Elizabeth Lawrence, MD, FAAFP; Associate Director, USF/MPM Family Medicine Residency; Medical Director, Turley Family Health Center; Associate Professor, USF Dept of Family Medicine; Clinical Assistant Professor, FSU Dept of Family Medicine; Diplomate, American Board of Obesity Medicine
Family medicine is a growing field, with the number of residency positions available in the United States increasing every year for the last 11 years. In the 2020 match, 13.7% of the positions were for family medicine, while the national goal based on need for primary care is to increase this number to 25% by 2030.
Once you’ve determined that Family Medicine is the specialty for you, it’s time to start exploring its many facets and selecting experiences that will improve your chances of matching in family medicine. To make yourself a more competitive applicant, review what you’ve already accomplished in each of the categories below, then lay out a plan to develop each one further.
Certainly grades and test scores matter. Residency programs often use Step 2 scores as a benchmark to separate students into tiers. With Step 1 now pass/fail, passing Step 2 on your first attempt is critical, with a higher score improving your chances of matching in family medicine. Take time to prepare for this exam and get help in advance if standardized test-taking is a challenge for you.
Thankfully, test scores are not all that matter. Perform at your peak on your family medicine clerkship and acting internship. Schedule rotations at sites you are interested in for residency. This enables them to evaluate your clinical and interpersonal skills and you to evaluate them as a potential fit for you for residency.
Once on rotation, express your interest in family medicine and in that particular residency program. Show eagerness to learn and jump in to help at every opportunity. Ask for feedback, then be sure to demonstrate you’ve incorporated that feedback. You want your evaluation to reflect strong clinical skills and work ethic and also to earn a glowing letter of recommendation.
Many students pursuing family medicine have never considered themselves to be leaders. However, think of running for a leadership position as a way to challenge yourself, develop new skills and confidence, and increase your chances of matching in a family medicine residency. A Family Medicine Interest Group or student-run free clinic is a natural choice, but any leadership activities are beneficial.
Family physicians value service. To increase your chances of matching in family medicine, give back to your community in some way that is important to you. This should include medical service such as volunteering at a free clinic but may encompass any type of service. Keep track of your service experiences; you will need this later for your application.
Having research experience helps round out your application, especially if it is weaker elsewhere. Pursuing research, whether bench or clinical, is the path to having presentations and publications to list on your CV. Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. Ask how you can help in preparing a poster or manuscript for publication to gain scholarly writing experience. Research participation is also a great way to make connections and find mentors.
Serving as a Teaching Assistant or working/volunteering as a tutor or mentor demonstrates that you have subject matter mastery and are proficient at communicating and conveying information clearly to others – both valuable attributes in a family medicine resident.
To improve your chances of matching in family medicine, spend time on this task! Your personal statement is your opportunity to tell your story. Be interesting. Share your passion for family medicine. Explain any setbacks you had during your training and, most importantly, how you learned and grew from those experiences.
Ask a strong writer to edit this for you and give you feedback. Grammatical errors or a poorly written statement convey the message that you do not have a strong work ethic and/or do not attend to details.
Here’s your chance to showcase your activities outside of academics in the domains described above. Detail your involvement and especially describe those activities which were significant time commitments or in which you held a leadership role. Don’t skimp on listing volunteer, employment (even non-medical), teaching, and research activities.
List any honors/awards you earned. Share something about your personal interests and hobbies so programs can get a sense of who you are and what you enjoy. Residents are interested in connecting with other residents outside of work.
Letters of Recommendation
Secure 4 strong letters of recommendation with at least 2 or 3 of them from family physicians. Invest time in building a good relationship with those you intend to request letters from. Show them your best work and demonstrate engagement and enthusiasm for family medicine. Ensure they know you are applying to family medicine and specify that in their letter. Ask if they are comfortable writing you a strong letter of recommendation If not, move on to someone else.
Interpersonal skills are huge in improving your chances of matching in family medicine! Practice your interview skills in advance. If your school offers a mock interview session, sign up for it. If not, create your own. Put together a list of questions you might be asked, and have answers prepared. This is especially true for questions about a time you struggled or had a negative interaction or failed a course or exam. Think about how you want to present yourself in the interview. Be mindful of eye contact and body language.
Research your interviewers in advance so you know a little bit about them. This will help you to tailor your questions and to establish a personal connection with each interviewer and staff member. Always have another question ready specific to their program. If people like you, are confident in your clinical skills, and believe you are highly interested in their program, they will advocate for you to match with their residency.
Relationships matter. Choose at least one resident or faculty member from your top residency choices and maintain contact with them. Ask questions specific to their program that demonstrate you have done your research. Ask if it would be possible for you to schedule a second-look visit if you did not complete a rotation there. Make sure they know you plan to rank their program highly. Write thank you notes after interviews!
If you invest time in developing yourself into a well-rounded applicant in each of these areas, you will dramatically improve your chances of matching in your top choice residency in family medicine!
- Medical Students (aafp.org)
- Family Medicine National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Results Analysis (aafp.org)
- Trends in US Medical School Contributions to the Family Physician Workforce: 2018 Update From the American Academy of Family Physicians (stfm.org)