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How Many Publications for Residency in 2023

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by Alec Palmerton, MD in Residency

Do you want to know how many publications you need for residency applications? Wondering whether an MD/PhD helps with residency? Or what counts as a publication on ERAS?

In this article, we’ll discuss the all-important topic of research. Specifically, we’ll tackle what is a good amount of research to stand out – and what specialties require the most research to match well.

Summary:

  • Research is an important – and sometimes essential – component of matching to any specialty
  • Publications in the form of abstracts, research articles, or presentations are one measure used to view one’s suitability for a career in each specialty
  • The most competitive specialties require the most research
  • MD-PhDs have a modest advantage in matching in any given specialty. It’s unclear whether this advantage is due to the degree itself or to the fact MD-PhDs typically have more time to devote to research
  • Other non-PhD degrees like MPHs and MBAs have no clear benefit in terms of matching – and may even be seen as a disadvantage for some fields

Table of Contents

How Many Publications for Residency: Specialty Averages

Trying to figure out how many publications you need for residency applications? Based on the 2022 Charting Outcomes in the Match reports, we can see the average number of abstracts, presentations, and publications for matched US seniors for each specialty.

how many publications for residency

How many publications for residency: average by specialty, along with the number of research experiences

Here are the same data in a table:

SpecialtyMean number of abstracts, presentations, and publications, US Senior (Matched)Mean number of abstracts, presentations, and publications, US Senior (Unmatched)Percentage who have Ph.D. degree, US Senior (Matched)Percentage who have Ph.D. degree, US Senior (Unmatched)Mean number of research experiences, US Senior (Matched)Mean number of research experiences, US Senior (Unmatched)
Anesthesiology6.64.42.00.93.73.1
Child Neurology7.42.021.30.03.82.0
Dermatology20.915.76.05.07.26.1
Diagnostic Radiology8.07.24.23.44.63.8
Emergency Medicine5.12.71.20.03.22.0
Family Medicine4.12.60.802.41.9
General Surgery8.65.32.31.34.74.0
Internal Medicine6.93.54.72.03.62.8
Internal Medicine/Pediatrics6.55.52.20.03.52.8
Interventional Radiology12.27.24.99.55.53.8
Neurological Surgery25.511.711.47.86.65.9
Neurology7.87.69.40.03.93.8
Obstetrics and Gynecology6.85.01.51.14.43.6
Orthopaedic Surgery16.512.11.51.16.65.4
Otolaryngology17.211.03.60.07.36.5
Pathology8.51.722.30.03.43.0
Pediatrics5.65.93.55.63.22.4
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation6.23.91.50.03.63.0
Plastic Surgery28.413.82.21.26.15.9
Psychiatry6.24.24.62.93.42.8
Radiation Oncology13.319.74.5
Vascular Surgery12.411.35.16.76.33.8
How Many Publications for Competitive Residencies?

You’ll notice that the most competitive residencies typically have the greatest number of publications, presentations, and abstracts.

The specialties with the highest number of publications in the 2022 Match were:

  • Plastic surgery (28.4 abstracts, presentations, and publications on average)
  • Neurological surgery (25.5)
  • Dermatology (20.9)
  • Otolaryngology (17.2)
  • Orthopaedic surgery (16.5)
What Counts as a Publication for Residency?

Note that the figures for “publications” for residency include much more. Specifically, you’ll have the chance to add things like presentations (oral or poster), case reports, and even abstracts. Thus, even students who fear they don’t have any research may have more than they think.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of what counts as a “publication” for residency application purposes:

  • Published peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Submitted/accepted journal articles that haven’t yet hit print
  • Book chapters you authored/co-authored
  • Presentations (oral/poster)
  • Case reports

Note that there is no time limit on when the research was done to count as a publication for residency. Hence, that poster you presented for your undergraduate research counts.

