Application Process applying
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Latest Match Data 2003

Registrations 922 with 800 CAS participants (number who submitted apps)
Rank Lists 650 with 629 ranked (number who interviewed and submitted rank lists)
Matched 434 (US Seniors = 365, US Grads = 40, IMGs = 29)
Unmatched 216
Avg. Step 1 of those Matched = 228
Pct. Matched who were AOA = 22%
Pct. Matching overall = 67% (82% for US Seniors)

2. The Application Process

Q1: How do I apply?

Ophthalmology residency programs participate in the Ophthalmology Match Program (OMP), which is run by the San Francisco Matching Program (www.sfmatch.org). Detailed information regarding match registration, program listings, timetables and the Central Application Service (CAS) may be found at the Match Program Website.

Match registration forms become available in May.

The online directory of current programs is available after registration (the complete version as opposed to the shortened public directory). SF Match may be contacted the following ways:

Phone: 415.447.0350
Fax: 415.561.8535
Email: [email protected]
Regular Mail: P.O. Box 7584
San Francisco CA 94120-7584
Overnight Mail: 655 Beach Street
San Francisco CA 94109


Q2: When do I apply?

Each program should be contacted individually since they may have additional application materials or requirements. Usually the contact information is found at their website. Also, some programs accept applications at any time, while others may have set a deadline. In general, it is suggested that applications be submitted to the Central Application Service by late August.

The CAS target date is August 15th.

It is the applicant's responsibility to contact training programs for individual deadline dates. Rank order lists are due by mid-January, and Match results are announced in late January (usually 1 week after the deadline). Click here for more information from SF Match. Of course, the earlier you can send your materials in, the better. This is because some programs begin offering interviews as soon as your application is received. It's recommended to start your application earlier than May if you have the time. That way, when the applications become available, you already have drafted your personal statement and CV. Also, it takes awhile to gather letters of recommendation, and oftentimes recommenders want to see your statement and CV to assist them when writing your letter.


Q3: Where should I apply?

You should apply where you are going to fit in best. Take into consideration the following items:

In no particular order:

  • where you want to live for 3 years
  • climate
  • family support (are most of the residents married or single)
  • strength of the program/academic reputation
  • amount/quality of teaching (do you like lectures or would rather see more patients or learn independently)
  • Boards pass rate/OKAP
  • surgical volume
  • research/fellowship opportunities (is your goal academic practice or private practice or a mix of both)
  • schools (if you have children)
  • number of residents (small vs. large)
  • contacts or previous resident recommendations (a great resource)
  • job opportunities (the region where you train is where you'll have the most connections when looking for a job)
  • contingency (unless you're a superstar, it would be prudent to apply to all types of programs: top-tier, mid-tier, and so forth to improve your chances of matching)


  • Q4: How many programs should I apply to?

    The average applicant sent out 38 applications and went on approximately 8 interviews, according to SF Match in both 2002 and 2003. Depending on your academic record and your desired location, applicants generally feel comfortable with around 30-50 applications and 10-15 interviews (the average seemed to be 12). Based on your academic record and your desired location, you may wish to apply to more or fewer programs. Generally, the coasts and the big-name programs (see rank lists next page) are more competitive.

    Also, some programs may require an additional supplemental application. Check their website.


    Q5: Who should I ask for recommendations?

    Typically, you will need three letters of recommendation. It is imperative that your letters are strong. Usually your medical school mentor/docent/counselor will be actively involved with your education and be able to write an excellent letter. This letter should be from the person who is most familiar with your abilities and persona.

    A second letter can be from some rotation, preferably a director of service, in which you received an Honors grade (hopefully ophthalmology). A third letter from someone in ophthalmology is not an absolute necessity but is probably the best. Usually the chairman of a department will be familiar with the person and be able to pass judgment based on the strength of the letter. It may also afford a personal call on your behalf if necessary.


    Q6: What are residency programs looking for in an applicant?

