At our program, we have completed a little more than half the radiology residency interviews through this season so far. And in the midst of interview season, many of you, applicants and radiologists alike, are wondering has radiology become more competitive this year compared to years past? To answer that question, I will analyze the current facts and give you a preliminary conclusion. And then, I will provide you with a little summary of what to do with all this information.
The Hard Evidence
So, which individual pieces of evidence highly suggest increasing competitiveness? First and foremost, we need to look at board scores. Overall, applicants to our institution have had a significant increase in the USMLE board scores year over year. Based on the current candidates, I would say overall, USMLE scores have increased by 5 to 10 points compared to the previous year.
What else? Our institution looks at the Caribbean, American Osteopathic, and American Allopathic medical students. Noticeably, when the numbers of American Allopathic and Osteopathic applicants increase compared the Caribbean applicants, that is a hard sign that the competitiveness of our program has climbed. We see exactly that.
The Soft Evidence
This year, the applicants have more numerous and exciting extracurricular activities. Typically, I notice this trend when the applicant pool expands. Likewise, we tend to interview more of these applicants instead of the bread-and-butter type. I believe we are following this pattern.
Moreover, applicants have stated that they have heard that the landscape has become more competitive. To support this theory, on interviews, many have indicated that they understand more than usual are applying to radiology from their medical school.
Interestingly, many applicants have explicitly stated that they are no longer worried about artificial intelligence (AI) taking over the world (or the radiologist’s job!). A few years back, many more interviewees had expressed this fear. I believe that the more accurate information about how AI will function as a tool to assist the radiologist has worked its way to the applicants versus the message of replacing radiologists from Silicon Valley.
And finally/most propitiously, interviewees are well aware of the improved job market in radiology. Usually, the applicants follow the money!
So What Does More Competitive Mean For Applicants This Year?
OK. What to do about it is the critical point. We are pretty sure that applications have become very competitive. But, that must mean something for the applicant, right?
Well, yes. I am going to make a short list of the critical tasks that you should complete. For many of you, make sure that you rank enough programs on the list. Occasionally, some of you may feel that you are likely to match at your first few choices and that’s it. So, some folks will make a short list. Instead, make sure to rank a few more than you may think you need.
Also, you should write thank you letters to all programs of interest. Some programs will use them as a way to bump up your application in the rank list a tad. It does show interest in the program. And, some use it as a marker of a possible good match. It can make the smallest difference between ranking and not ranking.
Then, for some of you, make sure to take a second look at the programs that interest you, if you can. Like the thank-you letter, coming back for a second look expresses that you are serious about a program. Occasionally, it can help your chances.
Lastly, be prepared for the possibility of having to scramble in the SOAP. What will you do if you do not match? You will need to collect your thoughts and get it to together rapidly if the process does not go the way you wanted.
Are you going to be willing to do a prelim year in medicine or surgery and reapply again next year? Or, are you going to try to match in a different specialty entirely. You should think about these possibilities just in case it does not work out.
So, there you have it, a review of my thoughts about the competitive environment for the radiology residency applications of 2018-2019. My final piece of advice- make sure to remain humble throughout this process. Unfortunately, as much as we do not like to admit, there is an element of chance in the application. Therefore all applicants should hope for the best, but plan for any eventuality. Good luck!