A new tool for insight on EM programs: Residency Explorer

Authors: Jennifer Lee MD, PGY-2 at Cook County Emergency Medicine Residency, and Liza Smith MD, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Medical Center on behalf of the Advising Students Committee in Emergency Medicine (ASC-EM)

The Residency Explorer is a new tool developed in a joint effort from a number of organizations including the AAMC, AACOM, AMA, NBME and NRMP that was launched in June 2019 and will be available for use until the end of November 2019. It was designed to help applicants navigate across 11 specialties, including Emergency Medicine, with the purpose of providing insight on residency programs as well as helping to compare one’s personal profile to applicants that matched at a respective program using historical NRMP data.

Applicants obtain access to Residency Explorer via an AAMC account. Before getting started, the student fills out a “Personal Profile” that includes board exam scores (USMLE and/or COMLEX) in addition to the number of work, volunteer, publications, and research experiences. Applicants can also include accomplishments such as induction into the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Honor Society or the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS). There are then two ways that an applicant can use this tool.

The first option allows applicants to choose any number of programs that he or she may be interested in and download an excel document that includes:

  1. Matched Applicant characteristics, including all of the factors listed in the personal profile.
  2. Resident outcomes, which include the percentage of residents of a particular program pursuing academics, fellowship, or other career options.
  3. Comparisons, which shows where an applicant stands in relation to matched residents at a program

The second option allows applicants to view a program individually allowing for the same comparisons as the first, but giving applicants a better sense of where they fall on the curve for each given statistic. Furthermore, it provides a more detailed description of the program’s diversity, including a breakdown by both race and gender.

While this tool takes into account a lot of data, it is worth asking whether it is taking into account the right data.  For Emergency Medicine applicants, the Standardized Letters of Evaluation (SLOEs), along with EM rotation grades, are reliably cited by the Program Director’s survey as the most important factors taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to invite a student for an interview. Neither of these variables can be represented on the Residency Explorer tool, which seems to focus on quantity of experiences held in lesser regard by program directors. 

Additionally, new programs and programs that have just transitioned to ACGME accreditation will not have generated enough historical data to generate comparisons. And while the Residency Explorer can help students generate a list of programs they might be interested in, it does not have a mechanism for sorting programs by other important factors, such as length of training (ie 3 vs. 4 years), typical shift length, or the number of shifts per month.  

The purpose of the Residency Explorer tool–to help students find programs that match applicants like themselves–recognizes that finding a good “fit” is an important part of a successful application strategy.  As with all of these tools (EMRA Match, eMATCH, etc), Residency Explorer is most effectively used in conjunction with knowledgeable EM advising, which it says explicitly in a disclaimer on its home page. Further refinement from this year’s trial of the working prototype may offer more perspective on how to best incorporate this tool and better understand its functionality and limitations.

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