How to match into an orthopedic residency

an unofficial guide

Orthopedic surgery continues to be one of the most competitive specialties.  NRMP 2015 match data shows that of the allopathic medical students, only 75% of those who applied to an orthopedic residency were accepted, making orthopedic surgery one of the hardest specialities to match into, second only to vascular surgery.  How do you make yourself a top candidate?

There are three major components to a successful match :

1. Be a qualified applicant 

This is what will get your foot in the door.  With so many applicants jockeying for each open position, your board scores and grades matter.  Programs may or may not have board score cutoffs but a low USMLE Step I or COMLEX Level I score is a red flag.  Research experience is another area that can set you apart.  Publishing can be difficult while concomittantly shouldering your schoolwork but having published research demonstrates that you are a motivated applicant that looks for additional opportunities to challenge themselves.

2. Build a clinical reputation

This aspect is more elusive.  This helps programs judge what type of resident you will be.  While many types of people can get good scores, not everyone is cut out to be an orthopedic surgeon.   If your CV is not impressive, this is the area where you can make up some ground.

There are three ways to build your reputation: Letters or phone calls of recommendation, face to face, and word of mouth.  The best letters of recommendation are written by people that know you well.  Reach out to orthopedic surgeons early to connect, shadow if possible, and ask questions.  In developing mentorships, you’ll not only have career guidance but a champion for your application.  Remember that a well timed phone call from your mentor to a program director is worth more than the best letter.  Your face to face reputation is forged mostly on away rotations with your prospective residencies.  It is tough to be under the microscope for weeks at a time but use this site to learn how to shine while working in with patients.  Lastly, the orthopedic world is smaller than you think and word travels.

3. Master the application process

The application process is the last piece of the puzzle.  No matter how well you have prepared, applications and rank lists must be thoroughly completed and submitted by the appropriate deadlines.  There are two components here to spend extra time on.  Your personal statement shows the admissions committee the person behind your impressive CV.  In a sea of applications with top scores and extracurriculars, the personal statement is your opportunity to make the numbers and bullet points tell a compelling story.  The interview is perhaps the most important part of this component.  The way you handle yourself on that day will leave an impression on those who ultimately make the rank lists.

Putting in extra effort to make yourself a competitive applicant is hard but well worth it.  Orthopedic surgery is an incredibly gratifying and expanding field.  We use our hands (and lots of really cool tools) to get our patients back to what they love doing!

Click on the links below to start optimizing your chances at a successful match.

What phase of medical school are you in?  

Choose from the options below to get catered content.

Preclinical | MS1&2

Becoming an orthopedic surgeon starts with a good foundation.  Begin here if you are in your preclinical years of medical school for tips on how to get a head start.

Preapplication | MS3

The preparation you do here will determine how well your application year goes.  Start to plan your fourth year and amp up your orthopedic knowledge.  Begin here if you are in your third year of medical school or are a late convert to orthopedics.

Application Year |MS4

Learn how to impress on rotations.  Get tips on the application process, interview, and ranking.  Begin here if you will be applying this year as an MS4 or nontraditional applicant.

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