Chapter 7: To Which Programs Should You Apply?

How To Achieve Your Dream Residency: The Future Surgeon’s Guide to 4th Year

By July you should begin thinking about this question in earnest. Start by designing your ideal residency program in your head (by the way — this is an interview question you may be asked on the trail). Then identify which programs meet your criteria. Research programs online and meet with mentors to discuss your list. Consider how competitive of an applicant you are to a specific program.

Let’s talk about some considerations for “designing your ideal residency program.” One early branch point is “academic vs. community.” These terms can be arbitrary but offer a helpful starting point. Academic programs are university affiliated, tend to be more competitive and emphasize research. Many follow a 7-year track where 2 years of research are allowed or mandated. They are more likely to have in-house fellowships and traditionally set trainees up well to pursue competitive fellowships. Community programs may offer more “hands on” operative experience, tend to be less competitive, and expect less research output. They still emphasize education and successfully place trainees into fellowships. Community programs usually follow the traditional 5-year track and are a great option for people who intend to go straight into practice.

You may also want to consider the program’s size, location and patient population. Do they get an appropriate mix of complicated vs. straightforward cases? Would you prefer an urban or rural training site? Does the department have in-house fellows, and is this a positive or a negative? Do they have a track record of matching trainees into your specific fellowship interest? The AMA’s FREIDA website is a great place to look for some of this information.

Statistically, 90% of applicants who attend > 11 interviews match successfully. Most applicants attend 10–15 interviews. Unfortunately, most applicants over-apply in order to reach that threshold. In 2016, the average US senior surgery applicant applied to 49.8 programs. Strong applicants, or those with specific criteria, can be more selective. Have your application finalized ahead of schedule and submit it the same day that ERAS opens.