Medical professors say it’s time to end ‘match madness’

Medical education

You’ve heard of March Madness, but what about Match Madness? That’s what two medical professors say is happening when it comes to medical school students hoping to match with the country’s residency programs.

New data suggests that the number of student applications for residency programs has gotten out of hand and is creating a problem that now needs to be addressed, write Phillip A. Gruppuso, M.D., and Eli Y. Adashi, M.D., professors and former deans at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, in a commentary in Academic Medicine.

U.S. medical students now apply to an average of 45.7 residency programs even though they have a greater than 50 percent chance of getting matched to their first choice and have a greater than 90 percent change of being matched to a program, the two professors say. It gets even crazier for highly competitive specialties. For instance, the average student hoping to be an orthopedic surgeon applied to 73 of the 163 potential residency programs.

The fourth year of medical school, when students are applying to residency programs, has become a frantic and unwieldy time full of applications and interviews, as well as the associated travel and cost of visits, they say.

While the process has effectively served generations of graduating medical students, over the past several decades it has evolved into what they call residency placement fever. “There’s been this inexorable intensification of the residency selection process such that it’s basically taken over the fourth year of medical school,” Gruppuso, who recalls pursuing only four pediatrics residency programs as a student in the 1970s, said in an announcement about the study. “It so dominates student time and energy during the fourth year that it’s become very difficult to do any curriculum planning.”

The authors write that it’s time for medical education organizations such as the National Residency Matching Program, the Association of American of Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association to end the match fever. They suggest coordinating the timing of interviews and consolidating them into a predictable part of the fourth year of medical school, reducing or capping the number of interviews students could have and online screening interviews before inviting applicants to visit residency programs.

However, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported, the number of medical school graduates exceeds the number of residency positions available. A group called No Residency Match M.D. estimated a total of 8,640 newly graduated doctors didn't find a residency program match last spring.