There is a lot of concern on both sides of the Emergency Medicine residency application process. Some programs have reported dramatic increases in the number of applications they have received. Many students are worried by how few interviews they have been offered. Has something fundamentally changed in the application process that can explain what is going on? The answer is that yes, there has been a change, but there is not more competition for residency spots than in previous years.
Below is a dive into the preliminary ERAS data for 2021 taken from the ERAS Statistics page at AAMC.org. The data shows that applicants have not (or at least not yet) applied to substantially more programs than in previous years.
The answer to what is going on, unfortunately, does not have data to back it up. Anecdotally, many EM residency programs are reporting that their interview acceptance rates are way up this year. Applicants who get offered interviews are reportedly saying “yes” to almost all of them and are rarely cancelling. This is different from previous years and is depriving other applicants of the chance to interview.
Every year we see the applicants with the best on paper applications get the majority of the interview offers in the early stages. As their schedule fills up they decline interviews which are then offered to other applicants. So far this year, that is not happening. With travel not being a barrier the “haves” are able to hoard interviews without repercussions.
|A US MD Senior guarding their collection of Emergency Medicine interview offers.|
If you have more than 12-15 interviews: it’s time to let some go. Making decisions is a core skill in EM. Each program offering you an interview already wants to match you. You can narrow your list and cancel or decline the ones that are not in your top 15.
If you don’t have very many interviews: hang in there. More are coming. Either when your peers start to drop them or when programs add interview slots as they recognize that many of the applicants interviewing with them early in the process are not genuinely interested in their program.
And now the data deep dive...
Looking at this data can help answer some questions about this unprecedented match year for Emergency Medicine. First is the data followed by some analysis.
The total number of applicants to EM has been trending up steadily. Folks do not appear to have been scared away by the front-line nature of EM. Instead, the steady growth in applicants has continued. It is important to note that this increase has been accompanied by a steady increase in the number of residency spots available, both from new EM Residencies opening and existing residencies increasing their class sizes.
In addition, the data in this table make it look like DO applicants have just discovered the wonders of EM, but that is not what is really going on. Instead this data just reflects the move to a single-accreditation system under the ACGME. All DO applicants to EM are now shown here, not just those who applied to ACGME residencies (by 2021 all residencies are under the ACGME).
The Bottom Line: The number of applicants to EM has NOT gone up in a way that will affect your chances of matching.
According to this data, which is preliminary, the number of applications per applicant has actually leveled off for the last few years for both US MD and DO applicants. That big climb in DO applications is deceptive as it did not include the applications to osteopath-only programs before the merger. IMG applicants have steadily increased their numbers of applications.
What we don’t see here is the expected increase in applications due to uncertainty. If this holds it may reflect improved dissemination and uptake of application advice. Or there could be another wave of applications coming as applicants panic over not getting sufficient interviews. We shall see.
Bottom Line: So far, there has not been an increase in the number of applications per applicant, despite anecdotal reports by residency programs of significantly increased application numbers.
This table argues against a generalized increase in the number of applications programs are receiving. Some programs may be seeing a significant surge in applications, but there does not appear to be a dramatic increase for most programs. One possibility is that there has been a real increase in the number of applicants at programs that were prohibitively expensive for applicants to apply to. This could be programs in areas that required most applicants to fly to. For example, a student on the east coast (where there is a heavy concentration of medical schools) faced a significant cost to interview on the west coast. That financial barrier is gone.
Conversely, if some programs have seen a significant increase in the number of applications they have received, but the overall average number has barely changed (+33 from 2019), then there would have to be a group of programs that have seen their number of applications decrease.
The Bottom Line: There will be more competition for interviews at some programs, but not at all.
If you have questions, comments, or other interpretations of this data, please share them in the comments and we will try to figure this out together.