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Dual Applying for Residency: Is It Right For Me?

In the journey of every medical student, the residency application process stands as a significant milestone. One approach to this rite of passage is the practice of dual applying, or applying to more than one specialty. While in theory this approach may seem appealing, it requires careful, strategic planning and is not without its drawbacks. Applicants should be aware that while it can increase your chances of matching in a competitive specialty or region it can also be costly, time-consuming, and potentially harm your chances of matching into a residency at all.

What is a Dual Application to Residency? 

Let’s make sure we are on the same page. Dual applying to residency means applying to two different specialty programs during the same application cycle. This strategy has grown in popularity as it offers applicants an additional avenue to match into a residency program. But it’s not without its complexities and pitfalls. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand who might benefit from dual applying and under what circumstances it might be appropriate.

Case Study: The Dual Application Dilemma

To illustrate who might benefit from a dual application, let’s dive into a hypothetical conversation between Dr. H, a seasoned advisor in an academic medical center, and his mentee Alex, a medical student considering dual applying. Alex is a typical MD candidate, and a first-generation doctoral student. He is easygoing and sociable, but he has a few blemishes on his application. 

Here is a meeting between Dr. H and Alex that occurs near the end of Alex’s MS2 year: 

Dr. H: Good afternoon, Alex! What’s on your mind?

Alex: Hello, Dr. H. I’ve been mulling over my residency applications. As you know, I am a few months out from the ERAS application and currently I’m interested in both pediatrics and family medicine, but am having trouble deciding which to pursue. I’ve been considering dual applying, but I’m unsure if it’s the right move for me. I have read a few articles on the topic and wanted to hear your thoughts. 

Dr. H: Ah, the conundrum of dual applying. It’s a complex decision, and as with most things, the right answer depends on the individual. Let’s break this down. First, why are you considering dual applying?

Alex: Well, I genuinely like both specialties. But also, I’m worried about my chances of matching into a pediatrics residency, considering it’s a bit more competitive than family medicine. You know, I had to repeat a core rotation and also scored slightly below average for USMLE Step 2. Given this, I figured dual applying can help me match into at least one specialty. 

Dr. H: I’ve met with many students who’ve had the same problem. I like that you are interested in both specialities, and they have some similarities. If you are honest with yourself and will genuinely be happy in either peds or family medicine, then dual applying can indeed be a safety net for you. Other instances in which I’ve seen students dual apply are when they aspire to enter competitive specialties and are unsure of how competitive they are as applicants. It can also be a viable option for those who, like you, are torn between two specialties and need more time to decide.

Alex: That sounds like me and I am intrigued. But are there any downsides?

Dr. H: Absolutely, and I’m glad you asked. First, dual applying can be quite demanding. You would need to draft separate personal statements, tailor two separate applications, solicit targeted letters of recommendation writers, and in all likelihood prepare for and attend more interviews, all of which can be time-consuming and stressful. 

Alex: That does sound intense, but it might be worth it if it increases my chances, right?

Dr. H: It might. But it’s also important to consider the financial implications. Application fees and possible traveling for interviews and second looks can add up quickly. And there’s another challenge.

Alex: Oh no, what would that be?

Dr. H: Well, some program directors may view dual applying as a lack of commitment to their specialty, which could negatively impact your chances. This is especially true for the more competitive ones, such as the surgical subspecialties, interventional radiology, and dermatology. Additionally, preparing for two different sets of interviews can dilute your focus, potentially affecting your performance.

Alex: I hadn’t considered that. It sounds like dual applying isn’t a sure thing or a decision to be made lightly.

Dr. H: Exactly, Alex. It requires careful consideration and strategic planning. I recommend discussing this with upperclassmen, program directors, and academic advisors who can further provide personalized advice based on your individual circumstances and career goals. It is important to seriously contemplate this decision and openly discuss it with people in your corner, who know you and are familiar with your medical school career thus far. 

Alex: I gotcha. So dual applying is not for everyone, but it could be a good fit for someone like me who is genuinely interested in two specialties and wants to keep their options open?

Dr. H: Precisely. The decision ultimately lies with you. You must weigh the benefits against the potential drawbacks and make an informed decision. Remember, the ultimate goal is to find the right fit for your medical career, not just to match into a program.

