How to Master the Process of Applying to Residency

How to Master the Process of Applying to Residency

Dr. David Flick |
Welcome to your one-stop-shop for planning your residency application. Whether you’re wrapping up your third year, taking an extra year for research, or just trying to get ahead, many of you are asking questions like: When do I apply to residency? When does ERAS open? And how do I prepare my residency application?
Here, you’ll find overview of how residency applications are structured, and how to stay organized from now until Match Day.

When Should I Write My Personal Statement?

COVID-19 has shifted the dates around. However, they should be similar for the 2021-2022 cycle. Let’s explore some of the implications of these dates.
The beginning of June is when the system opens, but that doesn’t mean that’s when you should start preparing your application. As soon as you’ve settled on a specialty or handful of specialties, that’s when you should start your application. If you figure out in the first two months of your third year that you’re dead set on plastic surgery, then there’s no reason to wait until the application opens to write your personal statement. The bottom line is to prepare your application BEFORE June. That way, come June, you can simply open up the application and place everything in.

Understand the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) Timeline

Below is a sample timeline from this the Match 2021 cycle. These dates shifted from prior years due to COVID, and may likely shift again for 2022 and beyond.
June 8: ERAS Opens: This means that starting at 9AM EST, applicants can register in MyERAS and begin working on their application. The MyERAS application is the form you will use to enter information about yourself. You then submit the MyERAS application along with your supporting documents when you apply to programs.
September 1: Applicants can now begin to apply to ACGME accredited programs. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is an entity responsible for accrediting all graduate medical training programs for physicians in the United States.
September 15: National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) registration opens. All applicants must be registered in the NRMP’s system to participate in the Match.
October 1: Medical Student Performance Evaluations (MSPE) are now released to residency programs. In this case, it doesn’t matter if you’re applying to all of your desired programs via ERAS or via other channels–schools will not release the MSPE until October 1.
October 21: ACGME accredited programs receive applications.


January 31: Deadline for registration with NRMP. The NRMP is the organization that facilitates the actual matching process once you submit your documents to your programs of interest.
February 1: NRMP ranking opens. After registering for the Match and completing interviews, applicants submit a list of programs, ranked in order of preference, where they wish to train. At the same time, program directors will submit a ranked list of applicants, whom they’ve already interviewed, that they want to accept.
March 3: By this time all applicants must have submitted their NRMP rank order list to the NRMP. The final preferences on rank order lists are then used to match students to their to determine which applicants are matched to which positions.
March 15: Match week. Congratulations on all your hard work. You’re in!
Notice that you can’t even apply to programs until September, so does finishing your application on June 7th give you any advantage? No, but don’t put off for tomorrow what can be done today.
Clinical rotations are unpredictable and can chew up your time quickly. So, if you’re on a rotation with some time, do it then, because who knows what your schedule will look like in July and August.

Continue Reading…What happens if you’re an Unmatched MD?

How Many Letters of Recommendation (LORs) Should I Get? 

By looking at the timeline above you can see that you don’t need your letters until October, when programs can view your application. If you take that approach, you’re running a high risk for delaying your application.
Program directors and attendings everywhere are getting bombarded for LORs from June through September. Ask for your letter in the Spring/Early-Summer if you can. This allows writers to have more time to write a quality letter and be less inundated by other requests.

Getting the writing done early also frees you up to make sure the rest of your application is complete. If you’re applying to orthopedic surgery, you’re going to need at least one LOR from an orthopedic surgeon, two would be best, and this advice applies to any specialty from plastics to peds. I recommend three to four letters total, but any more than that is just a lot to read for the admissions committee.
Can you get letters from another specialty? Absolutely. In fact, I like to see letters from an outside perspective, so long as you’ve got a few from the relevant specialty.

When Do I Take USMLE Step 2/COMLEX Level 2?

The best time to take your USMLE Step 2/COMLEX Level 2 is right after your 3rd year. This is when you’re strongest clinically, and have a strong knowledge base having completed all your shelf exams. For the physical exam portion – you can celebrate the demise of this part of your exams.

USMLE has cancelled the clinical skills portion and COMLEX has put the physical exam portion on hold. I am expecting COMLEX to follow suit with USMLE and cancel this as well. Your goal should be to have all of your Step/COMLEX testing done by September so that programs can see a complete application.
As USMLE Step 1 makes a transition from being scored to pass/fail in 2022, this shifts the importance of your score on Step 1 to Step 2. Make sure you’re taking the time to score well here. I would apply the exact same mindset to COMLEX even though they haven’t followed suit with regards to the pass/fail shift (yet).

What Does This All Mean for My Application Process? 

Mastering your residency application is all about planning ahead and staying organized. Start your application early and chip away at it over the months leading up to the application season opening. This will help keep you on track and avoid getting stuck in the Summer with too much to do. The more work you do up front the more prepared you’ll be for the application once it’s open.
Need help with your residency application? MedSchoolCoach advisors provide comprehensive help that can transform your match prospects and get you into the residency of your choice. Plus, if you need USMLE tutoring or COMLEX tutoring, we can help you achieve amazing scores. Good luck as you continue down the path toward becoming a physician!

David Flick
Dr. Flick is the Associate Director of Advising at MedSchoolCoach. Previously, he was an admissions committee member at UC Irvine School of Medicine. He is board certified in family medicine and also works as a flight surgeon for the U.S. Army.

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