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What Do Program Directors Look For in an Applicant?

May 30, 2019

Written by Nicole McCoin

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This article explored some of the most important factors that program directors consider when selecting Emergency Medicine residents.

Why does this matter?
Emergency Medicine continues to be one of the more competitive fields into which applicants can apply despite the fact that 67 additional EM programs and 610 new positions are now available in just the past six years. Applicants are looking for strategies to increase their likelihood of success when applying in EM.

I wish it could be simple, but it’s not…
This article best serves as a guide to EM residency applicants. There is a lot of really good information in the article that gives the applicant a deeper look into how various components of the application are used (e.g. the EM clerkship performance or the standardized letter of evaluation). However, I would encourage the applicant to use the article to learn more about each portion of the application rather than trying to use the article to figure out which piece of the application carries the most weight in the decision making process. The authors touch on this in the article, but here are some important reasons why:

  1. Each program is different. Each program is looking for applicants that fit well with their program. Thus, criteria of greatest importance are going to vary from program to program.

  2. The authors anchor the article around the 1999 Crane and Ferraro study of selection criteria in EM. A lot has changed in the last 20 years. Grades have fallen by the wayside, as many schools have moved to pass/fail. Class quartiles or quintiles are often not listed anymore. This has pushed a lot of us as program directors to rely on fewer pieces of information that can be standardized between schools. Emphasis is placed now on USMLE Step I and Step II; standardized letters of evaluation from within our specialty from people with whom we are familiar; AOA and GHHS, just to name a few. These are the pieces of the application that can be compared among applicants from various medical schools. Additionally, selection is often a two-tiered process. We use the above pieces of the application to select applicants for interview. Once the applicant arrives to the interview, then the boxes are checked regarding scores and letters and the criteria for selection and then shift to how well the applicant fits with the program on interview day.

  3. There are new pieces of the application that are being used in some programs now, and I am sure over the years that the application process will continue to evolve. One that comes to mind is the Standardized Video Interview. Stay tuned for how these portions of the application fit into the big picture of how an applicant may be selected.

So it boils down to this. The application process is complicated. As an applicant, it is a good idea to go into the process with as much knowledge as you can regarding how it all works. Reading this article will help begin to put this in perspective. Then do your best throughout the process; be true to yourself; and really search for the right fit for you – that’s what it is all about.

What Do Program Directors Look for in an Applicant? J Emerg Med. 2019 May;56(5):e95-e101. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2019.01.010. Epub 2019 Mar 20.

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