Plastic surgery is among the most competitive specialties, yet little is known about the characteristics of programs that are most attractive to successful applicants. This study queried recently accepted plastic surgery residency applicants to derive insights regarding program characteristics that are most influential to students when ranking programs.1,2
An anonymous online cross-sectional survey was conducted with newly matched plastic surgery residents for the integrated and combined 2012 and 2013 National Residency Matching Program. Subjects were queried regarding their demographics, qualifications, application experiences, and motivations for residency program selection.
Integrated plastic surgery residency training remains highly competitive, bringing new challenges to applicants and program directors.3 A total of 92 of 245 (38%) matched plastic surgery residents responded to the survey. Fifty percent of respondents matched at their first choice and 75% matched within their top 3 choices. The perception of resident happiness was the most positive factor influencing program ranking, followed by high operative volume, faculty mentorship, and strong research infrastructure. Community faculty involvement was also considered to be a positive. Perception of a program as “malignant” was the most negative attribute. Few resident benefits and an unattractive resident call room were also undesirable. In our study, applicants considered training in burn surgery to be of least importance in their ranking process, which may reflect the diminished time devoted to burn management in our programs. Furthermore, applicants did not favor extended time in general surgery at the cost of increased experience in plastic surgery. Despite the common public perception that plastic surgery is mainly a cosmetic subspecialty, applicants expressed an earnest preference to learn reconstructive surgery. Applicants with step 1 scores >245 received significantly more interviews (19.5 vs 11.5, P = 0.001) and considered geographical locations to be more important (P = 0.005). Applicants who published >2 articles also received more interviews (P = 0.001) and ranked a strong research infrastructure and program reputation as significantly more important (P < 0.05). Although program websites had little effect on an applicant’s rank list order, the website may facilitate an applicant’s initial impression of a program or may facilitate pursuit of an away rotation. Unfortunately, residency program websites often lack information to allow applicants to use the recruitment tool effectively. Forty-two percent of applicants completed an away rotation at the program with which they matched, and these applicants were more likely to match at their number 1 ranked program (P = 0.001). Location and ease of communication with the program coordinator were the most important factors in choosing where to do an away rotation.
Applicant feedback can be used to improve the application and interview process. Perception of resident happiness was the most positive factor influencing program ranking, followed by high operative volume, faculty mentorship, and strong research infrastructure. This study highlights the importance of resident happiness and camaraderie, operative and relationship-driven training, research, and away rotations. These trends can be used to guide programs for improvement in attracting the best applicants.
1. Atashroo DA, Luan A, Vyas KS, et al. What makes a plastic surgery residency program attractive? An applicant’s perspective. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2015;136:189196.
2. Mahabir RC, Gray R. Discussion: What makes a plastic surgery residency program attractive? An applicant’s perspective. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2015;136:197198.
3. Rogers CR, Gutowski KA, Munoz-Del Rio A, et al. Integrated plastic surgery residency applicant survey: characteristics of successful applicants and feedback about the interview process. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2009;123:16071617.