Tips for Researching U.S. Residency Programs
Every year, more than 5,000 International Medical Graduate (IMG) physicians enter a U.S. residency program. Our goal at Kaplan is to help you become one of those physicians. Obtaining a residency position is a minimum 12-18 month process. You will need time to gather information, time to complete your application, time to interview, and time to think about and complete your match list. Managing this process takes organization and perseverance, but it is time and effort well spent. Each year, over 25% of all residency positions in the U.S. are filled by IMGs. One of the most important things to do in order to increase your chances of Matching is to make sure the Residency Programs you are applying to are a good fit for you. Here are a few tips to help you research the different programs and narrow down your list.
- Get Googling. FREIDA (the Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database) will most likely be your initial starting point for gathering basic information about specific programs. It’s an amazing wealth of information and features listings for nearly 9,800 medical residency and fellowship programs. If you’re trying to narrow down your prospects for a particular specialty, the NRMP’s Data provide extensive information about Match statistics, and were largely the source of information for the Match statistics. Also, make sure you look thoroughly at individual programs' websites. Some websites provide more information than others. If you have any questions, contact the program and ask.
Here is a list of a few helpful websites to help you start your research:
- FREIDA (Fellowship & Residency Electronic Interactive Database)
- NRMP + ACGME Reports
- ERAS (Electronic Residency Application Service
- San Francisco Match Residency and Fellowship Match Services
- Specialty-specific listings such as www.aafp.org and www.abim.org
- American Board of Medical Specialties for list of Specialty Boards—over 145 specialties and subspecialties
- Council of Medical Specialty Societies
- Decide what type of program and in what 1-3 specialties you would be happy. Using FREIDA and other websites, you can determine the programs to which you want to apply. Here is a basic overview of the different types of programs available:
- Categorical (C) Programs provide the full training required for specialty board certification entirely within the single program, starting with the first program year (PGY1) right through to when you are done and eligible to take the specialty board examination.Training can range from 3 years to 5 years, depending on the specialty.
- Preliminary (P) Programs are usually one-year programs intended to provide first-year prerequisite training for advanced programs, similar to the “internship” years seen in other countries. You train only in one department, usually either Internal Medicine or Surgery.
- Transitional programs are one-year programs where you rotate through the basic clinical departments (Internal Medicine, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, etc.). These are similar to the clinical service year that many foreign schools require after you finish med school. These programs are good options for those who aren’t sure yet what they want to specialize in, so take this year to gain added clinical experience and enter the match the following year.
- Advanced Positions (starting the year after the Match) are in specialty programs that begin training after completion of 1 or more years of preliminary training. Applicants typically apply for these programs (usually at the PGY2 level) while also applying to a Preliminary program that meets the Advanced program’s requirements.
- Fellowships provide further subspecialty training, and require completion of the basic residency or specialty before applying, and have their own requirements. Many are available through NRMP, San Francisco, and Urology Matches.
- Look for IMG-Friendly Programs. When researching, look at what percentage of the current residents are foreign medical graduates. Not every program accepts IMGs. On the NRMP website you will be able to look up your specialties in the “2019 Match Results by State, Specialty, and Applicant Type” report to identify states that accept the largest number and proportion of IMGs. Make sure you also look up your specialties in those states in FREIDA for visa status information for each program.
- Consider Newly Accredited Programs. These programs can represent a great prospect for some candidates. They may have wider criteria for accepting applicants, and may receive fewer applications. If these programs are listed in FREIDA you can search at ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education). The pros of new programs are that they may be IMG-friendly, less exacting of USMLE scores and the number of years out of school, and usually have more faculty interaction. Some cons are that new programs don’t always run smoothly, and there are also fewer, if any, older residents for guidance.
- Find residency programs that fit your specialty interests and needs. Only consider programs in which you have a genuine interest. You want to make sure that the residency programs you apply to have the criteria that you are looking for. Make sure it is in a location you can see yourself living and that they offer the residency training you want. Look to see what Fellowship opportunities are available, and what is the life of a typical resident in that program in general.
- Weigh your own competitiveness and the competitiveness of your desired specialty. You need to take a hard look at your credentials and see if you fit what the program is looking for. You will need to look at your USMLE scores and the number of attempts. Do you have U.S. Clinical Experience? Years since you graduated medical school, letters of recommendation and what languages you speak. Some specialties more competitive than others. Within each specialty, some programs are more competitive than others. Many IMGs often assume that certain fields are closed to them because of what they have heard from others. While it is true that some programs are exceptionally difficult for IMGs to gain entrance to, the only way for a prospective applicant to know whether or not they have a chance is to review information about the program on FREIDA and the program’s website, or by calling the program coordinator.
- Have a Plan B. When applying to competitive specialties, always have a back-up plan. The typical IMG applies to 75 – 150 programs. Applying to more programs that have not been researched beforehand is a waste, as not all consider IMG applicants.
- Network. Networking with other IMGs is a good way to find out about different residency programs. You can browse forums and other groups on social media platforms and ask questions to peers who have gone through residency programs.
- Contact the program coordinator. If you can’t find the answer to your questions online, you can call the program coordinator and ask. Be aware if you sense that they are reluctant to answer your questions then do not pressure them. Just thank them for their time and move on. Avoid calling in June or July, because that is the busy period for most programs since they are preparing for their new year of residents.
These tips should give you a good start to your Residency program research. If you have any questions about the USMLE and Residency process, you can always arrange time to speak to a Kaplan Med Advisor.