Can I Change Residency Programs After I Start?

Anne Vinsel, MS, MFA


October 02, 2008


If I leave a residency program before completing it, will I be able to get another residency position?

Response from the Expert


Anne Vinsel, MS, MFA
Project Administrator, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah


The answer to this question depends largely on your particular circumstances. It's very different to "leave" because you've been dismissed for endangering patients vs leaving because your program is closing. There are many other possible reasons between these 2 extremes, and those reasons would strongly influence how tough it is to find another position. Similarly, the issues involved in changing specialties are different from those involved in switching from one institution to another. In general, though, many programs are prepared to take applicants who have started somewhere else.

If you find yourself in this position, here are a few guidelines that might help you secure a new spot at another residency program:


  1. Don't diss your first program or the people in that program. You can almost count on someone at program 2 being friends with someone in program 1 and that they will compare notes about you. Don't break this rule, even if you had a dispute with your first program and are utterly convinced that you were right. If you complain about that program, people who are interviewing you will worry about whether you are teachable.

  2. Don't procrastinate in finding a new position. Clear the time you need to do the applications and communicate with new programs. Imagine missing an opportunity with a program that has an unexpected vacancy just because you were careless or tardy!

  3. Apply to more programs than you might think is necessary. A transfer residency is likely to be harder to arrange than a first residency.

  4. Even if you're leaving your first residency for very difficult reasons, do not lie or brush them aside. If you messed up, take responsibility. You will sound mature if you acknowledge difficulties but do not dwell on them. Also, you will look better to a second institution if you discuss problems in terms of a "bad fit" with your first program rather than slamming the program or its faculty. People understand the concept of a personality clash between you and a faculty member, but if you frame it in terms of "attending X was unfair or mean to me," they may feel uneasy.

  5. Tap your social network for ideas about where to apply. Faculty members who like you and think you've done a good job can be particularly helpful by making calls to places where you're applying. Everyone realizes that some matches just don't work out, and if a faculty member can speak on your behalf, they can help a great deal.

  6. Don't let it get to you! You may have been fortunate in your life and career thus far, and this may be the first major bump in your road. Accept that everyone encounters such bumps and that life moves on. You can do fine in the future, even though this may seem like the end of the world right now. Changing residencies is worse than having a bad hair day, to be sure, but in 5 years you likely will forget all the turmoil and you may even think it's the best thing that ever happened to you.


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