Top 10 ways to increase your chances in the Match
2019 saw the largest NRMP Match on record, with more than 35,000 positions offered (the most ever) and the largest application pool in the main Residency Match, with a record-breaking 38,376 submitting applicants. While there are many positions, there are still more people than places to be filled.*
The number of non-U.S. citizen IMGs who participated in the Match declined 2.8% from 2018. This is the third year of decline. However, IMGs' Match rate to first-year positions grew 2.5% from 2018, making it the highest Match rate since 1990.*
When taking part in the Match process, you're up against thousands of doctors from all over the world vying for top programs. It's important that you evaluate your overall competitiveness in the Match process.
Here are 10 things you can do to increase your chances in matching with the program of your choice.
It should be a priority before applying in the Match to show hands-on experience.
You should complete your clinical experience in time to get Letters of Recommendation and before submitting your ERAS application.
Here are a few different ways to gain experience:
- Externships: a “hands-on” opportunity. Experience consists of essential elements of primary care such as interviewing, examining patients and subsequently collaborating with the Attending regarding a diagnosis and care plan.
- Observerships: Observers shadow faculty and doctors in hospital rounds or outpatient clinics, and witness firsthand the provider-client interactions. This gives you the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the US Healthcare System.
- Volunteer work at the nearest teaching hospital. Many VA hospitals have programs for volunteers
- Enroll in Kaplan's Step 2 with Clinical Experience program to get the experience you need and prep from your Step 2 CK exam as well.
2. Consider taking the USMLE Step 3
Many programs will look favorably upon applicants who have already taken and passed Step 3. Program directors see lower Step 1 and Step 2 CK scores as a possible red flag, indicating the applicant could fail Step 3. Doing well on Step 3 reassures program directors that you are already licensable when you become a second-year resident.
3. Decide Where to Apply: Specialty Desirability vs. Accessibility
When you are looking at where to apply, there are a few things you want to consider. First, you should weigh your competitiveness against other candidates.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have high USMLE scores?
- What are the board scores of other residents in the program vs. the number of attempts?
- Competitive programs will look for tests to be passed on the first attempt.
- Do you have clinical experience (US preferred)?
- Is the program you are applying to open to IMG candidates?
- How many years out of medical school are you?
- Do you have strong letters of recommendation?
- What languages do you speak?
- Did you apply to enough IMG-friendly hospitals?
- Do you focus on Community or University-based hospitals?
- Did you apply mainly to competitive specialties?
- Do you have a strong and well written personal statement?
- Did you submit your application at the beginning, midway or towards the end of the application window?
- Are you prepared for your interviews?
Secondly, weigh the competitiveness of your desired specialty as well as the competitiveness of the geographic location. Finally, when applying to competitive specialties always make sure to have a back-up plan. Pick another specialty or city where you would be happy working.
4. In-Depth Programs Research
Do a deep dive into each program you are applying to, in order to find out what that program wants.
Here are a few things to look for with each program:
- What are the minimum board scores for consideration in the program?
- What are the average board scores and the average number of attempts?
- What percentage of the current house staff (residents) are foreign medical graduates?
- What is the most important criterion for admission to the program?
- Is it possible to set up clinical research or an observership through that department?
- Do applicants need to have graduated within a certain number of years in order to be considered?
- Is US clinical experience required? If so, what kind?
- Do they sponsor an H1-B visa or do they accept J-1 visa holders?
5. Strong Letters of Recommendation
You should preferably have at least two or three letters of recommendation from US-based physicians in your specialty. The letters should include specific comments on your interpersonal communication skills, traits and ability to perform in the clinical setting as well as cognitive knowledge. This is a “Stamp of Approval” from a peer of a program director and puts Program Directors at ease, showing that you will fit well into the US medical system. If you have a strong letter of recommendation from a faculty physician who is well-known to others, then a lower score on Step 1 might not matter as much.
6. Effective ERAS Personal Statement
Don’t just rewrite your CV; show why you love medicine, why you’ll be a great resident in that specialty, and what you want to do after you are accepted. Highlight your strengths, not your weaknesses, and avoid any information you don’t wish to discuss in an interview. Also, refrain from discussing politics, religion, or any topics that make you appear eccentric. If English isn’t your first language, make sure you have native English speakers proof-read your statement.
7. Know the Timing of the Match
Matching involves many programs, each with their own policies and deadlines. Because there are timing considerations involved when you need to do certain things, it is important to make a plan and have a way of managing all this information so you won’t lose out because you missed a deadline or didn’t understand what you needed to do at a certain step. Successful candidates complete all the required tasks early and apply on the first business day in September with all of their USMLE scores already reported.
Here is an overview of the residency application timeline:
- June - Apply for Residency Token at ecfmg.org and download ERAS Guide
- July - Request AAMC ID number for My ERAS; My ERAS Opens
- August 1 - All supporting documents (Letters of Recommendation) need to arrive at ECFMG for scanning and uploading to have available to ERAS by mid-September
- Sept-Oct - Send applications to programs at the beginning of the cycle. Candidates that apply at the beginning of the cycle tend to have a better chance of getting interviewed because all interview slots have not yet been filled.
- Nov-Jan - Interview season
- February - Submit rank order list
- Mid-March - Match Day, followed by Post-Match/Scramble
One suggestion to maximize your chances in the Match is to try to have your Step 1 and Step 2CK scores out before November. Doing this will give you the best chance for interviews because few programs will offer an interview when they don’t have both of these scores. (Some might offer if they have just one score which is really high, but why risk losing out just because of scores not being there when programs want to see them?) The Step 2CS score isn’t as important from the programs' point of view, because it is Pass/Fail and so isn’t useful as they try to evaluate who to invite. Of course, it does need to be taken - and early enough to meet the match score deadline - but just not crucial to have available by November. If both scores aren’t likely to be available by November 1, realize that you can still apply, but the later they are out the fewer invitations to interview you are likely to get.
8. Apply to the Right Number of Programs
How many programs should you apply to? The typical US applicant applies to 20-25 programs. The typical IMG applies to 40-60. Applying to 40+ that have not been researched beforehand is a waste, as not all consider IMG applicants, so make sure you do your research beforehand! The cost of the ERAS processing fee depends on the number of applications per specialty, so make sure you check what that will be as well.
9. Communicate Professionally
Before the Interview, it’s OK to call—just not too much! Research before you call any program and don’t ask questions that are covered on their website or FREIDA (the AMA Residency & Fellowship Database). Make sure you prepare thoroughly for your interview. Schedule interviews with your least desirable programs first as a way to polish your skills for interviews with your preferred programs. After the Interview, send a thank you note (by mail) and don’t rank programs where you didn’t interview.
10. Increase your Number of Ranked Programs
A recent NRMP study shows that the “number of contiguous ranks” was the single best predictor of Match success. First, increase your competitiveness through factors already discussed (scores, clinical experience, etc.). Once interviewed, rank all programs where you’re willing to work, provided that the program has expressed interest. Do not rank a program where you are unwilling to work or live.
As a world leader in USMLE preparation for more than 40 years, we have helped tens of thousands of students pass their medical licensing boards with high scores and continue on to successful careers in medicine. Our goal is to help you succeed in your residency goals by helping you to develop a more competitive Match application with top USMLE scores and helping you to navigate the residency application process. We know the residency process can be complicated. That's why we have dedicated Med Advisors to help answer your questions and assist you in the process.