Applicant Perspectives on the Otolaryngology Residency Application Process

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It has been nearly 25 years since medical students were queried regarding their perspectives on otolaryngology–head and neck surgery (OHNS) residency selection. Understanding this viewpoint is critical to improving the current application process.


To evaluate the perceptions of 2016 OHNS residency applicants regarding the application process and offer suggestions for reform.

Design, Setting, and Participants

In this cross-sectional study of anonymous online survey data, a 14-question survey was designed based on resources obtained from a computerized PubMed, Ovid, and GoogleScholar database search of the English language from January 1, 1990, through December 31, 2015, was conducted using the following search terms: (medical student OR applicant) AND (application OR match) AND otolaryngology. The survey was administered to 2016 OHNS residency applicants to examine 4 primary areas: current attitudes toward the match, effect of the new Otolaryngology Program Directors Organization personal statement mandate, sources of advice and information, and suggestions for improvement. In January 2016, an email was sent to 100 program directors asking them to distribute the survey to current OHNS applicants at their institution. One follow-up reminder email was sent in February 2016. A link to the survey was posted on the homepage on January 28, 2016, with the last response received on March 28, 2016.

Main Outcome and Measures

Survey responses regarding the residency application process.


A total of 150 of 370 residency applicants (40.5%) responded to the survey. Of these, 125 respondents (90.6%) noted applying to programs in which they had no specific interest simply to improve their chances of matching. Applicants intended to apply to more programs than they actually did (63.6 vs 60.8; r = 0.19; 95% CI, −0.03 to 0.40). Program directors advised fewer applications than other sources; however, 58 respondents (38.7%) did not receive advice from a program director. A total of 121 respondents (80.7%) found online program information to be insufficient. Finally, 90 of 140 respondents (64.3%) noted that they would agree to a hard cap on applications, among other suggestions for improvement.

Conclusions and Relevance

Several main themes emerged from the data, providing a foundation for process improvement opportunities: careful consideration to applicant mentorship, including peers; uniform set of criteria for residency program websites; and investigating alternative match platforms, which may allow hard caps, flagging programs of higher interest, or wave application cycles. Overall, the otolaryngology applicant provides a unique perspective regarding the current state of the match and potential opportunities for system-wide improvement.

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