What Prospective Residents are Looking for in a Residency Program

By Knowledge to Practice  |  November 1, 2017  |  Working in Healthcare

Resident Studying at a Laptop and Notebook

Since board passage rates just became available, you might be thinking about their impact on your residency program’s reputation and ability to appeal to high-quality residents. How much do prospective residents actually care? Board passage rateissomething prospective residents look at, so almost every organization should be striving to improve. However, it is one of only a number of criteria that prospective residents take into account when looking at programs, so there are plenty of opportunities to highlight your program’s other strengths as well.

Internet searches

Overall, prospective residents seem to be somewhat confused about the process. Some of the top searches related to “medical residency” are:

“What medical residency should I choose quiz”

“How medical residency works”

“Which medical residency is the easiest?”

“Which medical residency is the best?”

“Is medical residency paid?”

“How long is medical residency?”

“How to apply to medical residency”

If you want your program to stand out, you can rise above the pack by providing lots of easy-to-find, helpful information on your website that helps to answer these questions. What other things should you emphasize? Below are several sources and what they’re telling prospective students to look for.

Doximity’s Residency Navigator

Just in case you haven’t heard ofResidency Navigator, it’s the closest thing there is to a US News & World Report ranking for residency programs. It’s based primarily on survey data from board-certified physicians and uses a less rigorous methodology, but it’s one major source of information. Here are the information Residency Navigator shares about each school:


  1. Board pass rates for specialties of internal medicine, Family Medicine, General Surgery, and Pediatrics.
  2. Percent of alumni with an ABMS board certification
  3. Publication percentile for alumni who graduated within the past 15 years
  4. Alumni clinical trial percentile for alumni who graduated within the past 15 years
  5. Most common subspecialties for alumni following their residency
  6. Gender balance of alumni who graduated within the past 10 years
  7. Most common feeder medical schools
  8. Top areas where alumni who graduated within the last 10 years are living now

Qualitative survey data:

  1. How happy alumni were with the program and how willing they are to recommend it to others
  2. How tolerable work hours were
  3. How flexible the schedule was
  4. Quality of mentorship and assistance with job or fellowship placement
  5. Overall program culture
  6. Exposure to clinical diversity (for non-surgical residencies)

Blogs on choosing a program

Several blogs have published posts featuring advice from current residents on how to choose a residency program, for example, thispostfrom the Doximity blog, apostfrom sdn, and aposton Medscape. Each post instructed prospective residents to consider both what daily life would be like during the program, and how well the program would set them up for success after.

All three posts agree that location is paramount. The authors tell prospective residents to choose a geographic location that works well for them and (if applicable) their families, taking into account the cost of living and the diversity of the patient population that a particular location will afford. Other “during” factors include positive relationships with faculty, strong mentorship, a manageable workload, and a good cultural fit. Finally, program reputation is important, but is a somewhat subjective measure and harder to gauge than other factors.

In order to ensure that residents are successful in their chosen fields after residency, each of these authors also encourages prospective residents to investigate a program’s track record for placing residents in fellowships or faculty positions. They also recommended that prospective residents look into the research opportunities available, as well as the strength of specialty areas and the ability to gain experience in multiple areas.

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