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What do Program Directors look for?

Note:  There will be subtle variations based on:  (1) The specialty.  (2) The competitiveness of the program.  Programs located in desirable geographic regions, e.g., Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington, North & South Carolina, & Massachusetts tend to be fairly competitive (regardless of the specialty) due to "location, location, location.”  (3) Whether the program is "unopposed" (meaning it is the only residency training program in a particular institution).


Until Program Directors figure out that the USMLE no longer calculates percentiles for Step 1 & Step 2, your scores will probably continue to serve as “weeders” for programs in determining whom to interview!  They will simply make arbitrary cutoffs based on old percentile interpretations. According to the USMLE, on the 3-digit scale, most scores fall between 160 and 240 with mean scores in the range of 200 to 220. It is important to note that the two-digit score shown on the USMLE transcripts is not a percentile.

So why use them at all?  Program Directors use Board scores to gauge your standardized test-taking skills and your academic capabilities in comparison to a nation-wide population.  This is ultimately important because you will have to pass your specialty boards; graduates of programs who can't pass their boards give the residency program a "black eye."


Most programs will look at your medical school transcript to insure that you have passed all subjects.  If you have had to repeat any preclinical courses or clerkships, be prepared to defend the issue.  Similarly, if you have extended your curriculum you will need to defend the reasoning.

• PD's are impressed by honors markers in clerkships--particularly in their field.

• AOA is a "golden handshake"

• Dean's Letters typically do an excellent job of describing and fully assessing the performance of students.

Leadership/Extracurricular Activities

• Evidence of meaningful involvement in the community, groups or teams.  They want to see that you can work collaboratively with others.

• Evidence of program development--where you have seen a need and developed a program to address that need or void in the community or the school.

• Involvement in extracurricular activities is a bonus as long as your grades haven't suffered because of being over-extended, and as long as the activities aren't just CV "filler".


• PD's want residents who are self-motivated, confident, and who have a clear idea of why they want to pursue a career in this specialty. 

• PD’s want residents who have appropriate professional and social behavior.


• Is always a bonus.  It demonstrates to a PD that you have a spirit of scientific inquiry, that you have background in the scientific method, that you are organized and interested in furthering your own knowledge base and skills.  Research need not have been published to demonstrate all of this.

What do Program Directors look for?


You are welcome to ask for hospital review for residency. We will be providing them to those who ask them first.

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The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) sponsors USMLE.
The Three Steps of the USMLE
Step 1 tests the important concepts of basic sciences basic to the practice of medicine. It also places special emphasis on principles and mechanisms underlying health, disease, and modes of therapy. Step 1 ensures mastery of the sciences that provide a foundation for the safe and competent practice of medicine. It also tests the scientific principles required for maintenance of competence through lifelong learning.
Step 2 CK tests the medical knowledge, skills, and understanding of clinical science essential for the provision of patient care under supervision. It also includes emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention. Step 2 CK ensures that due attention is devoted to principles of clinical sciences and basic patient-centered skills.
Step 2 CS tests your capacity to practice and provide good medical service in real-life situations. It also tests your communication skills.
Step 3 tests your medical knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science essential for the unsupervised practice of medicine. Step 3 provides a final assessment of physicians assuming independent responsibility for delivering general medical care.


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