The pharmacy residency match is an imperfect and complicated process. This article identifies relevant information for those who find themselves in phase 2 of the pharmacy residency match process.
Authored By: Alexas Polk, Pharm.D.
The profession of pharmacy is ever evolving and with the advent of provider status on the horizon, additional training following pharmacy school is becoming a gold standard for highly functioning clinical pharmacists. This post-graduate training typically comes in the form of a residency or fellowship. Such experiences are meant to enhance the pharmacist’s knowledge base while fostering their skills as a practitioner.
As graduating pharmacy students and pharmacists investigate the pharmacy residency option, a less than ideal landscape is found. The number of residency applicants continues to surpass the number of available positions. In 2016, 3309 of 4864 applicants were matched to a residency position for an overall match rate of 68% .
The large number of candidates seeking a pharmacy residency who do not get one highlights the necessity of preparation leading up to and through residency application process. To maximize chances for success in pursuit of a residency, the applicant should become familiar with the processes involved, including the current pharmacy residency match process.
The American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacist (ASHP) is the major accrediting body for pharmacy residency programs and the Pharmacy Online Residency Centralized Application Service (PhORCAS) is their web-based application system. PhORCAS not only serves to house applicant and residency program details, but also connects with the National Matching Services who administrates the pharmacy residency match process (aka The Match). You can find more information on PhORCAS and the residency matching process algorithm here.
Of great importance, in 2016 the matching process was altered to include a “Phase 2.” Previously there was just one matching process followed by a free for all” (called “The Scramble”) for unmatched applicants to connect with unmatched positions. Now there is a Phase 1 of the match, then unmatched applicants and unmatched programs can enter into Phase 2, which is then followed by the scramble. This additional phase serves to reduce the chaos and follows the same parameters of Phase 1, but occurs in a much more condensed timeframe. Residency applicants should be prepared in the event they do not match in Phase 1 of the match, as the old saying goes: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
On match day in 2016 I got my results. I had not matched in phase 1. Good thing though, I was ready for Phase 2 and when the Phase 2 results came out I had landed a position!
In an effort to help others who may find themselves having not matched in Phase 1, here I reflect on my experience and provide information that may help in preparation for the pharmacy residency match process.
1. Match Day: Leverage Your Professional Network
Once the list of available positions is posted on PhORCAS it is time to assess and begin the development of a new program list. It is important to remain true to the program components you valued during Phase 1, as you still want the same level of training. Simultaneously, you must face the reality that broadening your horizons (geographically, class size, etc.) will likely be necessary.
Of note, it is okay to reapply to a program which you applied to in Phase 1, but were not offered an interview. These are free, but a new and improved letter of intent is a must!
It is imperative to reach out to your mentors and/or letter writers early if you must call upon them again. They may be willing to provide honest feedback regarding your previous application materials, as well as help develop your new potential program list.
In talking with your letter writers, be sure to reassess the potential letter they wrote for you during Phase 1. It is okay to switch things up for Phase 2. Perhaps your January or February rotation was the best one yet. That preceptor may be a great alternative to a potentially mediocre letter from before.
Professional networking can play a key role in this phase of the process. Pharmacy is a small world and you never know what connections may be a phone call away. Your mentors may even be able to reach out to directors at programs you interviewed with during Phase 1 for candid feedback on your performance.
I have heard of a program director receiving 200+ emails the day of the match when the program had a position go unmatched. Amidst all of the communications, whatever you have done to set yourself up as a memorable candidate can serve invaluable. Leveraging your connections may be what makes you stand out.
Remember too: check the list of available positions frequently until applications are due, as additional positions may become available after the initial posting.
2. The Weekend After Match Day: Revise, Revise, Revise
Once you have the list of programs to which you plan to apply, it is time to begin preparing your applications. The overall process is exactly the same as Phase 1, just in a much more condensed timeframe. An easy first step is to update your curriculum vitae (CV), which likely has not been touched since you submitted your Phase 1 applications almost three months ago now.
Once your CV is up to date and polished, I recommend you reach out to program directors at the programs to which you plan to apply. A brief email introducing yourself with your CV attached will do (no letter of intent necessary), so they may begin screening candidates early. And who knows you may even be offered a phone interview prior to applications opening!
In the four days leading up to PhORCAS applications reopening, you will be busy updating PhORCAS to match your new and improved CV, as well as uploading new letters of intent. It is important to acknowledge that you are in Phase 2 of the match by highlighting your dedication to the process and what this additional training means to you. Be sure to have mentors and/or letter writers proofread prior to submission!
3. The Day Applications Open: Submit!
Similar to Phase 1, there is a specific date and time applications can begin being submitted.
Once applications open, programs become overwhelmed very quickly with the number of applications they receive per available position, so you want to be “first”, meaning submitting all your Phase 2 applications at 09:01 on the dot. This is also why reaching out to mentors and/or letter writers for possible networking connections, in addition to the emails you sent over the weekend can be so helpful.
If you wait until the day applications are due to submit, you are too late.
4. The Two Weeks Prior To The Rank List Due Date: Smile You Are On Camera
After your applications are submitted you will begin hearing from programs very shortly (within the next couple of days), because the timeframe to interview candidates before rank lists are due is incredibly short.
During Phase 2 most programs will conduct phone, facetime, or skype interviews, but some may request an on-site interview based on where you are located in relation to the site. Regardless of the format, you should dress just professionally and make sure your entire background is appropriate (i.e., no one needs to know how little you exercise based on the long lost elliptical in the corner being buried in laundry).
During the interview, be sure to show the program all of your enthusiasm and dedication to pursuing additional training. These interviews tend to be short (30 minutes or less) giving you much less time then when you spent the entire day at a site.
If you do not get the opportunity to see the institution be sure to use your question asking time sensibly. A word to the wise: be prepared to answer the question “why do you think you ended up in Phase 2?”. For more interview advice check out this article on pharmacy residency interview tips for success.
After you have interviewed, it is time to submit your rank list. The same rules from Phase 1 apply, do not rank anywhere you could not see yourself being for a year and rank them in YOUR preference order.
5. Match Day Take Two: Celebrate or Scramble
The same early morning email notification process occurs for Phase 2 match day as it did for Phase 1, just one week after rank list submission.
If you are unsuccessful at matching during Phase 2, you have the option of entering the scramble. The scramble is a much less formal process. It is an absolute scramble of people trying to contact programs with available positions to set up an interview (or even interview right then). If you choose to participate in the scramble process the list of available positions will again be posted at noon and you should be prepared to accept a position on the spot!
While this may all seem rather overwhelming, you are not alone in this step of the process. More importantly, you are only a month away from celebrating and planning your first big move after graduation like your classmates who matched during Phase 1; stay focused, you can do it!
1. Summary Results of the Match for Positions Beginning in 2016 Combined Phase I and Phase II. Available at: https://www.natmatch.com/ashprmp/stats/2016applstats.html. Accessed 12 Feb, 2017.
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