In an Annals of Emergency Medicine paper, Preiksaitis et al. sought to identify program factors associated with unfilled post-graduate year 1 (PGY-1) emergency medicine (EM) positions in the 2023 Match . The authors completed a cross-sectional, observational study using National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) data and examined 9 variables as potential predictors of unfilled PGY1 positions using regression analyses .
The authors identified 6 program characteristics associated with unfilled EM PGY-1 positions in the 2023 Match:, smaller program size (< 8 residents), Mid-Atlantic or East North Central location in the United States, prior accreditation by the American Osteopathic Association, unfilled positions in the 2022 Match, and corporate ownership structure. Program type, length, proximity to other programs, and first accreditation year were not predictive characteristics. Many of these findings were similar to a study of the 2022 EM Match results by Murano et al., as well as an analysis of the 2023 Match by Pupazan and Cook in Emergency Medicine News [3,4].
The unprecedented numbers of unfilled PGY-1 EM residency training positions in the NRMP Match results shocked the specialty these last two years. In 2022, unfilled PGY-1 positions totaled 219 (7.9%), and 554 (18.4%) positions were unfilled in 2023 [2,5]. In contrast, the greatest number of unfilled PGY-1 positions in the last decade was 30 (1.2%) in 2019 . A staggering 131 (47%) EM residency programs had unfilled PGY-1 positions among in 2023 .
What does this mean for the future of EM?
Who knows? We can’t make such predictions based on data from only 1 Match cycle. We need to closely follow these numbers in the coming years to fully understand trends in student behavior and program expansion. EM was once considered a competitive specialty, but the current supply/demand mismatch of positions to applicants now suggests otherwise. Without a significant influx of additional applicants, the high unfilled rate for EM is likely to continue for the next several years. This has implications for the composition of the EM physician workforce and its adequacy to meet the rising demand for emergency services.
Is student disinterest the problem?
Many have focused on changes to specialty preferences by students as the major driver in these dramatic Match results. However, the decrease in applicants to EM programs may not be the whole story. 2021 was an unusual outlier in the EM Match, likely fueled by the unique circumstances surrounding the COVID pandemic. Comparison of today’s applicant numbers to data from 2021 gives a false impression of applicant numbers. In fact, the average number of applicants between 2015-2020 and 2022-2023 were relatively similar, with the latter demonstrating 122 more applicants (2,801 vs 2,923). However, between 2015 and 2023, the number of available EM positions grew, with an annual addition of 149 PGY1 positions. Although the establishment of new EM programs is often cited as the source of this growth, anywhere from 25-50% of these new positions were due to the expansion of existing residency programs over several different years. With these data in mind, it makes sense to consider the program factors associated with unfilled residency positions and ensure that we don’t exclusively focus on improving recruitment.
What can residency programs do in this upcoming Match cycle?
Programs that have one or more of the characteristics identified in this study are at risk of being unfilled in the Match once again in the next cycle. Many of these characteristics are immutable. Deliberate actions are required to mitigate the risk:
- Interview more candidates
- Submit a longer Rank Order List
- Optimize program website and digital presence
- Broaden online recruitment efforts to target students in other regions of the country
- Enhance marketing efforts for medical students at nearby schools
- Improve the ‘brand experience’ for visiting students and applicants on interview day
What can we do to help recruitment for our specialty?
Excerpted from the paper, “The most impactful elements of student recruitment to our specialty remain unchanged: student mentorship and exposure to the elements of emergency medicine that make for a rewarding career.”
- Mentor pre-clinical medical students to build early interest in the field
- Describe your love for the specialty during ED shifts with students
- Remain positive when interacting with students
- Don’t role model burnout on shift
- Explain the limitations of recent EM workforce projections
In conclusion, the landscape of the EM Match is shifting, evidenced by the startling numbers of unfilled PGY-1 positions in recent years. Our deep dive into the factors contributing to these outcomes shed light on several program characteristics associated with unfilled positions. It’s important, however, not to let these figures contribute to a panic regarding the future of EM.
Sure, the increase in vacant spots seems unnerving at first glance, but there’s context to be considered. The surge in EM positions and the relatively steady number of applicants speaks volumes about the supply-demand dynamics at play, something that will require a detailed exploration in its own right. Data points like these do not exist in a vacuum. They’re part of a larger, interconnected system influenced by myriad factors — from medical school experiences to external forces like the pandemic, the changes in the employment structure of many emergency departments, and the current landscape of the healthcare system in general.
Absolutely, the key mission of EM – providing quality care to everyone, at any time – stays constant even as we face these challenges. Remember, even though there were 554 unfilled positions from the 2023 Match, an impressive 90.4% (501 positions) were filled during the Supplemental Offer Acceptance Program (SOAP) . For now, the current workforce and pipeline of new emergency physicians appears stable.
While it’s important to understand and address the dynamics of recruitment, our main goal should always be the training of new doctors. Right now, there are 2,957 interns just starting out who need our guidance and support. They’re the future of our specialty, and our priority should be to help them become the best emergency physicians they can be. Despite the ups and downs of the Match process, let’s not lose sight of our most important job: training the next generation of EM physicians.