PURPOSE: Integrated plastic surgery residency positions continue to grow at a soaring rate. From 2013 to 2017, the number of available positions rose from 116 to 159. Despite this increase, the caliber of applicants has remained competitive. While numerous publications highlight the attributes of a successful applicant, few look at program characteristics that appeals to applicants. Our study aims to elucidate program attributes are attractive to applicants at the beginning and end of their interview season, and how the importance of these attributes may change during the process.
METHODS: An ASPS endorsed survey was distributed to applicants applying for an integrated plastic surgery position at the beginning of the 2017 interview season. Program attributes were individually rated from 1–9, 9 being most important and 1 being least important. A follow up survey was sent out after the interview season before match day to the same cohort to compare differences over time.
RESULTS: Out of 199 surveys, 76 were returned for both the initial and follow up survey. 49% of the applicants were female, 51% male. The most important factors to choosing a residency program in the beginning of interview season were perceived good fit with residents, good fit with faculty, strong program leadership, surgical case volume and fellowship placement. The least important factors were small program size, strong burn training, clinical rotations at a VA or free-standing children’s hospital and feedback from other current applicants. Comparing program characteristic scores before and after interview season, there was a statistically significant decrease in importance of both strong burn training (p=0.01) and strong cosmetic training (p=0.03). Furthermore, feedback from other current applicants had a significant increase in importance (p=0.04). Other attributes such as good fit with residents and faculty, strong program leadership, high surgical case volume and fellowship placement showed minimal change and maintained high scores throughout the study.
CONCLUSION: Some of the best and brightest medical students continue to apply for positions in integrated plastic surgery residencies. While this is fortuitous for programs and the specialty as a whole, we would be remised not to explore what the applicants deem important in a training program. It is not surprising that fit with residents and faculty, strong leadership and high operative volume are core values for a successful match. However, it is interesting to see that applicants began to value feedback from fellow applicants more at the conclusion of the interview season. It was also insightful that the more attractive applicants who received 10+ interviews placed a higher value on larger programs as well as a strong microsurgery and hand experience. As we continue to evolve our training paradigm, our understanding of our applicants should be kept current to ensure we continue to attract the best candidates available.