Making a match: trends in the application, interview, and ranking process for the neurological surgery residency programs

J Neurosurg. 2021 May 28;135(6):1882-1888. doi: 10.3171/2020.11.JNS203637.


Objective: Neurosurgery is a highly competitive residency field with a match rate lower than that of other specialties. The aim of this study was to analyze trends associated with the residency match process from the applicants' and program directors' perspectives.

Methods: Between 2010 and 2020, the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) Applicant and Program Director Surveys, the NRMP Charting Outcomes reports, and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Data Resource Books were analyzed to identify the number of applicants interviewed and ranked in US programs, the applicants' ranking preferences, the program directors' preferential factors in offering interviews, and rank list order. Applicants were divided between US senior medical students and independent applicants. Each cohort was dichotomized for matched and unmatched applicants.

Results: Over the study period, 2935 applicants applied to neurosurgery residency, including 2135 US senior medical students and 800 independent applicants, with an overall match rate of 65%. Overall, matched applicants had a significantly higher number of publications (p < 0.05). Among US senior medical student applicants, the application-to-interview ratio more than doubled over the study period, yet the number of interview invitations received, interviews accepted, and programs ranked remained unchanged. In the US senior medical student cohort, the number of submitted applications, interview invitations, accepted interviews, and programs ranked did not significantly differ between matched and unmatched applicants. In both cohorts, applicants shifted ranking factors from a more academic focus in early years to more well-being in later years. Letters of recommendation and board scores were key factors for program directors while screening applicants for interviews and ranking.

Conclusions: Neurosurgery residency continues to be a highly competitive field in medicine, with match rates of 65%. Recently, applicants have placed greater importance on ranking programs that value residents' well-being, as opposed to strictly academic factors. A data-driven understanding of factors important to applicants and program directors during the match process has the potential to improve resident candidate recruitment and overall resident-program fit, thereby improving well-being during residency, reducing the attrition rate, and overall enhancing the diversity of the neurosurgery resident workforce.

Keywords: NRMP; National Residency Matching Program; neurosurgery applicants; neurosurgery matching; neurosurgery residency; program directors.