How Hard is the Neurosurgery Match? A Look at the Data.

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Session 56

Neurosurgery follows the rules of economics. There are very few spots, so it is really competitive to get into. We covered the NRMP Match data for Neurosurgery.

Neurosurgery is one of those residencies that are super hard to get into. Ryan has had an academic neurosurgeon previously on Episode 20 of this podcast.

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Let’s dive into today’s data…

All information here are based on the NRMP Main Residency Match 2017, Charting the Outcomes 2016, Medscape Lifestyle Report 2017, and Medscape Compensation Report 2017. Ryan walks you through the data along with some commentaries. So you will know what it means and what it looks like and what you should be thinking about if you’re interested in Neurosurgery.

[02:30] Match Summary for 2017

Looking at Table 1 of NRMP Main Residency Match 2017 Summary, Neurological Surgery is how they list it. For this field, they have 0 unfilled programs. This means lots of people are applying for neurosurgery and they’re getting filled. There are 107 programs. Comparing this to other fields, Emergency Medicine has 191 programs and Anesthesiology with 124 programs.

So for neurosurgery there are 107 programs and 218 positions. It’s just over two spots per program. Comparing this to Anesthesiology, it has 124 programs and 1202 positions. This is almost 10 spots per program.

This said, there are not a ton of spots and programs for neurosurgery, but every program is super small on average. As you think about your journey, and you’re dead set on being a neurosurgeon, all this data shows that you need to well.

[Tweet “”If you’re dead set on being a neurosurgeon, you better buckle down for medical school…to make sure you have great board scores, great grades.””]

So for U.S. Seniors there are 212. Again, U.S. Seniors here means that it’s somebody who’s an allopathic/MD still a senior in school. So this doesn’t include U.S. Grads who are now taking a gap year, doing research, or doing something else who have graduated.

There are 311 total applicants for those 218 spots. Through this episode, Ryan will discuss where these other 99 students are coming from. And out of those U.S. Seniors, 183 matched. So it’s 83.9% U.S. Seniors matching in an allopathic medical school. This tells you that they’re favoring students at allopathic medical schools.

[06:45] Summary of Students: U.S. Seniors, U.S. Grads, IMGs, Osteopaths

Table 2 shows where these students are coming from. Again, 83.9% of those that matched are U.S. Seniors. And 15% of those students are U.S. Grads. This means they probably took a year off or they didn’t match their first time around so they did research or whatever. There are 2 osteopathic students and 4 U.S. citizen international medical graduates matched into neurosurgery.

Looking at this data, is going to a Caribbean school better than going to an osteopathic school? Thinking this alone is wrong. You can’t draw these conclusions as to why the numbers say so. If all four of those students when to a DO school, they might have still matched because of who they are, not the letters after their name.

[Tweet “”You can’t draw conclusions that says going to Caribbean school, Australia, or Ireland better than going to a DO school if you want to match into neurosurgery.””]

Non-U.S. citizens international medical graduates are 14 of those that matched. They are obviously strong students who crushed their boards that they were able to match almost as many students as U.S. graduates.

[09:22] Yearly Trends

Table 3 shows the yearly trend showing a slow, steady incline every year for the number of positions from 204 to 218 over the last five years. It’s a 0.8% increase every year from 2013 to 2017.

Looking at Table 8 shows the number of positions offered and the percent filled by U.S. Seniors versus all applicants.

For 2017, 83.9% were U.S. Seniors and the numbers are pretty high every year. In fact, this is the lowest year since 2013. It’s 92.6% in 2016, 89.5% in 2015, 91.7% in 2014, and 93.1% in 2013.

This tells you a couple of things. That for 2017, less U.S. Seniors matched percentage-wise for the total number of positions offered. This tells you that either there were less qualified students applying this year or there are more qualified non-U.S. Seniors applying this year.

Table 9 gives you scope of how big a specialty is. For neurosurgery only 0.8% of all applicants matched into neurosurgery. There are a total of 27,688 students and 100% of those students are matching. Another surgical subspecialty that is low is ENT with 1.1%. Not a ton higher but still higher.

[Tweet “”Out of the 27,688, only 0.8% of those are matching into neurosurgery. So it’s a very, very small specialty.””]

[12:35] Unmatched U.S. Seniors and Independent Applicants, SOAP

Looking at Figure 6, Neurosurgery has an unmatched percentage of 20.6% so one out of every five students is not matching into neurosurgery. 55.4% of the independent applicants go unmatched. So it’s a large percentage of that are non U.S. Seniors. Only 10.4% of U.S. Seniors are unmatched.

Comparing this with other specialties, plastic surgery is 16.3% for U.S. Seniors, Dermatology is at 13.8%. This is a high percentage but not the highest.

Table 18 shows the SOAP (Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program). Neurosurgery had 0 unfilled programs so no neurosurgery programs needed to participate in SOAP.

