Opening doors for employment in the VA system or academia, acquiring advanced knowledge in a specialty setting, and gaining year’s worth of experience are all alluring advantages to doing a residency, but how does one go about getting a position?
Placement in accredited optometry residencies is managed by National Matching Services (NMS) in the form of Optometry Residency Match (ORMatch). Both applicants and sites register for the program. Following the application and interview periods both parties submit an ordered ranking of their preferred counterparts. An algorithm devised by the NMS then processes these rankings to place applicants efficiently, based upon both parties’ choices. According to the NMS, 479 students participated in matching last year, and 72 percent found a match. The application process begins in early October and match results are released in early March. Most positions begin the following July. Here’s a step by step look at the timeline and the relevant dates for the 2016-2017 cycle.
Before registration day comes, applicants should have a good idea of the residencies to which they want to apply. Narrowing down this list involves making several decisions, the first being in which specialty they would like to gain advanced clinical training. There are currently 11 residency types offered: Family Practice, Primary Care, Geriatric, Cornea and Contact Lens, Vision Therapy, Low Vision, Ocular Disease, Pediatrics, Community Health, Refractive and Ocular Surgery, and Brain Injury Vision Rehabilitation. For those with multiple interests some sites are listed under a pair of types, allowing for experience in both specialties. Location is another prime concern, but with 223 sites offering 429 positions it is likely anyone can find a program within a reasonable distance. Other variables include setting, duties, length, affiliated institution, and stipends or other benefits.
To ease the search, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) provides an interactive directory that allows users to find positions that match their specific criteria. Contact information for the site director is available as well as more detailed information. In addition, ASCO provides a directory of current residents so interested applicants may contact them regarding their experiences. Other great opportunities to learn about residencies include the Residency Forum at Optometry’s Meeting® and Networking Luncheon at the American Academy of Optometry.
Registration Opens October 5, 2016
The final list of programs and positions is made available in early October. Applicants begin by completing the general application, which is sent through ORMatch to all indicated programs. Because supplemental materials vary on a site-by-site basis, they’re sent directly by the applicant. Typically these include CVs, reference letters, a letter of intent or personal statement, transcripts, and NBEO scores. The deadline for ORMatch registration is Dec. 31, 2016, and all applications must be sent by Jan. 31, 2017. However, some sites have earlier deadlines.
Interviews October 2016 – February 2017
Although the early stages of applying are all done through ORMatch, interviews occur completely independent of it. Sites interested in an applicant’s credentials directly contact them to establish an interview date. Scheduling is typically flexible to accommodate applicants’ externships and travel needs. The interview is often considered the most crucial part of the process. While the personnel at the site are able to gauge an applicant’s personality, dedication to the specialty, and interest in their program, applicants are able to judge the facilities and how well they fit into the program and community. Just as different sites require different application materials, interviews vary as well. Be prepared for one-on-one or panel interviews that may include clinical questions. Above all, honesty and being oneself is critical to finding the right fit. Any match based upon false pretenses is bound to go poorly.
At the end of the interview process, both sites and applicants rank only the counterparts with whom they were satisfied. Applicants are not obligated to rank all of the schools they applied to or interviewed with, and vice versa. While the 2016 match statistics indicate matched applicants applied to more programs than unmatched applicants on average, applicants should not rank programs they would not be pleased to match with. If an applicant reneges upon a match, they would be unable to do a residency that year, and will have prevented the site from matching with another candidate. Another mistake is not ranking based upon true preference, but on how applicants believe the site had ranked them. Doing so lowers the chance of receiving their preferred site, and does nothing to increase the probability of matching.
Couples applying for residencies together may also submit their ranks together. This alters their rankings into
pairs by geographical region, which are then ordered by preference. The algorithm then runs potential matches until both applicants are matched in one pair. If just one of the applicants matches a highly ranked site it will be discarded for a lower rank where both applicants match their sites. Couples rankings do not affect any other part of the application or interview process.
Match Results Released March 6, 2017
After all match results are released, sites have 10 business days to send confirmations to their newest residents, who must return them signed within 30 days of the original results release.
Should an applicant find themselves without a suitor when the results are released, there’s still hope! The NMS
releases a list of the unmatched programs to the unmatched applicants and vice versa. Sites and applicants may then directly negotiate with one another to fill positions. Spots are filled very quickly over the course of the next few days, only leaving time for phone interviews. Though it may seem hectic, many residents find rewarding placement in post-match placement each year.
For more information on the process visit natmatch.com/ormatch, opted.org, or speak with your school’s Residency Director!