Tips for Ranking Residency Programs

FEBRUARY 23, 2017
In 2016, 1330 PGY1 pharmacy residency programs filled 3310 positions through the annual applicant-programing interview ranking process sponsored by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, known as "The Match." On March 3, 2017, eager candidates will submit a list of programs, ranked in order of preference, and eagerly wait until March 17, 2017 when the results of The Match are released. Some candidates can rank the programs at which they interviewed with confidence and ease. However, for many students, the task that will play such an important role into the future of their careers can be daunting. For those still trying to determine how to sort out the programs, the following considerations may be helpful.

1. Only rank those programs where you want to go to and could complete the full year committment of the residency. These are words of wisom that have been passed down almost as long as pharmacy residency programs have existed. It is considered widely unprofessional to quit a pharmacy residency except under extreme unforeseen circumstances. If you have any hesitation at all that you could complete the year with a particular program, it is better to abstain from including it within your rank list. The old phrase "pharmacy is a small world" continues to be true, even as the number of graduates from pharmacy schools increases every year. You should only include programs where you are 100% confident that you can fullfill the responsibilities required for residency graduation.

2. Rank according to where you want to go, not according to what programs you think are likely to rank you. The matching algorithm places priority on matching candidates based on their preferences. Attempts are made to place the candidate in programs according to their rank list, only moving sequentially through the list if higher ranked programs have already matched all of their positions. Because this priority is weighted more heavily towards the candidates, it is better to rank according to the most desired positions to increase the likelihood of matcing with a program that will be the best experience for you.

3. Consider your interactions with the residency program director before, during, and potentially after the interview. The Residency Program Director (RPD) will be one of the most important people in your life for the next year. For many, the bonds developed during the residency year continue well beyond residency status into and throughout their careers. The relationships often go beyond the typical boss-employee affiliations. Though not entirely parenteral, the RPD often resembles a familial and mentor role. Utilize your impressions of the RPD in all of your interactions to consider if they are someone that you could develop that level of trust and confidence in.

4. Contemplate the relationship that the program's current residents had with each other and with the preceptors. The period of time that interviews for pharmacy residencies historically occur (January and February) typically coincides with the most stressful and busiest portion of the residency year. It is a time when rotations and staff requirements continue to build, research projects are usually at their peak, and the residents themselves are working to secure positions for thier lives post-residency. Observing close and cordial relationships during this hectic time can provide you good insight into what level of support you might have when you yourself are in working through that brief, but potentially taxing part of the residency year.

5. Contrast "the little things" each program requires. Most programs have some level of staffing committement, major research project, and medical use evaluation. However, there are many smaller tasks that differ widely among programs but have the potential to impact your workload and quality of life. Examples may include differing types of required presentations, administrative duties such as attending meetings and recording meetings, inventory responsibilities, and on-call requirements. Although it is important to consider each of these tasks as important learning opportunities, it is helpful to consider which will contribute most to your professional growth.

6. Compare "the little things" each program provides. It may not seem like much, but the little benefits that some programs offer can dramatically improve the quality of of life for its residence. It is important to consider if having a dedicated computer for each resident is important to you or if you feel like you can work just as well in a more communal office environment. Parking, including the location and cost, is an often an afterthought, but one issue that will rise in importance early in the residency year. Some programs offer perks such as allocations for cafeteria purchases, money to by long laboratory coats, funds to attend multiple professional meetings, licensure reimbursement, library services, and fitness facility access. Some of these benefits may appeal to you while others may not be as important.

7. Do not underestimate the importance of the program's ability to meet your professional goals. It is important to consider how fixed the program's rotations are and what level of flexibility exists in the curriculumn. This is particuarly true for candidates who are still unsure of what area of pharmacy they ultimately would like to work in. As the residency year progresses, you will often find that you enjoy certain areas more than you every thought you would, and other specialities that you thought you would love are not as stimulating as you had imagined. A certain amount of candidates are fully confident in where their professional direction is headed and can handle a more fixed schedule. For those with less certainty, a more flexible enviorment may be preferrable.


The decision of how to rank residency programs is an important one. A careful, thoughtful, and holistic approach should be used to determine how this should be done. Candidates should discuss their observations, goals, and personal considerations with family, mentors, and trusted others who can help them prepare their submission. After that, sit back and wait for the results to be revealed. If you have given sufficient thought to your rank list, you know that you will be happy with any program that you may match with.




Reference
1. National Matching Services Inc. Available: https://www.natmatch.com/ashprmp/

Marilyn Bulloch, PharmD, BCPS
Marilyn Bulloch, PharmD, BCPS
Marilyn Novell Bulloch, PharmD BCPS, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Auburn University School of Pharmacy and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama School of Medicine College of Community Health Sciences Department of Internal Medicine. She completed a post-graduate pharmacy practice residency at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital and a post-graduate specialty residency in critical care pharmacy at Charleston Area Medical Center in Charleston, West Virginia. Dr. Bulloch also completed a Faculty Scholars Program in geriatrics through the University of Alabama-Birmingham Geriatric Education Center in 2011. She serves on multiple committees and in leadership positions for many local, state, and national pharmacy and interdisciplinary medical organizations.
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