I wanted to provide my perspective on the match process and tips/ what to avoid for those that will be taking this in a year or two. There is a lot of confusion and misguided advice that can come from everywhere and it certainly can be hard to discern the valuable from the invaluable, especially when everything contradicts each other. Hopefully this will be more helpful than damaging – since I’ve just gone through it and, knock on wood, had a rather benign experience.
First and foremost, what are ERAS, NRMP, and Frieda? If you’ve been thinking about applying to any program you should know about the AMA Frieda website. This site allows you access to basic program specifics, including numbers taken, interviews from last year, dates they have open for interviews, what they require, etc. Very informative and essential to review throughout 3rd and 4th years. You can even create a folder to save your programs that you’d like to look at again without the hassle of searching.
ERAS is the electronic residency application system and is where you’ll enter in all of your data for the residency application. Basically this is where you make your CV for the programs you’ll apply for. You cannot begin to do this until a specific date, but there are places on the webpage that allow you to view important dates and timelines. Essentially most programs use this in order to receive your application for residency and it saves you the trouble of mailing out paper CVs to every program you’re interested in. Some go through other channels – which I won’t discuss here as I’m not experienced in these at all - but most residencies participate. You must pay a fee to use this service.
The actual ERAS application has a deadline each year where submissions must be in by. Keep in mind that these change yearly, but your school should keep you posted as to when they are scheduled to open and when the deadline for submissions falls as well as the timeline on their site. I would strongly advise that you get your letter of recommendation writers to begin writing early and keep up with them so that you can submit you application earlier. I’ve noticed that many interviews seem to be given on a first come first served basis, with fewer and fewer programs waiting for your dean’s letters to be added to your application. That being said, having to wait for a LOR or deciding how you want your personal statement to go, etc. may hurt you. Be careful not to send one out too early that’s not well polished, but don’t take so long getting it ready that you find there are few if any interview dates open.
The NRMP is where you’ll enter your rank list based on your interviews and where you’d like to wind up. When you hear people talk about “my number one program” or “I got in at my number 2” they are discussing their list they entered on this site and the location of the program in numerical order. It is important to register before the deadline lest you be forced to pay a late fee of $50. There is a regular fee just to register, so being late in registering is quite costly.
Now, let’s talk about Step 2. This is perhaps an area where a tremendous amount of differing information will come to the hopeful applicants. Basically this is because there is not just one or two ways that programs are handling this right now. Unlike Step 1 which is required and you must demonstrate that you passed along with your score, Step 2 has not been required in the past to obtain interviews. Therefore it was suggested as late as last year that those doing well not take either CK or CS until after interview season. The idea was this would assist you to get interviews without having to answer to a low test score.
Well, that line of thinking has begun to go the way of Dodo – at least for some programs and specialties. Many of the more competitive specialties are now asking for/ requiring you to at least show that you have taken and passed Step 2 CK. You don’t have to show a score (at least I still believe that ERAS had that option this year though I couldn’t find it), but be prepared to answer to your clandestine score during interviews. Less competitive specialties (family, internal, etc.) may not require that you’ve taken it for an interview, but the more competitive programs (like top 10's) are starting to request this before an interview is ever offered. Therefore it is best to take this early and avoid losing an interview.
With that being said, Step 2 CS, however, is not required for interviews. Most residencies will require you to have passed this skill exam before starting residency, but they aren't being sticklers on it beforehand. It’s pass/ fail anyway, so schedule it according to when you want – or based on your school’s demands. But don’t wait so long that you risk failing and not being able to start at your program.
Ok, so a lot to digest. I'll post another component to this that will discuss the dean's letters (aka medschool performance evaluations - MSPEs), interviews, letter of recommendation author selections, etc. later this week.