To the Editor:
Ongoing concern about the high costs of dermatology residency interviews has led to several cost-saving proposals, as presented by Hussain1 in the Cutis article, “Reducing the Cost of Dermatology Residency Applications: An Applicant’s Perspective.” Additional strategies to reduce applicant costs include eliminating travel costs through video or telephone interviews, interviewing students who are visiting during their away rotation, and developing and implementing a mechanism to exempt students from participating in the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) and the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).2 A potential mechanism for the latter suggestion could be a binding early decision program for dermatology residency. Binding early decision has been successfully employed by medical schools for many years.3 Under this model for dermatology residency, applicants may apply to 1 dermatology residency program by the early deadline and the program would have the option of accepting as many of the early-decision applicants as the number of residency positions in their program permits, allowing nonadmitted and nonparticipating applicants time to apply through the usual ERAS/NRMP cycle. There are several potential advantages to this model that would decrease the number of applicants applying to all the available dermatology residency programs each cycle.
First, because applicants would be limited to 1 application to participate in the early decision program, they must realistically consider the strength of their application and weigh their chances for acceptance to that program. Programs could facilitate the process by becoming more transparent about the type of applicants that have previously matched in their program.2 If an early-decision applicant successfully matches, that applicant would be prohibited from applying to additional dermatology residency programs through ERAS and NRMP during that application cycle.
Second, early-decision actions by programs—probably by August 1, a time when most third-year medical students have completed their academic year—would be determined before ERAS releases applications to residency programs. This timeline would remove successful applicants in the early decision program from going to additional interviews and incurring the associated travel costs.
Third, early decision could be potentially beneficial to applicants who are tied to a specific geographic region for training and to programs with specific program needs, such as expertise in specific areas of dermatology research or areas of clinical need (eg, adding a dermatopathologist, plastic surgeon, internist, or a pediatrician to the residency program who now wants dermatology training) or other program needs.
Fourth, application costs could potentially be lower for early-decision applicants than through the present application process if participating institutions waived application fees. Applicants would still be responsible for submitting requested academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and travel expenses if an on-site interview is requested by the program.
Finally, highly desirable applicants who are offered a position through early decision would result in more opportunities for other applicants to interview for the remaining available residency positions through ERAS/NRMP.
Downsides to early decision for dermatology residency include the inability of applicants to compare programs to one another through their personal experiences, such as prior rotations or interviews, and for programs to compare applicants though the interview process and away rotations. In addition, US Medical Licensing Examination Step 2 scores and Alpha Omega Alpha honor medical society status and other academic honors may not be available to programs to consider at the time of early decision. Cooperation would be needed with ERAS and NRMP to create an early decision program for dermatology residency.
One other potential consequence of the early match could involve instances of strained relationships between research fellows and their sponsoring institution or dermatology program. Research fellows often match at their research institution, and failing to early match could potentially sour the relationship between the applicant and the program, thus leading to a less productive year. However, many programs participating in an early match will probably have additional residency positions remaining in the traditional match that would be still available to the fellows.
The concept of an early-binding residency match process has the potential to save both time and money for programs and applicants. Although an early-match process would have many positive effects, there also would be inherent downsides that accompany such a system. Nonetheless, an early-match process in dermatology has the prospect of efficiently pairing applicants and programs that feel strongly about each other while simplifying the match process and reducing costs for all parties involved.
1. Hussain AN. Reducing the cost of dermatology residency applications: an applicant’s perspective. Cutis. 2019;104:352-353.
2. Weisert E, Phan M. Thoughts on reducing the cost for dermatology residency applications. DIG@UTMB blog. http://digutmb.blogspot.com/2019/12/thoughts-on-reducing-cost-for.html. Published December 23, 2019. Accessed April 17, 2020.
3. Early decision program. Association of American Medical Colleges website. https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/early-decision-program/. Accessed April 8, 2020.