Are there any gray areas for what counts as a publication for residency? In our view, gray areas are online publications that aren’t in peer-reviewed journals. Any online blog posts you wrote for your summer vacation? Definitely no. An article you wrote for a publication like your school’s magazine? Borderline, and likely would depend on the subject material.

In doubt about what counts as a publication for residency? Imagine sitting in front of an interviewer and having them ask about it. If you can imagine yourself responding with a straight face, then you’re probably in the clear.

What Counts as Research Experience for Residency?

You’ll note in the above figure that those matched in more competitive specialties tend to have more research experiences. While this is true, technically, any research you’ve ever done – including as an undergraduate or even high schooler – counts as research experience for residency. Note that when you include these experiences, it will be fair game to discuss on your residency applications and interviews.

On your ERAS residency application, you’ll be asked the following questions:

  • Experience Type: Research
  • Organization: ______ Lab
  • Position: (e.g., medical student researcher)
  • Supervisor (if applicable): Dr. __________
  • Location: (Country), (State), (City)
  • Average hours/week: ________
  • Description: (your description of your research, highlighting your contributions and how it fits into your overall “story”)
  • Reason for leaving: (still working in lab vs. _______)

How Many Publications for Residency: Does an MD/PhD Help?

When considering the question of how many publications for residency, more is generally better. This is particularly true in the most competitive specialties. Given that, does having a PhD help even more?

Here are the data for the % of matched applicants who had a PhD degree in the 2022 Match.

Does MD-PhD Help With Residency

Seeing the % of matched applicants with PhD’s may make you wonder if you need a PhD to match in certain fields

So, does an MD/PhD help with residency applications? From the above data, it is hard to tell. Clearly, some specialties have more PhDs in them. However, it may just mean that MD/PhDs are more attracted to some specialties over others.

For example, more than 20% of matched applicants in child neurology in the 2022 Match had a PhD. Does that mean that the field of child neurology favors MD/PhD candidates? Or that MD/PhDs favor child neurology?

Want to know more about which residencies are most competitive in the NRMP Match? See this article.

PhD Match Rate Shows MD/PhDs May Have a Moderate Advantage

Instead, if we graph the match rate for PhDs vs. those without PhDs, a different story emerges. Specifically, we can see that all else being equal, there is perhaps a slight to moderate advantage to PhD applicants.

Note, though, that there is a clear advantage to having more research. Since MD/PhD programs allow for extra dedicated time to do research, it’s not obvious why PhDs have an advantage. Do the extra letters after their name help? Or is it just the extra time – and extra time to publish – that matters the most?

Does the PhD Help with Residency 2022

Having a PhD has a modest effect at most on whether people match into a given specialty.

Here are the same data in a table:

PhD Match RateNo PhD Match RatePhD AdvantagePhD Degree (Matched)PhD Degree (Unmatched)No PhD Degree (Matched)No PhD Degree (Unmatched)
ALL APPLICANTS94%90%4%50030131831452
Anesthesiology95%90%5%201979108
Child Neurology100%97%3%170632
Dermatology76%72%4%196299115
Diagnostic Radiology86%84%3%254575113
Emergency Medicine100%98%2%1601,27320
Family Medicine100%98%2%901,15418
General Surgery90%83%7%182773155
Internal Medicine99%98%1%13112,68548
Internal Medicine/Pediatrics100%92%8%6026324
Interventional Radiology71%84%-12%529719
Neurological Surgery83%76%7%19414847
Neurology100%98%2%4103958
Obstetrics and Gynecology88%84%4%142909177
Orthopaedic Surgery73%66%7%83535277
Otolaryngology100%70%30%90242105
Pathology100%98%2%3901363
Pediatrics98%99%-1%4611,28617
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation100%86%14%3019832
Plastic Surgery75%62%13%3113682
Psychiatry96%93%3%44292068
Radiation Oncology100%100%0%150610
Vascular Surgery75%80%-5%315614

In the 2022 Match, we can see that there were 530 PhDs among applicants. The match rate for MD/PhDs was 94%; the overall match rate for US Seniors without a PhD was 90%. In other words, there was a 4% advantage in overall match rate for US Seniors with a PhD than those without.