Alex: Thank you, Dr. H. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

Dr. H: It’s my pleasure, Alex. This is a significant decision, and I’m here to support you every step of the way. Good luck!

Should You Dual Apply to Residency? What to Consider First

As the dialogue demonstrates, there are pros and cons to doing a dual residency application. If you are considering this approach, be sure to keep these seven takeaways in mind:

1. It’s important to know yourself.

The decision to dual apply is a deeply personal one. So, naturally the choice depends on a variety of factors. If you find yourself facing this conundrum, it’s essential to take into account your career aspirations, your passion for the specialty(s), and your readiness to commit to the demands of a dual application process, including the time, money, and potential downsides. 

Additionally, prior to dual applying, consider your competitiveness as a candidate. If you have a strong application and meet the qualifications for the specialty or region you are interested in, it may not be necessary to dual apply. However, if you have a weaker application or are applying to a highly competitive specialty or region, dual applying may increase your chances of matching into at least one residency.

2. Location is a factor.

To build on the last point, , East and West Coast regions of the country, such as New York or California, are highly competitive. If you are set on a specific region, dual applying to other regions can increase your chances of matching to your desired location overall. (Not totally certain what is being said here.)

3. Nontraditional backgrounds can impact your application.

If you have a nontraditional background, such as a career change or a gap year, dual applying can help increase your chances of matching. By applying to both highly competitive and less competitive programs, you can demonstrate your interest in the field and increase your chances of matching overall.

4. Money matters.

Additionally, consider your financial situation and whether you are able to afford the costs associated with dual applying. Money is always an important factor, and don’t ignore it when deciding on whether a dual application is the right approach for you.

5. Consider the time commitment.

Time is another important factor. Dual applying can be time-consuming, as you will need to apply to multiple programs, prepare for multiple interviews, and potentially even attend interviews at different times. Consider whether you are willing and able to commit the time necessary to dual apply.

Starting your residency application can feel daunting, with a multitude of aspects to consider and the pressure to do well. If you’re applying to residency soon and aren’t sure where to start, download the FREE Residency Application Timeline to stay on track and make sure your top programs receive your very best residency application!

6. Planning is key 

 Have a strategy, as dual applying requires thinking ahead. You will need to carefully select which programs to apply to, as well as which ones to prioritize if you receive multiple interview invitations. It is important to have a clear plan in place to maximize your chances of matching.

7. Dual applying isn’t for everyone.

Keep in mind that dual applying is far from a universal solution for all scenarios. For some, it can be a valuable strategy to increase their chances of matching into a program, especially when applying to competitive specialties or dealing with lower board scores. For others, the potential drawbacks such as increased workload, financial considerations, and possible negative perceptions might outweigh the benefits.

In the end, the decision to dual apply should align with your long-term career goals and personal circumstances. Seek guidance from trusted mentors, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision that feels right for you.

Further Reading

Remember, as in any significant journey, the path to residency is not just about reaching the destination but also about finding the right fit that will enrich your medical career and personal growth. As Dr. H wisely advised Alex, “The ultimate goal is to find the right fit for your medical career, not just to match into whichever residency program accepts you.”

Interested in other tips for residency applications? Check out these other (free!) posts from Blueprint:

About the Author

Mike is a driven tutor and supportive advisor. He received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine and then stayed for residency. He has recently taken a faculty position at Baylor because of his love for teaching. Mike’s philosophy is to elevate his students to their full potential with excellent exam scores, and successful interviews at top-tier programs. He holds the belief that you learn best from those close to you in training. Dr. Ren is passionate about his role as a mentor and has taught for much of his life – as an SAT tutor in high school, then as an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review. At Baylor, he has held review courses for the FM shelf and board exams as Chief Resident.   For years, Dr. Ren has worked closely with the office of student affairs and has experience as an admissions advisor. He has mentored numerous students entering medical and residency and keeps in touch with many of them today as they embark on their road to aspiring physicians. His supportiveness and approachability put his students at ease and provide a safe learning environment where questions and conversation flow. For exam prep, Mike will help you develop critical reasoning skills and as an advisor he will hone your interview skills with insider knowledge to commonly asked admissions questions.