Maicon [not his real name] writes
My friend wanted to be an orthopedist, but his grades and USMLE scores were just average for medical school—Step 1 was 215. He applied last year, got some interviews but didn't match. He started a research fellowship in ortho at an academic center and re-applied. I tried to tell him to defer applying until he finished the fellowship so he could have something to show for it other than, "I started a fellowship and working on blah blah blah." This year, he got fewer interviews and failed to match again. During all this, I had advised him to also apply to general surgery, but he always resisted. He now has decided to try for an unfilled general surgery preliminary position.
I realize this is an elaborate discussion however you would be doing a major service for many applicants of this kind who have nothing to go on other than delusions or conspiratory paranoia.
Sad to say, but this happens every year.
The advice to do a year of orthopedic research was misguided. He has just wasted a year of his life.
I'm not sure what goes on in orthopedics. However, in a recent post on how general surgery program directors select residents, I noted that previous research experience was extremely low on the list of criteria as was having done a preliminary general surgery year.
I wonder how many who do a research year succeed in getting an orthopedic residency position. My guess would be less than 5%, if at all.
He should be honest in his application for the general surgery non-designated preliminary position. The program directors will know the truth anyway. The good news is that there are over 450 unfilled positions this year and not enough bodies to fill them.
The bad news is that these positions can be dead ends in many cases. That is, your friend could do a year or two of preliminary surgery and then have no access to a third-year categorical spot. Another issue is that in some programs, non-designated prelims are treated like second class citizens by being given all the scut rotations.
There is some hope though. Here's a paper that found an amazing rate of success for non-designated prelim surgery residents obtaining categorical positions, but it's from Mass General. Abington Memorial Hospital reported surprisingly good outcomes. Yale's results weren't quite as good. UC-Denver also had some mixed results. There could be some publication bias here. Programs with dismal records of placing prelim trainees may not have chosen to report their experiences.
If he does obtain a preliminary spot, he must work very hard and do very well on the general surgery in-training examination in the hope that someone drops out or is cut from a categorical position and that he will be selected to replace that individual. If not, he will chalk up one or two more wasted years.
A backup plan for a different specialty career should be in mind in case he is unable to eventually secure a categorical general surgery position.
My feeling is that if an applicant doesn't match in a dream specialty, he should forget about a year of research, scrap that dream, and move on.
As always, comments are welcome.