Phase Two of the Match, Oh how the tables have turned

Interview season for pharmacy residencies is busy and stressful for all parties involved. Hopeful P4s are interviewing their hearts out for coveted positions at residency programs with names you’d recognize. With the disproportionate number of candidates to positions available, the advantage is with the programs. Many can be choosy, bordering exclusive.

But after the chaos settles down and the phase 1 match results are published, the tables quickly turn. Smaller, less well known, but still stellar programs have positions unfilled and need to interview, rank, and match quickly in order to preserve the residency program integrity (and future funding). So in reality, while the candidates left unmatched feel pressured to find positions, the programs themselves are scrambling too.

So what can you do to prepare yourself and capitalize on Phase 2? Here are my tips:

Put phase 1 behind you. 

Let’s be realistic about the match statistics. What we often hear is the following: in the 2019 Match (phase 1), there were 5585 applicants for 3345 positions, roughly a 1.66 ratio. Not too bad. 

But what is not adequately described is program disparities in the number of applicants/ positions. Many “big city, big name” programs may have ~200 applicants, equating to somewhere around 10 applicants for every 1 position. Are all 200 applicants ranked? Certainly not. There are likely only 50-75 (less than half) in that pool that are invited for onsite interviews. Even fewer are ultimately ranked.

The other end of the spectrum would be small, rural programs (or new programs) which may only get 8 applicants for 1-2 positions. Of which they interview all, rank all, or nearly all of the applicants. 

The assumption among candidates is that the programs with existing reputations will lead to opportunities for PGY2 positions, and/or jobs after training. While these assumptions are indeed reasonable, are they accurate?

Since programs that have existed for years and built these well-earned reputations, as a result, they have many, many graduates. These graduates most often work elsewhere after graduation. In their new environments, these graduates continue the high practice standards from their training institutions and begin to build residency programs of their own. 

Where do you think they turn to design and structure the program? 

What is often missing from these newer programs is a robust residency staff. While this is a major limitation, it is also an opportunity. Opportunity for you to stay on and continue to build the pharmacy program. Otherwise known as a win-win for you.

Branch out, and ask around

So how can you identify these diamonds in the rough programs that are Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V of larger programs? Ask.

Your pharmacy school faculty is an invaluable (and free… well aside from your tuition) resource. They either know of or know personally/professionally some of these individuals with excellent training/clinical experience and open residency positions.

Pharmacy students are frequently hesitant about asking for help. I was as well at this stage. I feel it can be largely a lack of professional maturity in the sense that one is trying to avoid “bothering” somebody. But after being in a faculty position myself, when students in similar situations approached me, I was more than happy (let’s call it excited) about helping them find a position. Helping them hunt down these amazing programs with vacancies was something that at the very least, was an excuse to connect with a colleague. But more importantly, it meant helping a qualified student match with an excellent pharmacy program, ultimately furthering the growth of those individuals and the profession.

Learn from your experience, and DO something about it

If you had Phase 1 interviews and didn’t match, its useful to have a fuller picture of why you weren’t successful. Rather than assuming or guessing what went wrong during your interviews, why not ask? 

Just like asking for helping to identify programs you may have missed, you can also reach out to RPDs or preceptors of programs where you interviewed, but didn’t match. There are professional ways of doing so and a few simple dos and don’ts.

Do be professional, and respectful. While that should go without being said, you’d be surprised. A simple, concise email should be all you need to get very valuable information. Something along the lines of:

“Dear Dr. xxx, I would like to thank you for your consideration of my candidacy for a position in your residency program. While I am disappointed I did not match with your program, I am still committed to my pursuits to gain this valuable experience. If you have any advice for me that would improve my interview performance, or candidacy otherwise, I would be truly grateful.



Please don’t copy that. It’s just an example. 

Do reflect on your own performance during the interview. Were you on time, did you dress professionally, did you struggle with clinical questions? Talk with friends, share experiences. r/pharmacyresidency is a great resource for those who want to (somewhat anonymously) share experience and gain perspective.

Don’t give up. Not matching during Phase 1 is not a sign you are not a good candidate or that residency training isn’t for you. It’s simply an obstacle. In 5-10 years, nobody will ever know (and it won’t matter).


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