Relative Importance of Applicant Characteristics in Ophthalmology Residency Interview Selection: A Survey of Program Directors

Samuel A. Cohen, Suzann Pershing
Journal of Academic Ophthalmology
Jul 2022

Introduction: Ophthalmology residency positions remain competitive. A lack of clarity regarding which residency selection criteria are prioritized by program directors can heighten the stress associated with the match process. While surveys of program directors in several other medical specialties have been conducted to identify the most important residency selection criteria, there is limited data on selection criteria used by ophthalmology residency program directors. The purpose of our study was to survey ophthalmology residency program directors to identify the current state of interview selection decisions—the factors currently considered most important in determining whether to extend an interview invitation to residency applicants.

Methods: We developed and distributed a Web-based questionnaire to all U.S. ophthalmology residency program directors. Questions evaluated program demographics and the relative importance of 23 different selection criteria used by ophthalmology residency program directors when evaluating applicants for residency interviews (Likert scale 1–5, with 1 being “not important” and 5 being “very important”). Program directors were also asked to identify the one factor they felt was most important.

Results: The overall residency program director response rate was 56.5% (70/124). The selection criteria with the highest average importance scores were core clinical clerkship grades (4.26/5) followed by letters of recommendation (4.06/5), and United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 score (4.03/5). The most frequently cited single most important factor for interview selection was core clinical clerkship grades (18/70, 25.7%), with USMLE Step 1 score (9/70, 12.9%) and rotations at the program director's department (6/70, 8.6%) also commonly reported.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that core clinical clerkship grades, letters of recommendation, and USMLE Step 1 scores are deemed the most important selection criteria by ophthalmology residency program directors as of a 2021 survey. With changes in clerkship grading for many medical schools and changes in national USMLE Step 1 score reporting, programs will face challenges in evaluating applicants and the relative importance of other selection criteria will likely increase.