[14:00] Charting the Outcomes 2016

Digging into the Charting the Outcomes 2016, looking at percent match by preferred specialty, Chart 3 shows that 76% of U.S. allopathic seniors matched into it. This the third lowest. Vascular surgery is 71%, Orthopedic surgery is 75%. This tells you that it’s one of the most competitive specialties out there, at least for U.S. Seniors.

Table 2 talks about the mean USMLE score for Step 1 and Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge) versus CS (Clinical Skills). The mean USMLE Step 1 score for all specialties combined for those that matched was 233 and 230 for those that did not match. Keep these numbers in mind.

[Tweet “”To match, you have to rank a lot of programs. The more programs you rank, the higher the chance that you will match.””]

Chart 4 shows that in Neurosurgery, the median number of contiguous ranks is at 16 while those that did not match only had a median number of 11. So you need to rank enough programs to match. If you want to match, you cannot be very picky. Are these people not ranking programs because of location? Or prestige? Or are they not ranking programs because they just didn’t interview there and decided not to rank them. So there are many questions there.

Again, the data is just data. You can’t draw conclusions based on this data. We can only make some inferences and discuss what is behind these numbers. But there is no way of knowing specifically why the numbers are what they are.

[17:23] Ranking by Specialty and Step 1, Step 2 Scores

Ryan always tells students that if you want to be a physician, don’t have a plan B of being a PA. Don’t have a Plan B of being an NP. Don’t have a plan B of using your Biology degree or something else. If you want to be a physician, figure out how to get there.

[Tweet “”Don’t have a plan B of being a PA… If you want to be a physician, figure out how to get there.””]

Chart 5 talks about the mean number of different specialties ranked by U.S. Allopathic Seniors. This tells you that those who have a plan B did not match at a much higher percentage in most instances than those that didn’t have a plan B. Looking at Neurosurgery, the mean number of different specialties ranked was 1.1. This means a  large majority of students only ranked neurosurgery on their rank list. The mean number of those that did not match was 1.4. It means there are more of those students putting in different, most likely, surgical specialties. If you’re applying for neurosurgery, that means you like the operating room. This probably means you’re applying for maybe general surgery as a backup. And that back up might hurt you. Psychologically, it might hurt you. And the data shows it leans that way.

Chart 6 looks at Step 1 scores. The mean Step 1 score for all specialties was 233. For neurosurgery, the mean Step 1 for those that matched was 249. Those that did not match was closer to 238. So you need to have great board scores to match into neurosurgery on average. The same thing for Step 2 scores. The mean Step 2 scores for all specialties was 244.8. For those that matched into neurosurgery, the number was upward to 251-252. For those did not match, it’s closer to 242.

[Tweet “”You need to have great board scores, if you’re planning on being competitive for neurosurgery.””]

[20:21] Scores, Research, Publications, AOA

Table NS-1 shows that Mean USMLE Step 1 Score is 249 for those that matched and 238 for those that did not. Step 2 Score is 251 for those that matched and 241 for those that did not match. Research experience is 4.8 versus 4.2. Number of abstracts, presentations, and publications for neurosurgery is 13.4 for those that matched versus 8.4 for those that did not. This tells us that research is very important for neurosurgery.

[Tweet “”Research is very important for neurosurgery.””]

The number of students that are AOA (the medical student honor society) based on grades, almost 33% of those that matched were AOA versus only 11.5%. It’s not just about having the AOA label, but having the grades that made you competitive and that led you to AOA. It means having the grades to give you the knowledge to do well in the boards. So you can look at this thinking you have to be AOA but you have to have a solid foundation of scientific knowledge of all those courses you’ve taken in medical school. And this leads to AOA. But it also leads to great board scores. So it’s not just AOA.

So 9.5% of those that matched have a PhD degree versus 7% who did not. Mean number of contiguous ranks is 15.7% of those that matched versus 10.2% for those that did not match. Again, you need to rank a lot of programs to increase your chances of matching.

[22:27] Burnout Rates and Compensation

Moving on to the data of Medscape Lifestyle Report 2017, Neurosurgery is not on the list since there are only a few number of them. And looking at Medscape Compensation Report 2017, it’s the same thing, Neurosurgery did not have enough representation to be in this list.

Anecdotally, Neurosurgery is one of the highest paid specialties out there. If this is something that’s motivating you, which shouldn’t be, neurosurgery is up there. Based on the NRMP Match Data, it’s very hard to get into neurosurgery. But if this is what you want to do, start now. Make sure you have a solid foundation of your classwork. Get AOA as much as possible and get great board scores. Get those connections to neurosurgery programs. Make a great impression as you go through this process.


MedEd Media Network

Specialty Stories Podcast Episode 20

NRMP Main Residency Match 2017

Medscape Lifestyle Report 2017

Medscape Compensation Report 2017

Charting the Outcomes 2016

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