Preference Signaling in the Orthopaedic Surgery Match: Applicant and Residency Program Attitudes, Behaviors, and Outcomes

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JB JS Open Access


INTRODUCTION: The orthopaedic surgery match has experienced a consistent increase in both the number of applicants and applications submitted per applicant. Preference signaling was implemented during the 2022 to 2023 application cycle in part to curtail the rising application burden on both applicants and residency programs. Our aim was to explore the impact of the preference signaling system on applicant and residency program leader attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes.

METHODS: We distributed surveys to American Orthopaedic Association/Council of Orthopaedic Residency Directors member program leaders (program directors, assistant program directors, and program coordinators) and applicants registered for the Electronic Standardized Letter of Recommendation after Universal Interview Offer Day 2022 (Fall Survey) and Match Day 2023 (Spring Survey). The surveys contained multiple-choice and numeric response questions on attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes that were analyzed and reported as percentages and medians, respectively. Open-text responses were reviewed for dominant themes.

RESULTS: One hundred program leaders and 378 applicants (47%) completed the Fall Survey, and 146 program leaders and 290 applicants (36%) completed the Spring Survey. A majority of applicants (71%) and program leadership (91%) support the continued use of signaling. Applicants reported a 16% reduction in the number of programs to which they applied. Program directors largely used signaling as a tool for screening applications (75%), with few programs using signaling in the ranking process (20%). Applicants reported that 81% of their interviews were from programs they signaled. Slightly more than half of programs (53%) reported filling their last slot at a higher rank order position than the average of the previous 5 years. Qualitative analysis suggests a need for more transparency in the use of signals, consideration of application and/or interview caps, and reconsideration of the other components of the application.

CONCLUSION: Preference signaling in the orthopaedic surgery match was met with positive feedback and led to a reduction in the number of applications. Future research will examine the continued impact of preference signaling and assess alterations for optimizing the match process.

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