Background: Pediatric emergency medicine (PEM) recently has become a highly competitive subspecialty with twice the number of applicants for positions available. Little information exists on the characteristics that PEM programs desire in their applicants. We sought to assess the factors used by PEM program directors when ranking PEM fellow applicants in the National Resident Match Program (NRMP).
Methods: A 47-item questionnaire (adapted from a previously published questionnaire) was designed to assess the relative importance of various factors in the ranking of PEM fellow applicants in the NRMP. The questionnaire was mailed to all 43 PEM program directors that participated in the 2001 NRMP. The program directors were asked to grade selection factors based on a five-point Likert scale: 1, unimportant; 2, somewhat important; 3, important; 4, very important; 5, critical. The factors addressed in the questionnaire included academic criteria, letters of recommendation, applicant characteristics, and aspects of the interview. In addition, we asked 10 yes-or-no questions pertaining to specific aspects of each program. Responses were tabulated and means and standard deviations reported.
Results: A program response rate of 93% (40/43) was obtained. The most important factors in granting an interview were recommendations from colleagues in PEM (4.21 +/- 0.78), research potential (3.81 +/- 1.10), and reputation of the applicant's pediatric program (3.51 +/- 0.91). The least important factors in granting an interview were reputation of the applicant's undergraduate institution (1.76 +/- 0.86), medical school grades (1.83 +/- 0.87), and board scores (2.11 +/- 0.91). Letters from division chiefs of PEM (4.15 +/- 0.78) and clinical faculty in PEM (4.06 +/- 0.82) were considered the most important letters of recommendation, whereas letters from basic science faculty were considered the least important (1.89 +/- 0.96). Ability to work with a team (4.66 +/- 0.42), compatibility with the program (4.65 +/- 0.35), commitment to hard work (4.55 +/- 0.45), ability to grow in knowledge (4.41 +/- 0.58), ability to solve problems (4.36 +/- 0.63), ability to listen (4.34 +/- 0.65), and ability to articulate thoughts (4.32 +/- 0.59) were the most important characteristics in the final ranking of candidates. Thirty percent (12/40) of the program directors stated that it was important for the program to "match" its top choice. The majority of programs have a selection committee that contributes to the final ranking of applicants.
Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that a rather subjective but uniform prioritization of criteria is used in evaluating PEM program applicants. Awareness of these factors would enable applicants to make a critical self-analysis of their strengths and weaknesses prior to the submission of their applications.