Doximity is a social network that includes a comprehensive database of more than 1 million US physicians1. Since 2014, the website has published residency program rankings for 28 different specialties, including orthopaedic surgery. Residency program rankings provide medical students, residents, and attendings a quantitative reference point with which to compare training programs2. The highly visible Doximity rankings are especially influential among medical students who are applying for residency. In 2017, 62% of all applicants to 24 Mayo Clinic residency programs reported that they referenced Doximity rankings during the application process, and 79% reported that the rankings affected their residency applications, including the decision to accept an interview invitation, and match lists3.
Doximity program rankings are formulated from 3 components: (1) reputation surveys completed by board-certified physicians in the corresponding specialty, (2) resident and recent alumni satisfaction surveys, and (3) an objective measure of alumni research output, which includes alumni publications and alumni clinical trial participation2,4. Because of the subjectivity of some of these components, the Doximity ranking system is not a completely objective evaluation of residency programs. Even the objective components may not always be accurate. One ophthalmology program published a letter to the editor to report that the information on their Doximity program page did not correlate with their internal data, which raised concern about the validity of Doximity data5. Furthermore, a recent study by Feinstein et al. found that larger program size was predictive of a higher Doximity rank across 16 specialties, which suggests that larger programs may rank higher by virtue of having more alumni to fill out the surveys5,6. Wilson et al. found that Doximity rankings only loosely correlated with board pass rate and alumni publications among general surgery programs, raising concerns about the validity of these subjective reputation surveys as a measure of program quality2. A similar result was found when comparing the Doximity program rankings in dermatology with an objective ranking that uses a different set of academic measures to generate a ranking of dermatology residency programs7. Only half of the dermatology programs appeared in both the top 20 of the Doximity rankings and the top 20 of the objective dermatology ranking7.
Because Doximity rankings often impact medical student, resident, and physician perception of training programs, it is worthwhile to evaluate how these rankings compare against other objective standards. Subjective physician surveys are a major component of Doximity rankings, so it is uncertain whether they accurately gauge program quality. Outcomes-based measures may provide a more objective and accurate means of program assessment. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate how Doximity rankings of orthopaedic surgery residency programs compare with an outcomes-based ranking of programs based on academic productivity. This study also evaluated whether program size and type were associated with academic productivity.
Materials and Methods
An observational study was performed in August 2021 to evaluate how Doximity orthopaedic program rankings, size, and type correlated to academic productivity. Publicly available Doximity data were used to collect program rank, size, mean percent of alumni clinical trials, and mean percent of alumni publications. Data on program type (university, university/community, community, or military) were collected from each program's page in the Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database Access System.
All 201 orthopaedic residency programs in the United States were assessed. Twenty-six programs were excluded because of missing data, leaving 175 programs for inclusion in the study. Programs were excluded from the study if they were missing one of the metrics used to calculate academic productivity. The mean academic productivity score and the SD from the mean were calculated for each program by averaging the mean percentage of alumni clinical trials and mean percentage of alumni publications as reported by Doximity. The mean academic productivity score was used as on objective measure to assess one aspect of program quality: research output. These data were taken directly from each program's Doximity page, which relies on alumni Doximity profiles to calculate alumni publication percentage and alumni clinical trial percentage.
Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed in Microsoft Excel (Microsoft) to determine whether academic productivity was associated with program reputation, size, and type. Variables were considered significant if p < 0.05. If a significant association was found, post hoc analysis was performed using a simple t test.
One hundred seventy-five (87.1%) of 201 orthopaedic residency programs in the United States had Doximity pages that included all relevant information and were therefore included in the study. The mean academic productivity score of all programs was 56.4 ± 19.6 (range = 26.5-96.5). The mean program size was 24 ± 9.7 (range = 10-70).
Programs were divided into quartiles based on Doximity rankings, with 44 programs in quartiles 1, 2, and 3 and 43 programs in quartile 4. Programs in the top quartile had an academic productivity score of 79.1 ± 13 (range = 51-98.5), while programs in the bottom quartile had a score of 38.8 ± 12.1 (range = 26.5-62) (p < 0.0001) (Fig. 1). Post hoc analysis demonstrated that there was a statistically significant difference between academic productivity in programs in the first and second quartile (p = 0.0001), first and third quartile (p = 0.0001), and first and fourth quartile (p = 0.0001). There was also a statistically significant difference in academic productivity in programs ranked in the second and fourth quartile (p = 0.0001) as well as the third and fourth quartile (p = 0.0001). There was, however, no difference in academic productivity between programs in the second and third quartile (p = 0.4683) (Table I).
