HealthApril 15, 2015

Matching into ophthalmology: A “how to,” part 1

“What are my chances of matching ophthalmology? Am I going to make it? Do I even have a shot, or is it just wishful thinking?”

How many times have you heard someone ask this question? How many times have you been the one asking? It would be super nice to have some formula that would spit out the likelihood of matching:

“Take your Step 1 score, multiply it by 0.3, add 0.1 if you’re AOA, subtract 0.08 if you’re in bottom half of your class, add 0.03 for each first author paper, 0.01 for any other papers….”

Sadly, such a formula doesn’t exist. Every program is different and values different qualities in an applicant. Plus, there are some things you just can’t quantify, such as interview performance.

I just matched into ophthalmology and I couldn’t be happier. I remember how nerve-wracking it was deciding to apply, filling out my application, interviewing, and chewing my nails and fingers up to my DIPs while waiting to find out if I matched and where I matched. And I learned a lot about the whole process.

So what did I learn? What is important for matching? There are qualifications we can measure, and then there are qualifications that are...unquantifiable.

Here’s a list that covers the majority of what will determine your matchability:

  • Board scores
  • Grades and AOA status
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Research
  • Away rotations
  • Number of programs you apply to
  • Number of interviews
  • Interview performance
  • Reputation of your medical school

How important are each of the factors? On the SF Match website, they give statistics for each year. For the most recent match cycle, below are some averages and percentages.

Step 1: Average scores of ophthalmology applicants

No surprises here: higher is better. But people match with lower scores. These are just averages. Some people are higher, some are lower.

Average of matching applicants 243
Average of non-matching applicants 228

US-based seniors are favored

Being a US fourth year medical student gives you an advantage over other applicants.

US seniors 89%
US graduates 7%
International medical graduates 4%

Note that this is the percentage of matched applicants, and not the likelihood of matching. In other words, 89% of those who matched were US seniors (vs. 89% of US seniors match).

Number of programs ranked

Yousuf and Jones published an article analyzing the chance of matching based on some of the above criteria (it was for 2011 match, so it’s a little dated). If an applicant ranked seven programs, there was a 90% chance of matching. Likelihood of matching continued to go up after seven, but plateaued at around sixteen. At sixteen, the probability of matching was essentially 100%.

AOA status

This also came from Yousuf and Jones. I remember when I was applying, I honestly thought that about half of the matched applicants would be AOA. I’m not AOA, and that was worrisome to me. AOA does improve your chances, but by no means is it required.

AOA status Matched Not matched
AOA 108 5
Not AOA 273 65
AOA unknown 21 13

Top 40 NIH funding medical school

The reputation of your medical school, judged by NIH funding levels, was also somewhat impactful. Comparable to AOA status, it does help but isn’t a game changer.

Top 40 school? Matched Not matched
Yes 161 16
No 241 67

That’s the end of the quantifiable metrics of matching into ophthalmology. Next, we’ll dig into all the ‘soft’ factors that affect your acceptance into the program of your choice.


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