How to Be Competitive as a Residency Reapplicant
- May 16, 2023
Residency programs are competitive and require applicants to display excellence in academic performance, clinical know-how, and personal qualities such as communication, leadership, and professionalism. With an increasing number of qualified applicants each year, it’s difficult for program directors to select applicants for their incoming class. Despite their best efforts, some applicants may not match into a program on the first attempt—in fact, 2023 NRMP data suggests that roughly 6% of MD applicants do not match, and that number is higher for DOs and international graduates. So, how do you stay competitive when reapplying for residency?
7 Tips for a Competitive Application as a Residency Reapplicant
While it can be discouraging to not match, reapplying can be an opportunity to improve your candidacy and demonstrate your commitment to your chosen specialty. Here are seven ways to be competitive as a residency reapplicant, regardless of specialty.
1. Seek Feedback on Your Previous Application
The first step in becoming a competitive residency reapplicant is to carefully analyze your previous application. Consider how your application was received by programs and interviewers. Furthermore, seek feedback from local program directors, advisors, and mentors who can provide insight into why you did not match in the first place. Did your personal statement need more revisions? Were your letters of recommendation compelling or generic?
Receiving feedback can be tough, but it’s essential for identifying areas that need improvement, such as enhancing your personal statement, obtaining more clinical experience, or conducting more research. Be true to yourself and transparent when you analyze your application to see why you didn’t match. The purpose is to get an honest analysis of your application to get you a residency spot the next time around.
2. Obtain Updated Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an essential part of your application and can provide insight into your clinical skills, personality, and potential as a resident. You likely already have letters from previous rotations. Consider asking for new letters from current research mentors or rotation attendings. They will help make your application more relevant compared to the letters of recommendation from years prior.
When seeking additional letters of recommendation, consider individuals who can provide a strong endorsement of your abilities, such as clinical preceptors, research mentors, or academic advisors. Be sure to provide them with your updated CV, personal statement, and any interesting facts that may help them personalize your letter. If you perform well on a new clinical rotation or make headway in your research project, you are certainly eligible to request an updated letter that reflects those achievements.
3. Enhance Your Application Materials
Your application materials, including your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and CV, should be polished and highlight all of your accomplishments, including leadership positions, volunteer work, and prestigious publications. Consider working with a mentor, advisor, or professional residency advisor to improve the quality of your application materials.
Our advisors at Blueprint Prep, myself included, have helped residency reapplicants on their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th application cycles successfully obtain a residency slot. Curious if residency counseling is right for you? Take this quiz to find out!
Keep your resume current and include related accomplishments and awards you’ve received since completing your medical school career. Be sure to add on the volunteer, leadership, and clinical experiences you’ve slotted under your belt since graduation. Additionally, ensure that your research is updated, especially if your work has been selected for publication, even if the official publication date is in the future.
Lastly, ensure that your personal statement tells a clear and compelling story about your passion for the specialty you applied for and your qualifications as a candidate. Have an experienced set of eyes review your application, and ideally multiple readers proofread your personal statement.
4. Improve Your Qualifications
Take steps to obtain additional clinical work as programs want to see that you have gained valuable experience since your last application. Consider volunteering, shadowing, or working in a clinic (ideally of your desired specialty) as they all count as clinical experience. Of course, working in an ER setting as a rotational student will have more weight than volunteering in urgent care for emergency medicine applicants. That being said, don’t discount volunteer or shadowing experience, be sure to document all clinical work in your application materials, and highlight how they influenced your career goals.
5. Expand Your Network
Reach out to mentors, advisors, and other professionals in the field to expand your influence and meet individuals who can potentially offer you opportunities. Attend conferences and events to meet other applicants, program directors, and residents who can help you along your path to residency. Building relationships with people in the field can grant you insight into the application process, help you prepare accordingly, and potentially secure your residency position.
6. Apply to More Programs and Apply Strategically
If you applied to a limited number of programs, consider expanding your options this time around. While it’s important to apply to programs that are a good fit for your career goals and qualifications, casting a wider net can increase your chances of matching.
Additionally, apply to programs that are more likely to accept applicants with your background and qualifications. Talk to residency programs that are favorable to you. For instance, if you are interested in family medicine but recognize that you have a lower USMLE Step 2 score, then perhaps apply to rural family medicine residencies, or similar programs with lower average scores. Doing so will mitigate areas of weakness within your application.
7. Participate in Research
Research experience can be another way to enhance your residency application, particularly if you are applying to academic programs. Seek opportunities to work on research projects, either within your institution or through external collaborations. These can include participating in clinical trials, conducting retrospective chart reviews, or working on translational or basic science research projects. Not only will this provide you with valuable experience, but it will also demonstrate your commitment to advancing the field. Remember to update your CV with any research publications or presentations you participate in.
A competitive, well-rounded residency application requires dedication, high marks, and varied experiences. A residency reapplicant requires all of the above and then some. Reapplicants may face a difficult road, but can still prevail with self-reflection, proper preparation, and perhaps a bit of luck.
Take time to reflect on your previous application and continue to update and improve your current one. By analyzing your previous application, enhancing your application materials, gaining additional clinical experience, expanding your network, applying to more programs, and preparing for interviews, you can increase your chances of matching in the next residency cycle. I have personally seen and helped 2nd- and 3rd-time reapplicants secure their residency spot, so it is possible! Remember to stay positive, persevere, and remain focused on your career goals.
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.