Should you #ApplySmart?

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Pediatric Program Directors (APPD), the Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs (AMSPDC), and the Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics (COMSEP) put out a joint statement addressing how the 2020-2021 application cycle would be different. In addition, they outlined cursory guidelines for how applicants to pediatric residencies this year should proceed.

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While generally helpful, one statement in the announcement has generated much discussion amongst applicants: “Finally, a strong plea: Please do not apply to more than 15 programs unless you have had some academic difficulty, are couples-matching, or are advised to by your pediatric medical school leadership. We want to ensure that applicants get a holistic review, but this will be difficult to do if programs are flooded by applications.” This statement is based on data from the APPD, though the AAMC’s data on this topic contradicts it. The APPD cites a student with a Step 1 score from 216-234 a 99% chance of matching if they rank 10 programs. The AAMC’s data on the other hand only gives an applicant an 85% chance of matching if they apply to 15 programs.

Stemming from this, FuturePedsRes has initiated a campaign, #ApplySmart, to disseminate these national pediatric recommendations and encourage applicants to follow them. Many applicants to pediatric residencies have taken to Twitter to announce their pledge to apply to 15 programs. These efforts are noble and represent a good initial attempt at addressing some of the broader issues that exist for applying to residency. Still, the pediatrics applicant this year needs to be well-informed of the potential implications of such recommendations.

The #ApplySmart initiative sets up a Prisoner’s dilemma. For the hundreds of pediatric residency applicants as a whole, it is collectively beneficial to the group that each person only apply to 15 programs. However, to any one individual, it is to their benefit to apply to as many programs as they would like to. Guidelines as set forth by the pediatrics national governing bodies favor the individual over the entire pool of applicants, particularly when an individual is defecting from the ‘rules of the game’.

“Discuss it with advisors, mentors, family, and friends, but ultimately do what is best for you.”

Dr. Carter J. Boyd, Founder, Med Student Edge

There will likely many people who follow through with only applying to 15 programs. There also will likely be many people who do not follow the recommendations. This introduces the troublesome philosophical/psychological aspect of the application process in a situation where the guidelines are not enforceable. Are you comfortable with your chances of matching if you apply to just 15 programs? What if other applicants don’t follow the guidelines and apply to more places? Will this reduce your chances of getting interviews and matching?

I personally would not be comfortable only applying to 15 programs knowing my chances of matching were only 85%. This is why your decision on how many programs to apply to should be based on more factors than just a national recommendation. Important factors to consider include:

  • the competitiveness of your application
  • the competitiveness of the program
  • geographical considerations
  • size of the residency class
  • couples or military match

An applicant this year to pediatrics (or any specialty) should be aware of the scarcity of time and interviews when deciding on how many programs to apply to. Still, the number of programs that you decide to apply to is a personal choice, and you have to make the best decision for yourself given a multitude of factors. When deciding, take a comprehensive approach. Discuss it with advisors, mentors, family, and friends, but ultimately do what is best for you.

How many programs are you planning on applying to? Do you agree with or disagree with the suggestions put forth by the pediatric societies?

Back to more residency application resources.

Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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