One other thing to note: while it may seem like in some specialties people have a huge advantage by having a PhD, a closer look reveals something different. For example, while the match rate was 12% lower for US seniors with a PhD in interventional radiology, only 7 applicants to interventional radiology were MD/PhDs. In other words, a single PhD who matched rather that didn’t match would have shifted the difference from a 12% disadvantage to a 2% advantage.

Similarly, for otolaryngology, which had a 30% advantage to match rate, we can see that only 9 applicants had a PhD that year. Every one of them matched. However, had only one of them not matched, the advantage would have shrunk from 30% to 19%.

Correlation ≠ Causation; PhDs Have More Time for Research

Again, let’s be clear. There appears to be a modest advantage to having a PhD for residency applications. However, it’s not clear whether this advantage is due to the PhD degree itself or simply the fact that PhDs generally more publications. (Or something else entirely!).

We can conclude relatively confidently that having research is beneficial to residency applications, regardless of whether one has a PhD or not.

How Long Are MD/PhD Programs?

So, how long does an MD/PhD program typically take to complete? Generally, MD/PhD programs take eight years to complete—four years for the medical degree and four years for the PhD. The exact amount of time will depend on the individual student and their research topic. However, this completion time is highly variable. While the medical degree usually takes 3-4 years, the doctoral component varies widely based on the individual and his/her research topic. Some students may complete their doctoral program in two years, while others may take up to eight.

In addition to researching their chosen topic in the laboratory, students must complete the necessary degree requirements, such as coursework, a thesis, and a qualifying exam. These may add extra time to the overall completion of the program.

How Much Do MD/PhDs Make?

Are you curious about the earning potential of MD-PhDs? Generally, physician salaries depend on their specialty, practice setting, and experience – not just their degrees. MD-PhDs may be more likely to pursue research-based careers, which typically offer lower salaries than those in a clinical setting, particularly in private practice.

So, the answer to the question “How much do MD/PhDs make?” ultimately depends on these factors. However, MD-PhDs are highly sought-after for their unique skillset and academic background, often offering professional opportunities such as teaching and research roles with potential for rewarding work.

Does Having an MPH or MBA Help With Matching?

Does MPH Help for Residency

Does MPH Help for Residency? Likely not.

Another question you may wonder is does an MPH help for residency applications? Here is the match rate for US seniors with other degrees (including MPH’s), and those without.

Here are the same data in a table:

Other Degree Match RateNo Other Degree Match RateOther Degree AdvantageOther Graduate Degree (Matched)Other Graduate Degree (Unmatched)No Other Graduate Degree (Matched)No Other Graduate Degree (Unmatched)
ALL APPLICANTS89%90%-2%2445311111111169
Anesthesiology89%90%-2%1872481387
Child Neurology91%98%-8%101651
Dermatology68%74%-6%512426994
Diagnostic Radiology85%84%1%1001850299
Emergency Medicine98%99%-1%26161,02514
Family Medicine98%99%-1%213595114
General Surgery72%83%-12%9337600119
Internal Medicine99%98%0%52172,28542
Internal Medicine/Pediatrics90%92%-3%62720617
Interventional Radiology81%84%-4%2158115
Neurological Surgery76%77%-1%381213039
Neurology95%99%-3%6033715
Obstetrics and Gynecology88%83%5%18726735153
Orthopaedic Surgery59%67%-8%8256455224
Otolaryngology71%70%0%461920486
Pathology97%99%-2%3011442
Pediatrics97%99%-2%21071,11111
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation80%88%-8%35916723
Plastic Surgery55%65%-11%292411159
Psychiatry92%94%-2%1831677954
Radiation Oncology100%100%0%140610
Vascular Surgery75%81%-6%1244611

Overall, we can see a 1% disadvantage to having another degree. Those US seniors with another degree had an 89% match rate; those with another degree had a 90% match rate.

