly what you are looking for or need some help figuring out what is important to you, these tools can make your job a lot easier.

Here are the major features:

— Find ALL of the residency programs in your specialty. This seems simple, but it was my first step in narrowing down my list. I applied for a smaller specialty, and I had figured out that I needed to apply to a certain percentage of programs to maximize my chances of matching. This helped me wrap my mind around exactly how many programs I probably would need to apply to.

— Filter programs by geographic area or by state. I had certain areas that I preferred, so this helped me make sure I found all of the programs in the regions I wanted to train. I also knew I would have to apply outside of my preferred region, so it helped me work in an organized fashion to explore other areas.

— Filter programs by hospital type and training environment. Do you want to train in a big inner-city hospital? Great. You can pull up only those programs when you filter for “large public hospital” and “urban training environment.” Do you want to make sure you will have time at the VA? Awesome. You can find that here too.

— Specify an intended fellowship. This can help you explore options that might be a good fit for your ultimate goals. You can also ignore it completely if it stresses you out or does not apply to you.

— Sort your results in a variety of ways. You can arrange results in alphabetical order, or by program size, prestige, or reputation. I preferred a larger program, so sorting by size was a good option for me. I was also thrilled to be able to view programs on a map.

— Get user-friendly and informative search results. Searches give good “at-a-glance” information about each program that comes up: the program name, location, size, and the percent of residents who get board-certified. You can “star” the ones you like to save them for later, and you can even save your own notes on each program.

— Get in-depth program information with high-yield facts and statistics. My absolute favorite part is the color-coded graph depicting where trainees spend their time. I was not aware of this when I started, but I quickly decided that I did not want to spend a lot of time traveling between clinical sites during my training. I did not find this information in any other search tool, and it was an enormous help in ruling out programs. In this section, you can also easily find statistics on alumni subspecialization and practice location; the program’s publication and research numbers; and contact information for the program director. Finally, some programs actually have anonymous reviews from graduates available.

A note for those of you applying for a preliminary program or transitional year: Residency Navigator does not offer a way to search for these. You will need another tool to do this efficiently. FRIEDA is a reasonable resource, but I found it to be less user-friendly and it requires an AMA membership. ERAS may actually be a better initial resource, as it will let you filter for preliminary programs and most of you will be using it for your applications anyway.

However you choose to do your research, make sure to figure out and pay attention to what is most important to you. Everyone is going to have advice for you and an opinion to offer, but at the end of the day, you will be a happier trainee if you can find a program that supports your goals and priorities in an environment that makes sense for you.

Best wishes for a smooth and minimally stressful application season!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations with which she is or has been affiliated.

Residency application lists: time to get started! (2024)
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