TABLE I -
Post hoc analysis: comparing mean academic productivity of Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4 programs
|Q1 vs. Q2
||Q1 vs. Q3
||Q1 vs. Q4
||Q2 vs. Q4
||Q3 vs. Q4
||Q2 vs. Q3
|p < 0.0001
||p < 0.0001
||p < 0.0001
||p < 0.0001
||p < 0.0001
||p = 0.4683
Each program was ranked based on the academic productivity score calculated during analysis. Of the 44 programs in the top Doximity quartile, 32 (72.7%) were also ranked in the top quartile for academic productivity; 10 programs (22.7%) were ranked in the second quartile, and 2 programs (4.6%) were ranked in the third quartile. None were ranked in the bottom quartile. Of the 43 programs in the bottom Doximity quartile, 26 (60.5%) were also in the bottom quartile for academic productivity; 12 programs (27.9%) were in the third quartile for academic productivity, and 5 programs (11.6%) were in the second quartile on Doximity. None were ranked in the top quartile.
Programs were also divided into 4 groups based on the number of residents. Twenty-three programs (13%) had >30 residents, 67 (38%) had 21 to 30 residents, 72 (41%) had 11 to 20 residents, and 13 (7%) had ≤10 residents. Programs ranged in size from 10 to 70 residents, with an average size of 23.9 residents. Programs with more than 30 residents had an academic productivity score of 76.2 ± 14.8 (range = 47.5-97.5), whereas programs with 10 or fewer residents had a score of 40.6 ± 16.3 (p = 0.0001) (range = 26.5-76) (Fig. 2). A statistically significant association was found between program size and academic productivity score during ANOVA (p < 0.01). The mean size of programs ranked in the first quartile by Doximity is 33.8 ± 25.6 residents, whereas the mean size of the bottom quartile of programs on Doximity is 16.9 ± 5.1 (p = 0.0001).
During post hoc analysis, there was a statistically significant difference in academic productivity between programs with >30 residents and programs with 21 to 30 residents (p = 0.005), 11 to 20 residents (p = 0.0001), and <10 residents (p = 0.001). Programs with 21 to 30 residents also had significantly higher mean academic productivity (64.5 ± 17.2) than programs with 11 to 20 residents (45.4 ± 13.8) (p = 0.0001) and programs with less than 10 residents (40.6 ± 16.3) (p = 0.0001). However, there was no significant difference in academic productivity for programs with 11 to 20 residents (45.4 ± 13.8) and programs with less than 10 residents (40.6 ± 16.3) (p = 0.2663).
Programs were classified based on the type of program. There were 103 (59%) university programs, 49 (28%) university/community, 15 (9%) community, and 8 (5%) military affiliated. In the top quartile of programs ranked by Doximity, 39 (88.6%) were university programs and 5 (11.4%) were university/community programs. There was a significant difference in the academic productivity score based on program type: university (63.9 ± 14.8), military (54.7 ± 16.9), university/community (46.3 ± 15.6), and community (38.7 ± 15) (all p < 0.01) (Fig. 3). University programs had significantly greater academic productivity than university/community programs (p = 0.0001) and community programs (p = 0.0001). There was no significant difference in academic productivity between university and military programs (p = 0.1733) or community and community/university programs (p = 0.1053). Military programs had significantly greater academic productivity than community programs (p = 0.0375), but not university/community programs (p = 0.1794).
This study demonstrates that academic productivity of orthopaedic surgery residency programs was significantly associated with Doximity ranking, program size, and program type. In addition, there was a significant difference between the academic productivity of programs in the first quartile and every other quartile. Although reputation and satisfaction surveys are a part of the Doximity ranking methodology, the objective measure of academic productivity is also a significant factor. Notably, there was no difference in academic productivity between programs in the second and third quartile. These 50% of programs in the middle of the rankings are not significantly different in academic output, suggesting that reputation surveys may play a more decisive role in determining how these programs are ordered.
Medical students frequently reference Doximity to obtain information about orthopaedic residency programs, and survey results suggest that the these rankings are taken into account by most applicants during the residency application process3,8,9. However, in a 2018 survey of 2,152 residency applicants nationwide, most students expressed concerns about the accuracy of Doximity rankings, with 58% responding that the rankings may be either “slightly accurate” or “not accurate”3. In another study from 2016, 65% of emergency medicine applicants responded with negative comments when asked for their assessment of the accuracy of Doximity rankings8. These findings suggest that, although program reputation and Doximity rankings are highly influential among medical students, students are aware of the limitations. This study provides more context for Doximity rankings by demonstrating that academic productivity was significantly associated with Doximity ranking, program size, and program type.
