More Lessons from the 2016 Residency Match Data: Are Outside Experiences Important?


Last week on the blog, we discussed the NRMP report on the outcomes of foreign medical graduates in the 2016 Main Residency Match. To create this report, the NRMP tracked the rates of match success for foreign medical graduates based on a number of key measures, such as program ranking choices and test scores. As we mentioned in last week’s post, there are clear lessons that you can learn from the data on ranking choices and test scores as a foreign medical graduate preparing for a U.S. medical residency.

However, when it comes to the report’s information on foreign medical graduates’ outside experiences, the implications of the raw data are less clear. Read on for more about how you can understand the numbers and apply the information to maximize your chances of match success as a foreign medical graduate.

Statistics on the Outside Experience of Matched and Unmatched Foreign Medical Graduates

As a foreign medical graduate, you might find yourself asking the question of whether or not it is important for you to get outside research and/or work experience before you apply for a U.S. medical residency program. At the outset, the data in the NRMP report doesn’t seem to provide much help in answering that question. For all the different types of outside experiences that the NRMP measured, the average numbers for matched and unmatched foreign medical graduates was almost exactly the same. Consider the following statistics:

  • For foreign medical graduates who were matched in 2016, the mean number of research experiences was 2.2. For those who were unmatched, the mean number of research experiences was also 2.2.
  • For unmatched foreign medical graduates, the mean number of abstracts, presentations, and publications  was 6.4 — slightly higher than the same statistic for matched candidates, which was 6.1.
  • The mean number of work experiences was 5.3 for matched foreign medical graduates and 5.5 for unmatched candidates.
  • For foreign medical graduates who were matched, the mean number of volunteer experiences was 3.5, as compared to 3.4 for candidates who were unmatched.

When you look deeper into the data and examine these same statistics broken down by specialty area, the numbers only get more confusing. For some specialty areas, the mean number of experiences reflects the overall average — about the same for matched and unmatched candidates. There are only a few where the average number for matched candidates significantly outweigh those for unmatched candidates. There are even some specialty areas where the average number of experiences is considerably higher for unmatched applicants.

What the Statistics Mean for You as a Future US Medical Residency Applicant

Considering these statistics can be daunting for foreign medical graduates. Based on the data, it just isn’t clear whether having more outside experiences — or any at all — can truly help you in the matching process.

One of the reasons why it is so hard to draw conclusions from the data is that averages are prone to skewing. Consider the data for abstracts, presentations, and publications. While the average for both matched and unmatched candidates was around 6, nearly 40 percent of the of the applicant pool of foreign medical graduates in 2016 had no publications at all. This indicates that certain applicants are skewing the data, so if you have less than 6 publications, it doesn’t mean you fall short of the “average” applicant.

Ultimately, the main takeaway from the NRMP data about outside experiences is that the number of outside experiences you have does not really matter. What matters is the quality of the outside experiences — and your ability to illustrate that quality on your application. An outside experience can be worthwhile if you can weave it into your personal statement — writing about how it has prepared you for your residency and how it has influenced your career goals — or if you can get a letter of recommendation from a supervisor or mentor who can speak to your excellent performance during the outside experience. Otherwise, if the outside experience is just a line item on your CV, it probably won’t make much of a difference for whether or not you end up getting matched.

Thus, one of the best options for an outside experience is a clinical externship in the United States. Completing a clinical externship in the United States is ideal because it shows residency programs that, as a foreign medical graduate, you are already comfortable working in a clinical setting in the United States. After completing a clinical externship, you may also be able to get a letter of recommendation from an attending physician in the United States, which is preferred (or even required) by many U.S. medical residency programs.


If you’re interested in completing a clinical externship before you apply for a U.S. medical residency program, FMG Portal offers 3-month and 6-month externship options in a wide range of specialty areas. Contact us today for more information!