    In addition to AOA, strong Board scores (90th percentile or higher would be ideal), and Honors grades/GPA, letters of recommendation are carefully looked at. Wording in these letters can make or break the likelihood of receiving an interview. Research is a definite plus (almost a necessity nowadays). Having written or participated in research is something that will give your application an edge over another (i.e. ARVO, AAO, abstracts, case reports, posters). Also, residency programs want someone who will get along well with the other residents, who will be reliable, and who is committed to ophthalmology. This should come through when reading your personal statement.


    Q7: Should I do an "away" elective?

    An away elective is not a necessity contrary to popular belief. If, however, your medical school does not have a strong ophthalmology presence, an away rotation will serve many purposes. You can determine if ophthalmology is truly your passion and is what you want to do for the rest of your life. It can also provide that third letter of recommendation or that research project that can put you over the top. It is difficult to do a research project in a short away elective, but if set up in advance, and with some serious elbow grease, it can be done.


    Q8: When will I be interviewing?

    Most interviews take place in November and December (except Thanksgiving and Christmas time). Some programs also interview in October or January, but it is not as common. Generally, each program has only a limited number of interview days available and will, therefore, have limited flexibility. They usually contact you by email or phone to offer you anywhere from one to six interview dates. If you don't hear from a program by October, it is helpful to contact them to see where your application stands.

    Some will interview candidates in large groups (~30) and some will interview only a few (~8) on a given day. Some schedule only a single short interview session (range 10-30 minutes) and others will construct a full-day program with multiple interviews (range 1-6 interviews). If possible, when traveling to an unfamiliar city for an interview, give yourself some free time to explore the city so that you can evaluate not only the program but its environment as well. It is better to fly in the night before if possible, because weather problems may delay at least 1 flight in extreme winter weather areas.


    Q9: What qualities in a residency program should I be looking for?

    In no particular order:

  • what is the reputation of the program (ophthalmology specifically)
  • can you do a fellowship coming out of this program
  • does it have a manageable number of residents (range is 2-10)
  • are all of the subspecialties represented (retina, glaucoma, cornea, plastics, peds, neuro, refractive, path, uveitis, etc.)
  • are the staff interested in teaching or do they have to be there as part of their job (full-time or part-time or volunteer)
  • surgical experience (75 supervised cases are more worthwhile than 200 unsupervised ones), around 100-120 cataracts seems to be the average
  • staff supervision in surgery (are they actively teaching you)
  • staff supervision in clinics (or are you learning from your third year/fellow, who may not teach you correctly or may not be motivated to teach you)
  • call schedule and support (one day at a time or one block at a time, do they throw you in or help you at the beginning, are you in-house)
  • teaching clinic tools (slit lamp video, indirect ophthalmoscope video projection, surgical videos, etc.)
  • autonomy
  • breadth of surgical volume (cataracts are important, but look at the other subspecialties to get an overall sense of the surgical volume)
  • lecture series (daily, weekly, weekends, evenings)
  • preparation for board exams (separate course or lectures throughout the year, do the residents have enough time to study for OKAPs)
  • lots of didactics (how many hours per week--you only have three years to learn everything)
  • didactics actually happen (not just scheduled)
  • talk to some of the staff off the record
  • recommendations from prior students from your school (a helpful resource)
  • is the program accredited for a long duration or are they on or about to be put on probation
  • is the program on the rise or declining (look for growth)
  • are new staff well-mixed with older staff, or is it an aging department (ask about future changes in the program, chairman situation)
  • are the staff inbred or are there staff who trained at multiple different programs
  • do you have to travel to an institution far away to fulfill a surgical requirement


  • Q10: What is the difference between a four-year program and a three-year program?

    You must complete 1 year of postgraduate training (also known as your PGY-1 year) before you may begin a PGY-2 position in Ophthalmology (first year as an ophthalmology resident). Many programs require that you find a PGY-1 position at another institution. Other (integrated) programs include a PGY-1 within their training. Applicants who match to integrated programs in the OMP Match will begin training at the same program for their PGY-1 training. There are very few of these combined programs left.