When Doximity rankings were compared with academic productivity, this study found that programs ranked in the first quartile on Doximity had significantly greater academic productivity than every other quartile. These findings show that although reputation and satisfaction surveys are major components of the ranking methodology on Doximity, the rankings still correlate with an objective standard. Most programs ranked in the top quartile on Doximity (72.7%) were also in the top quartile for academic productivity. Likewise, 60.5% of programs in the bottom quartile on Doximity were also in the bottom quartile for academic productivity.
Notably, there was no significant difference in academic productivity between programs in the second and third quartile. This suggests that subjective measures may play a more decisive role in determining how these middle programs are ranked by Doximity. This is corroborated by the results of a recent study by Esmaeeli et al., who found significant differences in the academic characteristics and academic achievements of anesthesiology program directors in the first quartile of Doximity rankings compared with quartiles 2 to 410. The study found fewer differences between quartiles 2, 3, and 410. Similarly, in 2018, Zhang et al. found that faculty members at plastic surgery programs in the first quartile of the Doximity rankings had a significantly higher mean number of publications than faculty members in quartiles 2 to 411. These objective measures demonstrate that residency programs among various subspecialties ranked in the first quartile on Doximity have greater academic productivity than the other quartiles and suggest that the differences between the other quartiles may be less significant10,11. The top quartile programs are also more likely to have more residents and may have more resources in general to devote to research.
In contrast to the findings of this study, in 2014, Wilson et al. found only a “moderate correlation” between Doximity reputation rankings and an outcomes-based ranking of general surgery programs2. These data suggest that Doximity rankings may better correlate to objective standards in orthopaedic surgery than general surgery, or that the Doximity ranking methodology has changed in the past 7 years. Since the precise ranking formula has never been published by Doximity, it is not possible to know whether there were any alterations. Greater transparency regarding the ranking methodology used by Doximity would allow medical students and others who rely on them to have a better understanding on how the system ranks programs.
Orthopaedic surgery training programs vary widely in number of residents (range = 10-70). The findings of this study showed that programs ranked in the top quartile by Doximity had a larger mean number of residents than those in the bottom quartile. This result is in accordance with a 2019 study by Feinstein et al., which found that larger program size was predictive of a higher Doximity ranking6. Results from Esmaeeli et al. in 2021 also demonstrated that program size was strongly correlated with program rank10. The correlation between program size and Doximity ranking raises concerns that the reputation surveys may be more advantageous to larger programs, who have more alumni to survey. The rankings may then favor these larger programs, regardless of program quality or objective outcomes. In response to these concerns, this study did demonstrate that when comparing with one objective measure, larger program size is associated with a higher academic productivity score, and thus, Doximity rankings may be objectively correct by favoring larger programs.
As residency programs evolve and affiliations change, the difference between program types may sometimes be difficult to determine12. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires programs to identify as either university, university/community, community, or military13. The criteria to decide a program “type” are subjective, and this label may change over time12. Although the distinction between different program types is not absolute, this study did find a significant difference between the academic productivity of university and university/community programs. This is also reflected in the Doximity rankings, where 89% of orthopaedic surgery programs in the top quartile were identified as university programs. The results of this study demonstrate that type of program does have concrete implications for academic productivity.
The consideration of Doximity residency rankings raises the question of how a medical student can best evaluate an orthopaedic surgery residency program. The limited number of publicly available resources for comparing different programs helps contribute to the prominence of the Doximity rankings, despite their inherent flaws. In the absence of other resources, medical students will use what is available to them. However, in addition to their subjective nature, the Doximity rankings fail to consider important factors to medical students such as the quality of instruction in each subspeciality, the demographic makeup of the program and its efforts regarding diversity/inclusion, and the fellowship/career outcomes of its graduates. These measures are difficult to quantify, but most would agree are more important to medical students than alumni research output.
This study has several limitations. First, the data used to calculate a program's mean academic score were taken from each program's Doximity page and could not be independently validated. These data are based on the Doximity profiles of program alumni, which may not accurately reflect the entire research output of a residency program. Second, the Doximity profiles of the orthopaedic programs do not publish data regarding the program's mean Orthopaedic In-Training Examination scores or average number of operative cases. These variables, among others, would provide more objective data to rank orthopaedic residency programs. The mean academic progress score is also part of a program's overall Doximity ranking and is not the ideal measure to compare these rankings with an objective measure. However, considering the influence of the Doximity rankings and the lack of data available to compare residency programs, we do believe this study offers some insight into how the rankings work.
Although Doximity rankings are subjective because of the reliance on survey data, academic productivity among orthopaedic residency programs is associated with Doximity ranking, program size, and type. This information can be used by medical students, residents, and physicians to understand the Doximity rankings and how they correlate with this objective measure.
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