Be ahead of the game

Road to residency: Starting the journey to Match day as a second- or third-year

Here’s what you need to know as you begin navigating the path to the right residency program for you.

The right residency program gives you the skills and confidence to become a great doctor of osteopathic medicine, a major milestone in the lifetime learning necessary for all physicians.

However, finding that perfect residency match can be a challenge, says Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH, former president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).

“It’s a stressful period, because that match determines a lot,” he says.

Understanding and prioritizing your options can help minimize that stress. The sooner students begin thinking about their career interests and goals, the better.

“The more upfront thinking they can do about where they want to come out on the other end, the better choices they will make,” Dr. Shannon says.

As we approach match season, we asked Dr. Shannon to share his insights into what steps a second- and third-year medical student can take to ensure they are on the right path to finding their perfect residency match.

Looking for the right clues

Ideally, you should expose yourself to many different types of experiences long before you choose which residency program you are interested in matching into. By the end of the third year of medical school, you should have a pretty good sense of where your talents and professional ambitions lie, Dr. Shannon says.

A solid history of clinical and research work can give you clues as to which type of medicine you want to pursue.

Keeping in mind what you learned from those experiences, try to narrow down to one or more specialty options. “Find a specialty that you feel an affinity for,” Dr. Shannon says.

For example, if you are more technically or procedurally oriented, you might like performing surgery, he says.

“If you like to work hands-on with people and families in a community-type setting, you probably want to do primary care,” Dr. Shannon says.

Once you zero in on the specialties that speak to your heart, research residency programs that offer the training you need to reach your goals.

If you’re looking to teach, search for residency programs with the right connections to help you make that happen. If you want to serve in rural areas or work with other underserved populations, look for residency programs that offer those opportunities.

The type of facility you seek to match into will dictate the experience you receive. For example, with a community hospital, “you may have a more hands-on experience and be more engaged with patients on a continuing basis,” Dr. Shannon says.

By contrast, an academic medical center might be the path to choose if you want to become a physician scientist.

Where do you want to live?

Deciding where you want to live and practice is another key to matching into the right residency program.

“There’s a high likelihood that you’re going to end up practicing in the area in which you complete your residency,” Dr. Shannon says. That’s especially true if your residency is located in the same area where you attended medical school.

If possible, talk to residents and former residents of facilities that pique your interest. Try to get feedback about their experiences.

“Look for residency programs that have a good track record with their residents who have completed the program,” he says.

Don’t forget personal factors

The right residency is also one that works well with your personal life. For example, some residents want to be close to family and other loved ones. Others might be in a relationship and considering a couples match.

“Residents should think of their own personal well-being,” Dr. Shannon says.

It’s also important to be honest about your interests and talents.

“Students need to be realistic in their expectations for the specialties that they want to go into in terms of their own background or achievement,” he says.

Some fields, such as ear, nose and throat and dermatology, can be extremely competitive, Dr. Shannon says. It might not make sense to pursue such avenues if your academic profile doesn’t predict a successful match into these specialties.

If you are unsure about the path forward, talk to your adviser as you make decisions, Dr. Shannon says.

Further reading about the Match

5 ways to avoid failing to match

10 tips for acing your residency interviews

If at first you don’t match, what’s next?

5 ways to save on residency interview travel

How to land an orthopedic surgery residency  

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