The Match is perhaps the most unique method of
allocating entry-level positions in any profession in the United
States. Rather than a more informal system of open negotiation
between applicant and residency program, the Match is meant
to be an impartial, detached method of maximizing the preferences
of everyone involved. The Match is conducted using a mathematical
algorithm that attempts to place applicants in their program
of choice and to give programs their applicants of choice.
Match algorithm processes the rank lists of both applicants
and residency programs
The rank list for applicants is a list of residency
programs given to the NRMP by applicants that contains all
programs that the applicant is willing to attend. The rank
list for residency programs contains all applicants whom the
program is willing to accept. Using these two rank lists, the
Match algorithm is processed.
Under the algorithm, applicants list their programs in order
of preference, and programs do the same for their applicants.
The algorithm then takes each applicant and attempts to match
them (hence the name) with their program preference. If the
applicant's first choice program has an open spot, the applicant
is tentatively matched there--at least until an applicant who
is more preferred by that program is reached. Should that second
applicant take the last tentative spot in the program of choice,
the algorithm then attempts to match the first applicant with
his/her second choice program and so on. This sounds more complicated
than it is, but in fact it is meant to be fair to all parties
involved and give all applicants and programs the chance to
get the places and people they respectively want.
Indeed, until 1997, the algorithm was skewed in favor of the
programs such that if a lower ranked program wanted an applicant
more than the applicant's top-ranked program, as evidenced
by the applicant's position on the program rank list, it was
possible for the applicant to match at the less preferred program.
Now, that is not possible, and this certainly is a benefit
to medical students. (However, as a study in JAMA in September
1997 noted, <0.1% of all applicants would have ended up
in different programs under the new algorithm.)
For an example of the Match algorithm at work, visit the NRMP
entire Match process takes about seven months to complete
Applicants to the NRMP Match may register for the
Match beginning August 15 in the year prior to the year they
want to begin residency. Applicants then apply to and interview
at various residency programs that they are interested in.
From there, the rank lists are entered on the World Wide Web
using the NRMP’s Registration, Ranking, and Results System.
The deadline for entering rank order lists is the third week
in February. Over the next two and one-half weeks, the NRMP
processes the rank order lists and runs the Match, culminating
with Match Day--Thursday the third week of March.