Being Unmatched is Not an Option: Tips to Match for Success

Applying to residency programs can be a daunting task and every medical student can agree that going unmatched is not an option.  In 2015, there were approximately 250 US medical students who did not match into a residency program. Although those numbers are minimal considering that 95% of US medical students match into a residency program, you do not want to unmatched due to low USMLE scores. You generally are not allowed to retake the USMLE Step 1 or 2 if you have already passed this exam. The minimum passing score for Step 1 is 192 and for the Step 2 CK is 209.

It is very difficult and time consuming to explore each residency program thoroughly. It’s difficult to read reviews on residency programs and it is time consuming to contact each residency program you are interested in.  Students apply to an average of 40 residency programs and IMGs apply to over 60 residency programs.

  1. Find Your Mentor, Your Advocate – Both in Medical School and Outside of Medical School

Your medical school will have an advisor that will help answer your questions about the residency application process. Some may be physicians in a previous life who used to apply to one residency program and were automatically accepted. Times have changed and there is an increasingly competitive landscape in residency selection. Other advisors may be administrators who do not understand from a physician’s point of view how to help you. Receive advice from former medical students who are now residents. Speak with newly practicing physicians to understand how they approached the residency application process – residents who have gone through the process recently are the most valuable source of information.

2. Review the NRMP Charting Outcomes in the Match

The National Residency Match Program, NRMP, releases an annual report of residency match data by specialty. In 2014, students who applied to Orthopedic Surgery differed from whether they were US medical students or non-US medical students. 77% of US medical students were matched to Orthopedic surgery while 28% of non-US medical students (at a US medical school) were matched to the same specialty. Understand your profile. Are you a US medical student at an LCME accredited school? Are you an international IMG? Your statistics will differ based on your profile.

3. Review USMLE Scores of Your Specialties

Where do you stand against others in terms of your USMLE scores? If you are interested in applying for surgery or dermatology, it is important to review the average USMLE scores for those specialties, since they vary. Compare your USMLE Step 1 score against other specialties and see how you compare as a competitive candidate.  You can review past reporting data by the NRMP Charting Outcomes in the Match in the USMLE Step Scores of Matched Applicants by Specialty and Applicant type. For 2014, the USMLE Step 1 score of matched applicants to Family Medicine was 218.

4. Strategically Plan Your Away Rotations

When planning your away rotations or sub-internships, apply for rotations at places that you are interested in pursuing a residency program. By taking rotations in locations that are your prospective residency programs you will be able to speak with current residents, meet residency program directors, and have a better understanding how the residency program fits your goals.  You will use VSAS – Visiting Student Application Service to apply for most away rotations in the USA.

5. Gather Your Portfolio of Activities and Letters of Recommendation

Begin gathering all your accomplishments and activities in one place – how many work experiences do you have? How many volunteer experiences? On average, matched U.S seniors had 7 volunteer experiences.1 Throughout your medical school years, keep an accomplishments folder and begin documenting all of your work experiences and volunteer experiences. For recommendations, keep a list of professors, mentors, employers, and research coordinators that could possibly write your LORs. Be sure to give them enough time to write your LOR.


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