How to Match 101: 5 Steps to Success

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Written By: Katie Marsh, MD

If you are not about to start the match application process this year, you will be soon! Get ready to strap into the emotional roller coaster that eventually leads to the pinnacle of Match Day. As a recently matched medical student, now General Surgery intern, I personally found the match process to be stressful and nebulous. This article is to provide you with a helpful starting point, and alleviate some of the omnipresent match anxiety. It is designed to provide a basic outline of the high-yield points in the residency application process, but is by no means comprehensive. Most of these pointers are tailored to the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS®) match process, though similar concepts will still apply to those entering the San Francisco (SF) Match or Military Match.

  1. Understand the data

    • To determine your competitiveness as an applicant, start by reviewing the most recent version of Charting Outcomes in the Match and the Program Director Survey found on the NRMP website. Explore specialty-specific data through your future specialty society. A simple online search may also be helpful, but be aware some resources may be old or inaccurate. In order to bring this data to life, speak to as many mentors as possible, including recently matched fourth-year students, interns, residents, and attendings.
  1. Away/Audition rotations

    • Away rotations are an opportunity for both the applicant and rotation to get to know each other and decide if they are a good fit.  It is important to note, however, that away rotations can help or hurt your application process.  Consider this when deciding what rotations to do.
    • Before going on an away rotation, ensure you can afford to spend time away from your home institution. The physicians at your home medical school should be advocating for and mentoring you throughout the interview process, thus their support is crucial. These mentors can also serve as a valuable resource to help decide where to complete an away rotation, as there are many individualized factors to consider. If you do choose to do an away rotation, ideally schedule it between July and November before the match process starts.
  1. Application

    • First and foremost, be honest.  Interviewers may ask you about anything on your application so do not include something on your application unless you can clearly articulate your involvement.
    • Personal statements are an opportunity to highlight who you are, what you hope to achieve, and why you belong in the program/specialty.  Do not be afraid to show your passions and your strengths.  If you have any compelling weaknesses on your application, this is a chance to explain those as well.
    • In order to determine how many programs to apply to, the AAMC provides excellent specialty-specific resources that can help guide you. Regardless of interesting newer AAMC data, there is no disincentive to apply broadly beside cost. The AMA also published survey results on this topic.
  1. Invitations

    • The NRMP Program Director Survey (referenced above) includes data on when programs extend interviews and when interviews are generally conducted. You can use this data to guide your fourth-year schedule and to gauge if you are obtaining enough interview offers. When you receive an offer, respond as soon as possible! Spots will fill up quickly – within minutes for some specialties. The NRMP’s Charting Outcomes in the Match should give you a basic guideline of how many interviews you should aim to complete and how many programs you should rank.
  1. Interviews

    • As cliché as it is, be yourself. Both you and the program are looking for a good match. Before the interview day, prepare by reading about the specific program. Make sure you have a good answer to the inevitable question: “why this program?” Within about a week following the interview write a quick thank you email. Though it will not likely affect your rank position, it is good form. For your own rank list, I recommend using the PRISM app to keep your thoughts on programs straight, available on Apple and Android. It is also quite useful to use this app, or another resource, to keep a running rank list as you interview. NRMP data has shown that students regret making last-minute changes. Rank the programs when they are fresh in your mind!
    • Interviews can be financially, mentally and physically challenging. Take care of yourself during the process. Decrease travel-related stressors by carrying on your baggage and using TSA Precheck.

Wishing you the best of luck in this process. Hang in there; you will be an intern before you know it!

  1. Timothy C Fagan 3 years ago

    I have known Dr Marsh for several years, and worked with her through ArMA and as an AMA Delegate.
    Dr Marsh was an outstanding student, and this is an outstanding brief guide to the match. It was a lot simpler, and less stressful in 1973.
    My only regret is that Dr Marsh is now in Virginia instead of Arizona.

    • AZPulse 3 years ago

      Yes, we couldn’t agree more! It is unfortunate she left Arizona.

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