Advice for the National Resident Matching Program (Part I: About the Match)

Every March, medical school seniors and graduates across the world eagerly await the results of the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP). Better known as the Match, the NRMP is a nonprofit organization that assigns candidates to open slots in American residency programs. Established in 1952 as a way to improve upon the decentralized matching process, the Match now receives full support from organizations such as the Council of Medical Specialty Societies (CMSS), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), and the American Hospital Association (AHA).

Because the Match is the only way for students to earn positions in graduate medical education (GME), competition among applicants is often fierce and requires months, if not years, of advance planning. Students begin the Match process by identifying the residency programs they would like to attend and completing applications for those hospitals. Although many schools require candidates to participate in the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS), a common medical residency application, a small number of programs maintain their own distinct application procedures. After candidates complete the application process, residency programs review the applications and select students to invite back for interviews. After interviews are complete, candidates are ready to enter the Match.

The Match uses an algorithm based on rank order lists, submitted by both residency programs and medical school graduates. The algorithm proceeds by analyzing each student’s list of preferences and attempting to place him or her with the highest-ranked residency program on the list. If a residency program also includes a candidate on its list of preferred candidates, the student will be tentatively matched with the program; otherwise, the algorithm will try the same thing for each of the other schools on the student’s list. The Match will continue to match students with their desired residency programs until they fill up, at which point a student who ranks higher on the program’s list than another student will take his or her spot, bumping the bottom candidate from the list and causing the algorithm to start over again for that student.

If students do not earn a match, they must participate in a process known as the Scramble, where candidates attempt to secure a spot at a residency program with an open position. Because there is a great deal at stake during the Match, it is extremely important to prepare well and utilize the most optimal strategies when composing rank-order lists. Check out the next post for some tips to chances of success in the Match.


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