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Report urges complete residency overhaul


Less than half of applicants get in-depth reviews

The 2020 National Resident Matching Program Program Director Survey found that only 49% of applications received in-depth review. In light of this, the report suggests that the application system be updated to use modern information technology, including discrete fields for key data to expedite application reviews.

Many applications have been discarded because of various filters used to block consideration of certain applications. The report suggests that new filters be designed to ensure that each detects meaningful differences among applicants and promotes review based on mission alignment and likelihood of success in a program. Filters should be improved to decrease the likelihood of random exclusions of qualified applicants.

Specialty-specific, just-in-time training for all incoming first-year residents is also suggested to support the transition from the role of student to a physician ready to assume increased responsibility for patient care. In addition, the report urges adequate time be allowed between medical school graduation and residency to enable new residents to relocate and find homes.

The report also calls for a standardized process in the United States for initial licensing of doctors at entrance to residency in order to streamline the process of credentialing for both residency training and continuing practice.

Osteopathic students’ dilemma

To promote equitable treatment of applicants regardless of licensure examination requirements, comparable exams with different scales (COMLEX-USA and USMLE) should be reported within the electronic application system in a single field, the report said.

Osteopathic students, who make up 25% of U.S. medical students, must take the COMLEX-USA exam, but residency programs may filter them out if they don’t also take the USMLE exam. Thus, many osteopathic students take both exams, incurring extra time, cost, and stress.

The UGRC recommends creating a combined field in the electronic residency application service that normalizes the scores between the two exams. Residency programs could then filter applications based only on the single normalized score.

This approach makes sense from the viewpoint that it would reduce the pressure on osteopathic students to take the USMLE, Bryan Carmody, MD, an outspoken critic of various current training policies, said in an interview. But it could also have serious disadvantages.

For one thing, only osteopathic students can take the COMLEX-USA exam, he noted. If they don’t like their score, they can then take the USMLE test to get a higher score – an option that allopathic students don’t have. It’s not clear that they’d be prevented from doing this under the UGRC recommendation.

Second, he said, osteopathic students, on average, don’t do as well as allopathic students on the UMSLE exam. If they only take the COMLEX-USA test, they’re competing against other students who don’t do as well on tests as allopathic students do. If their scores were normalized with those of the USMLE test takers, they’d gain an unfair advantage against students who can only take the USMLE, including international medical graduates.

Although Dr. Carmody admitted that osteopathic students face a harder challenge than allopathic students in matching to residency programs, he said that the UGRC approach to the licensing exams might actually penalize them further. As a result of the scores of the two exams being averaged, residency program directors might discount the scores of all osteopathic students.

A version of this article first appeared on


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