A graduate of the medical school’s Class of 1997, Christopher Woleben, M.D. (M.D.’97/M), is now associate dean for student affairs at his alma mater. In that capacity, he’s been the architect of a four-year advising program that helps medical students select their paths in medicine and develop career planning skills.
Called Careers in Medicine at VCU, the program is now in its sixth year. Its success can be measured, to a certain degree, by the success rate fourth-year students have had in matching to one of their preferred residency sites in the specialty of their choice.
But even well laid plans have to be responsive to changing conditions.
The Class of 2013 faced a challenging year. Nationally, the number of individuals applying for residency programs increased from 16,526 to 17,487, while the number of training spots remained steady. To complicate matters, the National Resident Matching Program had tweaked the process used to help place unmatched students to unfilled programs. Known as the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, and in just its second year of use, administrators and students were wary of its impact.
To reduce the risk of students going unmatched, Woleben developed a method for tracking the residency match process of his fourth-year medical students. With it, he closely monitored their progress and identified at-risk students so he could intervene.
As students submit their initial application and begin interviewing at residency sites around the country, Woleben periodically surveys them with questions about the number of programs they applied to, the interviews they’ve secured and concerns they might have.
“If you’re able to identify students who may be at-risk for going unmatched earlier in the application process, they can apply to additional residency programs or different specialties to increase their chances of matching,” Woleben points out.
Student participation is voluntary, but Woleben says that participation grows as students see the potential of increasing their opportunity to match.
“In our first year of using the toolkit, the response rate was 45 percent, but it’s since grown to 90‐98 percent.”
This past year, almost 500 U.S. senior medical students failed to match. Despite this, 94 percent of VCU School of Medicine students matched into a residency program, compared to the national average of 93.7. For those students who were unmatched, half received a program offer within the first two rounds of SOAP.
This fall, the Association of American Medical Colleges approached Woleben with the request that he share his process with medical schools around the U.S. Complete with survey questions, an adviser checklist and tips, the M4 Match Survey Toolkit was distributed to the AAMC’s Group on Student Affairs in September.
According to Anita M. Navarro, M.Ed., a research analyst with the AAMC’s Careers in Medicine program, they’ve been getting good feedback on the toolkit. In November, Woleben had another chance to present his toolkit, this time at the 2013 AAMC Annual Meeting in Philadelphia as part of a panel discussion on counseling students at risk for going unmatched.
“Advising a student at risk of going unmatched is a challenge,” Woleben said. “You must be prepared to have a difficult conversation that balances a realistic assessment of their probability of matching with their desire to pursue their specialty of choice.”