Why an MPH or MBA Might Hurt Your Chances in the Competitive Specialties

Looking through the specialty-level data, a pattern emerges. In fact, competitive specialties are among the specialties with the greatest apparent disadvantage for other degree holders.

If true, why would an MPH or other degree hurt your chances for matching?

The biannual program director survey may have some clues. Last released in 2021, it addresses what factors they used to interview and rank applicants to their programs. Here are the results:

Characteristics Considered in Deciding Whom to Interview% Program Directors Citing As ImportantAverage Importance Rating
USMLE Step 1 Score86.2%3.7
MSPE85.9%4
Letters of Recommendation in Specialty85.1%4.2
Personal Statement (Overall)83.8%3.9
Diversity Characteristics80.9%4.1
Perceived Commitment to Specialty79.5%4.3
USMLE Step 2 CK Score78.8%3.8
Having Overcome Significant Obstacles75.5%4.1
Grades in Required Clerkships74.6%3.9
Any Failed USMLE Attempt74.1%4.4
Professionalism and Ethics73.9%4.5
Perceived Interest in Program72.3%4.2
Leadership Qualities70.1%4.2
Class Ranking/Quartile68.1%3.8
Grades in Clerkship in Preferred Specialty65.2%4.1
Volunteer/Extracurricular Experience64.8%3.9
Personal Prior Knowledge of Applicant63.6%4.1
Other Life Experience62.8%3.9
Any Failed COMLEX-USA Attempt59.4%4.4
Consistency of Grades58.5%3.9
COMLEX-USA Level 1 score55.9%3.7
Awards/Honors in Clinical Clerkships55.0%3.4
COMLEX-USA Level 2 CE Score53.0%3.8
AOA Membership50.6%3.5
GHHS Membership50.5%3.6
Passing USMLE Step 2 CS46.4%3.6
Awards/Honors, Clerkship in Preferred Specialty46.2%3.7
Continuous Medical Education w/o Gaps46.2%3.8
Audition Elective/Rotation in PD's Dept44.8%4.2
Medical School Accreditation Status44.2%4.2
Involvement and Interest in Research41.1%3.6
Medical School Reputation38.1%3.7
Ability to Work Legally w/o Visa35.5%4.2
Visa Status33.4%3.9
Passing COMLEX-USA Level 2 PE31.8%3.7
Fluency in Language of Pt Population31.0%3.6
NRMP Flag for Match Violation27.8%4.7
Interest in Academic Career24.2%3.8
Awards/Honors in Basic Sciences22.9%3.2
Sigma Sigma Phi Membership21.0%3.4
Away Rotation in Specialty Elsewhere18.9%3.8
USMLE Step 3 Score12.6%3.2
COMLEX-USA Level 3 Score8.9%3
How Medical School Handled Virtual Rotations6.6%3

Source: National Resident Matching Program, Data Release and Research Committee: Results of the 2021 NRMP Program Director Survey. National Resident Matching Program, Washington, DC. 2021.

Notice that the sixth most commonly cited factor was “Perceived Commitment to Specialty,” with a mean importance score of 4.3 out of 5. I had a conversation with a Stanford general surgery resident once who said his program strongly disapproved of him getting an MBA during his residency. He said that the program thought it meant he was less committed to the specialty.

Stories like these, the program director survey results, as well as the match data for those with non-PhD degrees suggest that an MPH may not be your ticket to a better residency. In fact, it may open questions in the most competitive fields on your commitment to that field.

Concluding Thoughts

Research is essential for a successful residency application. Each specialty and individual program may vary in the number of publications, abstracts, and presentations required. However, the most competitive residencies will demand the highest levels of research – quantity and quality.

Investing in research is key to standing out from the competition and increasing your chances of securing a place. Significant time and effort should be dedicated to producing publications, abstracts, and presentations that showcase your commitment to the specialty. Knowing how many publications are needed for residency will set you up for success.

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