Switching your residency? Here's what to know

By Kirstin Bass, MD, PhD | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published April 18, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Before switching residencies, consider the reasons behind your switch—and make sure it’s for the right reasons.

  • Once you decide to switch, talk with your program director or coordinator right away; they need to know of your decision and will be key players in your moving on. 

  • Ultimately, when a switch is wanted or necessary, your colleagues and mentors will likely be happy to help—happy residents are easier to work with, and provide better care.

What happens when your residency match feels more like a mismatch?

It may be that you don’t like your program, or you want to change specialties after more time practicing medicine. Maybe something outside of residency has changed, and you need to move on. There are any number of reasons people switch programs—or, sometimes, leave altogether.

Switching is possible, but it’s a different experience than matching to a residency.

Make the decision

Figure out why you want to switch. Residency is difficult, and roughly half of residents report feeling burned out. When you feel tired and overwhelmed, it can be difficult to think clearly.

Are you contemplating a switch because of some temporary situation? Or perhaps because of some aspect of residency that won’t really be any different in another location? If you’re thinking about switching, talk about it with friends, colleagues, and mentors. Be as clear as possible with them about what you’re feeling, and why. 

It may be that the solution isn’t to leave, but rather to stay put and make some changes. In other cases, a switch may be the best decision. If so, your peers and mentors can be helpful in suggesting places that may be better for you.

The scariest part might be telling your program you want to leave. However, if there is a true mismatch—because of location, specialty, or some other reason—most people will be supportive of your decision. 

Talk about it

Programs want happy residents! They don’t want ones who feel they‘ve made a mistake and aren’t happy to be there. It’s important to have this discussion, because you will need lots of support.

In addition to program directors, reach out to other residents who have first-hand experience with switching, or sympathetic clinicians in the field you’re looking to go into who can give advice or help you network. You’ll also need to lean on friends and family for support.

It will be an emotionally and logistically challenging time, and you’ll need people you trust who can help you through the process. 

The switching process will be different than your initial match. You’ll still have the planning, paperwork, travel, and interviews required to secure a new position—but without the framework of the match itself. 

It will be on you to reach out to directors who may have openings, as well as to schedule interviews around your current workload. You may need to get coverage from fellow residents to go to these interviews—and be ready to repay that coverage.

Getting started

Each person will have their own unique process, depending on the timing you’re considering and the specialties you’re switching to and from. However, there are some general resources available to help you start the process:

  • FREIDA, the AMA Residency and Fellowship Database, lists open postings.

  • The Match has subcategories subcategories, such as Reserved (Physician-R) and Advanced, that place residents into PGY-2 positions.

  • FindAResident is a search tool to help you locate open residency and fellowship positions.

Consider reaching out directly to program directors or coordinators, as not all available positions are posted on these websites. Brief emails directly stating who you are and why you’re reaching out are best; it’s usually advisable to attach your current CV, but no other supplemental material. If you don’t hear back within a few weeks, you may want to call the program with the same information. 

The next steps, after locating available residencies who want you, will be interviewing for a new spot. This will likely be similar to your initial residency interviews, but with added questions and concerns about why you’re transferring, as well as filling out paperwork to make the transfer. 

What this means for you

Switching residencies may seem overwhelming at times. But if you’re making the switch for the right reasons, it should all be worth it in the end. 

You will be in a program where you are happier for personal or professional reasons. And the happier you are, the better care you can provide to patients.

Read Next: Establishing trust as a resident
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