Options for Medical Students Without Residency Matches

Mention “Match Day” to a medical school student and you’re sure to stir up a little anxiety. It’s the date when they find out whether they are assigned to a residency program. While getting matched is exciting news, not getting matched to a residency program is not the end of the road, experts say.

Match Week occurs the third week of March, when applicants take part in the National Resident Matching Program. Match Week ends on Match Day, when students find out if and where they have an offer to do residency. In 2024, a record high year for applicants, U.S. M.D. seniors matched to first-year residency training positions at a rate of 93.5%, and at a rate of 92.3% for D.O., or doctor of osteopathic medicine, the program reports.

“Residency serves as extra training for specializing and becoming truly comfortable with treating patients,” says Niki Grotewold, an admissions expert at Inspira Advantage, an admissions consulting firm focusing on graduate programs in health care.

It’s also a crucial part of medical training, giving hands-on experience required for board certification and becoming an attending physician, he says. While it is discouraging to not get matched, “continuing to exhibit grit and pursuing career goals is key,” he says.

[Related:9 Residency Tips for Medical School Applicants]

Students who don’t get matched to a training position still have several pathways, says NRMP president and CEO Donna L. Lamb. These include pursuing and interviewing with unfilled programs, “remaining in medical school to pursue research or other enrichment opportunities in their preferred specialty, or returning to school to pursue another degree,” she says.

Here’s a closer look at options for medical students who don’t get matched with a residency.

Interview With Unfilled Programs

Medical students can try to obtain a position through NRMP’s Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, or SOAP. That process takes place over several days and allows unmatched students to compete for unfilled residency positions.

SOAP “requires immediate action, as it passes within the first week after the initial match process,” says Dr. Jordan Frey, founder of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon, which aims to help doctors and other medical professionals improve their financial well-being.

Experts say some students may want to consider programs in rural regions, or matching with a different medical specialty choice. The most competitive specialties include dermatology, plastic surgery and neurosurgery, while the least competitive specialties are family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics, Grotewold says.

Pursue Research or Other Enrichment Opportunities

Grotewold says students also have the option of matriculating into postgraduate training programs. “Examples include preliminary medicine or surgery positions, transitional-year programs or research fellowships.”

For example, a transitional year allows students to repeat an additional year of medical school to strengthen their knowledge and experience. Whether students pursue a transitional year or fellowship, experts say they can gain a more competitive edge in a particular specialty.

[Related:How Long Is Medical School and What Is It Like?]

Grotewold says students can also engage in research or additional clinical experience. Students can remain in contact with professors or mentors at their medical school and see if they can participate in a research project in a field of medicine they’re particularly interested in. Experience in a clinical setting can include working as a scribe for a doctor or in electronic health-record training.

Pursue Another Degree or Career Path

Another option is to pursue another degree on top of your medical degree, like an MBA or Master of Public Health, to increase your chances of getting matched next time. You could opt to choose an alternative career path within the health care field, such as public health, health care administration, medical education, the pharmaceutical industry, research or consulting, Grotewold says.

There are many nonclinical medicine options to consider, Frey says, including consulting, medical writing and editing, medical sales, medical device development “or various medical careers like a poison information specialist that do not require residency.”

Frey says students who are undecided between a clinical and nonclinical career may want to continue to pursue a clinical career.

“The reason I say this is because it is very easy to leave clinical medicine for nonclinical medicine. But it can be very difficult to leave a nonclinical career and then match into a clinical training position,” Frey says.

Apply Again Next Year

While you may not have matched this time around, there’s always next year. Experts say students can spend a year building their resumes to reapply to residency programs next cycle.

“Take a year to regroup, strengthen your application, shore up on research, improve test scores and reapply the following year,” Frey says. “This is what many unmatched applicants choose to do.”

[Related:How a Medical Degree Can Translate Into Other Professions]

Grotewold says the system for matching “is not perfect and sometimes a perfectly good student can be left behind,” but it’s important for students to move forward by strengthening their resume and reapplying rather than sacrificing their dream of becoming a doctor.

“Many unmatched students go on to residency and have very successful medical careers by continuing to be determined, strategizing and not giving up,” Grotewold says.

NRMP recommends unmatched students begin with consultation with a mentor or adviser to discuss what pathway might be best and to get help strengthening their applications, Lamb says.

“Whichever pathway they choose, applicants are always welcome to participate in a future NRMP Match to try and secure training.”

More from U.S. News

The Medical School Admissions Cycle: A Month-by-Month Guide

Combined M.D.-J.D. Degrees: What to Know

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Medical School Admissions

Options for Medical Students Without Residency Matches originally appeared on usnews.com

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