Medical graduates applied to more residency programs than ever this cycle, following a consistent increase in application submissions in the last few years, according to preliminary data from the Electronic Residency Application System (ERAS).
Residency candidates in almost all medical specialties applied to more programs than they did in the 2020 cycle, continuing on a trend of rising application numbers across the last decade. (Because the residency application cycle was delayed by around a month last year, it is not accurate to compare the 2022 preliminary data with the 2021 cycle during this window of time, experts said.)
Across all medical specialties, this cycle MD applicants submitted an average of 68 applications, DO applicants submitted 92, and international medical graduates submitted 139, according to data provided to MedPage Today by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
Medical graduates applying to orthopedic surgery in the 2022 cycle submitted an average of 88 applications — the highest across all medical specialities. Candidates to urology, otolaryngology, and dermatology — some of the most competitive specialties — all applied to around 80 programs each.
More than 46,000 medical graduates have applied for the 2022 residency match so far: approximately 23,000 MDs, 8,000 DOs, and 15,000 international graduates. The preliminary data from ERAS — the centralized system that medical graduates use to apply to residency — includes all applications submitted through the beginning of October.
While the AAMC, which sponsors ERAS, will release more data as candidates continue to apply, most of the trends won’t change drastically, experts said.
“I think the biggest, most noteworthy trend is just a continuation of application fever,” said Bryan Carmody, MD, an assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School and an advocate for medical education reform. He told MedPage Today that each year, applicants in just about every medical specialty increase the number of applications they submit to residency programs, vying to get a spot in a more competitive market. And the continuation of that trend this year is “no surprise.”
Medical graduates applying to orthopedic surgery, otolaryngology, and urology all applied to between 10% to 15% more programs on average than they did in the 2020 cycle.
Some specialties are attracting greater application numbers than they did in the past. Applicants to anesthesiology, for example, submitted an average of 54 applications each in the 2020 cycle. In the 2022 cycle, the average number of applications was 62 — a 15% jump.
Application numbers have increased even among less competitive disciplines. Candidates for internal medicine — which does not typically fill all available residency spots — applied to an average of 73 applications this cycle, up from 66 in 2020.
“When you look at something like internal medicine, which doesn’t always fill everything, why do applicants feel they have to apply to so many programs?” said Maya Hammoud, MD, professor of ob/gyn and medical education at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.
Hammoud told MedPage Today it makes sense that applicants to competitive specialties would submit a greater number of applications. “But what’s more disturbing is, the less competitive specialties are getting so many applications,” she said, adding that the fear and anxiety around not getting a spot is driving residency candidates to apply to more and more programs when they may not need to.
Medical graduates spend incredible amounts of both time and money on residency applications. But programs, too, take on the burden of over-application, Hammoud said. In the 2022 cycle, nearly all medical specialties saw an increase in the average number of applications received by each program — some getting 20% more applications than they did last cycle.
An average anesthesiology program, for example, received more than 1,200 residency applications this cycle, up from just over 1,000 in 2020. Carmody said an anesthesiology program might have between 8 and 10 residency slots to fill — meaning that around 120 applicants are vying for a single position.
When programs receive more applications, it makes it difficult to distinguish which candidates are really interested in them, versus which are hoping to get a spot anywhere in a competitive market, Hammoud said. Many medical education reform advocates have called for holistic review in the residency application process — but under the current system Hammoud said it is not possible.
“I don’t think this is sustainable at all,” Hammoud said. “There needs to be a big change on how things are done in the future.”
Last Updated October 28, 2021