Becoming a doctor has always been your passion, and now you’re about to graduate from medical school. The time has come for you to apply to a residency program, and get one step closer to achieving your dream. But you find yourself confused and overwhelmed about the whole process, just like many of your classmates.

As a medical student, the residency match process is important as it helps determine your future as a doctor. So worry not! In this article, we will break down the residency match application process and give you better clarity on how to go about it.

What is Residency Match Program and How Does it Work?

The National Resident Matching Program’s Main Residency Match, or in short The Match, is a system that ‘matches’ medical students with an American residency program. Not all residency programs use the Main Residency Match, but most of them do. Securing a spot through this program is essential because completing a residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is required to earn a medical license.

Your first step in the Match process is applying to programs using the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) keeps a record of ERAS data, including the number of residency applications submitted by each student for different specialities. There is no specific limit to the number of applications you can submit, but be aware that those applying in competitive specialities tend to submit around 60 applications.

Once applications are submitted, candidates are shortlisted for residency interviews based on grades and performances in the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK). During the interviews, you’ll have the opportunity to make your case and discover which programs seem like the best fit.

Your final step is ranking the list of residency program interviews you attended and have shortlisted. Program directors do the same with the candidates they interviewed. For example, a program director with 12 intern spots to fill, would have interviewed over a thousand candidates, and shortlisted about a hundred, whom they will rank in order of their preference. Similarly, a medical student, who attended 14 program interviews, ranks the programs in order of their preference. The result of the residency match process is obtained by a computer algorithm, which matches applicants with a program based on the matching rank order lists.

Some Tips to Keep in Mind While Applying for a Program

1. Take time to get your essentials in order.

Plan well in advance to get your essentials, such as letters of recommendation, CV and personal statement ready. Ensure you get your ERAS token so your application details are sent to program directors on time.

2. Do your research.

Think carefully about your needs and interests, and put in time to research the program options that best suit your interests. You can use FREIDA, the AMA’s comprehensive residency and fellowship database that holds over 12,000 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-accredited residency and fellowship programs, to explore residency programs.

3. Attend interviews.

Interview invitations usually start coming in early October. If you have fewer than 10 interviews lined up by the end of October, consult an adviser at your institution to discuss your options.

4. Rank your list of programs carefully.

Getting a spot in a residency program is highly competitive. You don’t want to be stuck without a program match, while on the other hand, you don’t want to be matched in a program you don’t want to pursue. So consider your rankings carefully before listing your preferred programs, as the match process is binding.

5. It’s not the end of the road if you don’t have a match.

There are other options you can pursue to find a postgraduate position if you haven’t been matched to a program. You can apply for a residency spot through the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP). You can also submit a PDF of your ERAS application to various programs and let them know you’re available.

Check out the Open Residency & Fellowship Positions page on the American Medical Association (AMA) website for open positions.