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What to Know About the New ERAS Program Signaling Feature

  • by Dr. Mike Ren
  • Aug 08, 2023
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

The new “MyERAS” program signaling has been designed to streamline and enhance the residency application process, providing a more efficient way for aspiring medical professionals to signal their interest and intent to residency programs.

This implementation has been very beneficial, as there are more medical school graduates and residency applicants than in previous years. With the increased numbers of applicants, getting a residency spot has been tougher, and directors have had to deal with unique challenges such as application hyperbole and inflation. ERAS program signaling mitigates those issues by increasing transparency between applicants and programs. With its launch, applicants can better inform programs of their interest, and program directors have more data points they can use to decide who they will invite for an interview.

While ERAS program signaling is viewed positively by many program directors, residency applicants sometimes struggle with understanding its importance and have a lot of questions about it. In this post, I’ll answer 12 FAQs about signaling and why it matters. Grab your favorite snack and drink, this is going to be a lengthy post! 

Let’s get started! 

12 FAQs About ERAS Program Signaling

1. What is ERAS program signaling?

Alright, let’s start with the basics. So what exactly is program signaling and why is it being implemented now?

In its current state, program signaling offers applicants a chance to transparently express interest in individual residency programs at the time of application. This signal is seen by the program so they know of your interest. 

2. What’s the backstory on ERAS signaling? Why am I doing this, and where did it come from? 

ENT was the first specialty to implement signaling. It did so during the 2020-2021 cycle, which was all virtual due to COVID. However, applicants had signaled programs long before with away rotations/electives, sending program “love letters” and other email/written correspondence that stated their interest in that residency program. 

In the 2020-2021 cycle, ENT applicants were given tokens to use as signals for their programs. The ENT programs received a list of applicants that sent their program a signal as soon as the ERAS application became available. Afterward, data showed satisfaction from both applicants and programs. In the following cycle, other specialties deemed signaling to be useful as well. So, now here we are!

3. How will ERAS program signaling help me? 

Programs use the signals as another data point to consider when choosing applicants to interview. Programs are able to filter applicants based on program signals. Signaling a program demonstrates interest and may help you lock in the all-important first step—an interview slot. 

4. Who sees ERAS program signals? 

Only programs you signal will see your signals. If you signal a program, the program will see the word “Yes.” Standard signals will all be displayed as “Yes.” 

If you do not signal a program, signal a different program, or skip this question, the program will receive no information.​ 

5. How do I signal if I dual apply to two different specialties? 

You are able to send signals for each specialty you apply to.

6. How many ERAS program signals do I get? 

The number of available signals varies by specialty. Specialties determine the number of signals based on their goals for signaling, their number of programs, etc. 

Here’s a chart from AAMC:

Specialty Number of Program Signals
Anesthesiology 5 gold, 10 silver
Child Neurology & Neurodevelopmental Disabilities 3
Dermatology 3 gold, 25 silver
Diagnostic Radiology and Interventional Radiology 6 gold, 6 silver
Emergency Medicine 7
Family Medicine 5
General Surgery 5
Internal Medicine 7
Internal Medicine & Psychiatry 2
Neurological Surgery 25
Neurology 3
Obstetrics and Gynecology 3 gold, 15 silver
Orthopedic Surgery 30
Otolaryngology 25
Pathology 5
Pediatrics 5
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 5
Public Health and General Preventive Medicine 3
Psychiatry 5
Thoracic Surgery 3

7. How many ERAS program signals should I send? 

You should signal all programs you are interested in using the allotted number of program signals, including home and away rotation programs. Use all of them up if possible to maximize your chances of getting interview invites. 

8. I don’t see my program listed, now what? 

Program participation within each specialty is optional. Some programs may decide not to participate. A list of participating specialties and the number of program signals offered by specialty is available on this AAMC webpage.

If your program isn’t listed, you Y would apply like normal, and signal other programs that are available (but only if you’re interested in them!). 

9. Do I need to send other correspondence?

Each program varies. I know, it’s such a nonanswer and you probably dislike reading it just as much as I dislike giving it. The general rule is: no. As a PD, I would not want to read hundreds of letters telling me why you are a special applicant and should receive special consideration to attend my residency program. Apply like normal and use the transparent and readily available signal through ERAS. 

10. What are gold vs. silver ERAS program signals?

Some specialties offer gold and silver signals. Gold signals are designed for your “most preferred” programs while silver signals are for your “preferred” programs. Simple enough, eh? 

11. How does all of this look on ERAS?

Your application should look something like this in terms of options for program signals: 

  1. Single-Tier: These specialties have opted to use one type of program signal. 
  2. Two-Tier: These specialties have opted to use a two-tiered system for signaling: The aforementioned gold (most preferred) and silver (preferred) options. 
  3. Not Participating: These specialties are not accepting program signals, and no signals can be assigned to programs in these specialties. 

Additionally, each participating specialty allocates a fixed number of signals to assign to programs.

  1. Available: This shows how many signals remain after subtracting the total signals assigned to saved programs and the number of signals sent to programs you have already applied to. 
  2. Assigned: This shows how many signals have been assigned to saved programs. You can edit or reassign these signals as much as you like. Signals assigned to saved programs are not final until they are sent to a program with the application. 
  3. Applied: This shows the number of signals that have been assigned to programs you have applied to. Once an application has been submitted to a program, no updates can be made to the program signal assignment for that program. If you withdraw your application from a program you signaled, that signal cannot be reassigned to another program.

12. It seems like signaling is an important part of my application, but do I just take your word for it?

No, you shouldn’t. Always verify for yourself! But a survey of residency programs during the 2022-2023 application cycle found that:

  1. 75% of program directors agreed that program signals helped them identify applicants whom they would have otherwise overlooked. 
  2. 88% of program directors used applicants’ signals as a screening tool before a more thorough application review. 
  3. 61% of program directors sent an interview invitation to every applicant who signaled their program. 
  4. 78% of respondents included signals in a composite filter to conduct a holistic review. 
  5. 91% of respondents used signals as part of a holistic application review to decide whom to interview. 
  6. 86% of respondents used signals as a tiebreaker to help decide whom to interview. 
  7. 64% of program directors asked applicants who signaled their program why they were so interested in it during an interview.

For more detailed information on how programs and individual specialties used program signals in the ERAS 2023 season, refer to the report that includes the final results of the program director survey.

As you can see, the numbers are telling. Signaling is an important part of your application! Program directors take it seriously, and it can help you get into the program of your choice.

Further Reading

Some parting advice for this year’s applicants: 

Decide which programs you want to signal based on your background and situation. Consider the strength of your application, your career goals, and personal circumstances, along with a program’s relative competitiveness and acceptance history.

Understand that sending a program signal results in a higher probability of receiving an interview invitation for all participating specialties. However, programs vary widely in how they use signals, and sending a signal does not guarantee an interview invitation.

Make sure your signals do not contradict your geographical preferences. Use up your allotted signals if possible. I want to emphasize that while it’s important to recognize program signaling as a tool to express interest, it does not guarantee a match or influence the final decision for admittance into a residency program—that decision is made by the core faculty and based on your qualifications and interview prowess. Residency programs have their own selection processes, so applicants should still focus on building a strong application, which includes academic achievements, clinical experiences, letters of recommendation, a good personal statement, and a strong interview.

The TL;DR: signaling is a helpful tool to express your interest in particular residency programs, but you still need a robust application! If you’re looking for more tips on how to complete your ERAS application, check out these other articles (for free!) from Blueprint tutors:

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.