    If you match at an integrated program through the OMP, even though your PGY-1 slot is guaranteed, it is important that you submit your rank list to the NRMP listing that program as your first choice. If you match to an Ophthalmology program that does not include a guaranteed PGY-1 position, you must find your own PGY-1 position elsewhere through the NRMP Match.


    Q11: Does it make a difference if I do a transitional or preliminary year?

    Possibly. The transitional year is fully funded by the government as a separate year and does not decrease funding to the subsequently chosen subspecialty institution. This funding advantage for the transitional year is particularly important to the subspecialty programs where residents train after their transitional year. Transitional Programs also allow for more elective time, which can be helpful if one wishes to rotate through ophthalmology clinic during his or her intern year. Also, the transitional year is accredited by a separate resident review committee, insuring high standards for those programs meeting the requirements.


    Q12: Any advice for the Regular Match Scramble?

    There are three things that you need when scrambling:

    1) Fax machine
    2) Cell phone
    3) People to help you

    The list of unmatched spots is released to everyone at the same time. The list has the name of the program, the number of spots, and the general phone number. You need to call those places and see if they have an opening. Oftentimes, they want to know your board score, and then they want some materials to verify what you say. Usually they will ask you to fax it. This is why you need your own working fax machine--the first item. Relying on using the schoolís is risky because it is public. You might have to wait to use it, losing precious time. It can run out of ink/paper. So you should have your own all ready to go. Second, you need a cell phone so that you can keep the person talking while you fax your materials. Itís hard to reach the programs since everyone is calling at once. Ask for a separate phone line and fax number not listed in the unmatched spots booklet. That way, you have a better chance of reaching someone rather than hearing a busy tone all of the time. Third, you need people to help you. Have the Dean's Office help you call other programs. The scramble fills fast. Everything desirable is gone by the first evening. Once your materials get there, the program director will grant you a phone interview, which you should take and decide immediately if that is where you want to go. There is no time for calling many places and then comparing. Unfortunately, you need to go for the ones you think are best first, and then sign their faxed commitment form once you are ready. If you do not, someone else will. The main hurdle is communicating with the programs. ERAS is usually overloaded, and programs are receiving endless faxes. So you need to have all of your relevant application materials in front of you, and somehow work it out with the person on the phone--ask them to provide you with an unlisted fax number so your faxes will go through.


    Q13: What fellowship positions are available?

    The fellowship positions offered through the Ophthalmology Fellowship Match are:

  • Anterior Segment & Refractive Surgery
  • Cornea and External Disease
  • Glaucoma
  • Ophthalmic (histo-) Pathology
  • Neuro-Ophthalmology
  • Pediatric Ophthalmology
  • Retina-Vitreous--very competitive
  • Medical Retina
  • Uveitis/Immunology
  • Oculoplastics (NRMP Match)--highly competitive
  • Miscellaneous--i.e. ocular oncology, genetics, epidemiology

    If you plan on further postgraduate training, it is important to go to a place that will help you succeed in the fellowship match.


  • Q14: What is the match rate?

    The match rate statistics for January 2002 from SF Match listed 78% of US seniors matched (65% overall). Almost 1/4 do not match, making ophthalmology quite competitive. For the January 2002 match, 805 CAS participants (applicants) submitted 671 rank lists (interviewees) for the 438 spots (successful matches). The match rate has been decreasing from a peak of 94% match rate in 1996. The average matched USMLE score in 2002 was 225.

    Scroll to the top of the page to see the new 2003 statistics.


    Q15: What is the average number of applications a residency program receives?

    This number varies a lot. On average, most programs have 3 positions available. Usually programs receive anywhere from 250-500 applications. Interviews can vary from 20-90. The interview ratio most commonly is about 10 to 1. The numbers vary based on openings, reputation, location, applicant pool, etc. One must remember, however, that many students are applying to multiple programs.


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    Rohit Krishna, MD ([email protected])
    Sabates Eye Center