The State of the Otolaryngology Match: A Review of Applicant Trends, “Impossible” Qualifications, and Implications

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ObjectiveThis State of the Art Review aims (1) to define recent qualifications of otolaryngology resident applicants by focusing on United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) scores, Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) status, and research/publications and (2) to summarize the current literature regarding the relationship between these measures and performance in residency.Data SourcesElectronic Residency Application Service, National Residency Matching Program, PubMed, Ovid, and GoogleScholar.Review MethodsElectronic Residency Application Service and National Residency Matching Program data were analyzed to evaluate trends in applicant numbers and qualifications. Additionally, a literature search was performed with the aforementioned databases to identify relevant articles published in the past 5 years that examined USMLE Step 1 scores, AOA status, and research/publications.ConclusionsCompared with other highly competitive fields over the past 3 years, the only specialty with decreasing applicant numbers is otolaryngology, with the rest remaining relatively stable or slightly increased. Additionally, USMLE Step 1 scores, AOA status, and research/publications do not reliably correlate with performance in residency.Implications for PracticeThe consistent decline in applications for otolaryngology residency is concerning and reflects a need for change in the current stereotype of the “ideal” otolaryngology applicant. This includes consideration of additional selection measures focusing on noncognitive and holistic qualities. Furthermore, otolaryngology faculty should counsel medical students that applying in otolaryngology is not “impossible” but rather a feasible and worthwhile endeavor.

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