What Can the Unmatched Seniors Tell Us?

Yesterday, after the mayhem and jubilation of celebrating a successful match at the Pritzker School of Medicine with our students, I went onto Twitter to follow the #match2013 hashtag to understand what the reactions were.  Most were positive, but one headline caught my attention ‘In Record-Setting ‘Match Day,’ 1,100 Medical Students Don’t Find Residencies.”

It is true this was the largest match because it was “All-in” – programs either were in the match for all their positions (including international medical graduates or IMGs) or they were not.  Obviously, many programs put more positions up for grabs in the Match.  After I reposted this article to Twitter, there were many theories and questions about who these unmatched students were and why  – some of which I have tried to answer to the best of my ability below.  I welcome your input as well.

  • Are these IMGs?  This number is US Senior medical students who have been admitted and graduated from US medical schools but now have no place to go to practice medicine.
  • Does this include those that entered the “scramble” now called SOAP. Technically, those that entered SOAP and were successful would have been counted as “matched” on Friday.   Last year,  815 Us seniors went unmatched after the SOAP.
  • Did they choose to go into competitive specialties? We have to wait for the 2013 NRMP statistics, which will likely address this.  The 2012 data shows that more unmatched seniors did choose to go into competitive fields.  Last year, the % unmatched is much higher for students applying to radiation oncology, dermatology, and competitive surgical fields for example.
  • Did they go unmatched to due to poor strategy or poor academic performance? While poor strategy such as ‘suicide’ ranking only one program is related to the risk of going unmatched, the truth is getting into residency is competitive and there are some who will not match because of poor academic performance. Some even argue that medical schools have little incentive to fail students and a portion of these students should not be graduating to begin with.
  • If they had gone into primary care, would they would have matched?  I hear this myth that program directors in primary care fields only take international medical graduates (IMGs) since not enough US medical graduates apply.   This is due to the largely untested assumption that any US Senior would be preferred to an IMG.  However, I personally know program directors who would definitely take a seasoned and high performing IMG over a below-average US Student.   The reason this is important is the rationale for not lifting the GME cap is that we have 50% of certain fields filled by IMGs and those spots would naturally be filled by US grads. Interestingly, many of these spots happen to be primary care driven fields.   Yet, it is still unclear if US Seniors will displace IMGs for spots in IMG oriented residencies.  It is also unclear if they will be willing to apply to programs that typically cater to IMGs, since they are often not considered as prestigious or geographically desirable to US students.
  • Is this related to the lack of GME spots? Certainly, it is true that more effective career advising may have resulted in applicants being more strategic about their rank list and not reaching for a competitive field.  However, we cannot ignore the supply/demand side of this equation.  At a time when there is a shortage of physicians and a call to increase the number of physicians, the US medical school system by responded to this call.   New medical schools have opened.  Existing medical schools have increased their enrollments.  So, there are now more US Seniors entering the match and there will be even more in the future as new medical schools mature their entering classes to graduating students over the next four years.  Given that the supply of matched candidates includes both foreign-born IMGs and US-born IMGs, there are more candidates than spots.  And while many believe IMGs will be the ones that get “squeezed out” in this shortage situation, again this is an untested assumption.  It is also important to recognize that IMGs often play a significant role in ensuring primary care for rural populations and underserved communities,which are often not geographically desirable by US graduates.

 We are left with a fundamental question:  Do we owe it to our entering medical students who successfully graduate from medical school to have a residency spot?   At a time when we have a shortage of physicians and a call for medical schools to increase in size, should we not expand our residencies?   Unfortunately, GME funding is on the chopping block because of the belief that too much money is being wasted on residency training.  Moreover, hospitals seem less enthusiastic about expanding residencies, as it is not as much of a bargain due to caps on hours residents work, and all the other new accreditation standards for residency training.

There is a potential solution.  The “Training Tomorrow’s Doctors Today Act” by Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), and the “Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2013” sponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would enable training 15,000 more physicians over 5 years.   Moreover, spots would be distributed to programs and specialties in critical shortages, like primary care.

Given the time that it takes to train a physician, now is the time to act to ensure we have the doctors we need for the future.

 —Vineet Arora MD MAPP



  1. “Do we owe it to our entering medical students who successfully graduate from medical school to have a residency spot?”

    Isn’t the purpose of medical school so that one can practice medicine? I would argue yes. Can you practice medicine after graduating from medical school? It appears that only in South Dakota can one practice without at least 1 year of post-graduate training. http://www.fsmb.org/usmle_eliinitial.html

    So, I would argue that it seems silly and harmful to be graduating students after sacrificing years of their life and racking up enormous debt who are basically unemployable in the profession for which they were trained. Granted, they shouldn’t be graduating if they’re not good enough to practice medicine.

    1. I echo what Michael said. What is the point of graduating medical school if you can’t practice medicine because you can’t get a residency spot?

      1. Agreed. We definitely need to make this case to policymakers who are concerned about workforce issues but may not understand the nuances of our training system.

  2. Not sure I agree with some of the comments about what’s the point of going to med school if there is no residency. There are numerous career choices in finance, management consulting and/or pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Odds are you will make more money in these professions in the long run. However if your real intent is to treat patients I can agree with some of the comments. If you are open to careers outisde of Medicine there is a lot of money to be made and some good to be served as well.

    1. When I’ve talked to recruiters in the insurance and pharmaceutical fields I’ve been asked if I’m licensed. I don’t know if that’s required for all jobs like that, but it certainly seemed like it was for some.

      Do you know that having a license is not a requirement?

  3. Did they go unmatched to due to poor strategy or poor academic performance?

    Some students will always inevitably graduate in the bottom because everyone can’t graduate at the top(or middle). So the stated question is void until a fixed grading system is in place(not saying I condone)!

    So I believe everyone that graduates should have a chance for training

  4. As a medical student matching next year I find these statistics frightening! At the same time I wonder if there is more data about those who didn’t match, such as board scores, extracurricicular activities, publications, what medical school they went to, etc. Those all factor into the ultimate decision, I would think.

  5. I went unmatched years ago. Had to take a spot in a field I hate, just to have a job and an income to pay back the loans. It’s a black mark. You become a pariah. A freak.

  6. Not in a million year i would have thought it is so miserable like this in US to match or have a post grad training. This is outrageous, I had interviews in MA, GA and DC and every where i hear the program dir states the following, we are under served and we need physicians. I feel stupid at that moment and ask my self ” we are 21 one physicians sitting here we can go now and work on floor and this prog dir says they are under served ! is this some kind of joke ? ” .. My heart aches for this abusive treatment. I have met people who make fun of my situation and even makes jokes asking me : are you really a doctor ? why you are not working in a hospital then if you are a doc ? ..
    I wish you the best and i hope this none sense stops and this problem is solved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s