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Matching Into Orthopedic Surgery Residency

14 min


Orthopaedic surgeons and residents in surgery.


This blog post was originally posted on October 19th, 2019, and updated by Dr. Danielle Marshall in September 2023.


The NRMP conducted a survey to determine what factors Program Directors consider when deciding which candidates to interview and rank for their orthopedic surgery residency program. The 2020 NRMP results were compiled into a “at a glance” tool, which is extremely helpful in gauging where your application packet stands compared to the applicant pool, and whether matching into an orthopedic surgery residency program is realistic. 


This can help applicants determine whether adding additional components, like a letter of recommendation (LOR) in the specialty, could give them a leg up as programs review your application. Unfortunately, there have been a number of changes in the application process since that time, so look out below for some additional information regarding matching into orthopedic surgery in 2024.


The interactive table tool can be found here, and we recommend taking a look at the specialty you’ll be applying to before submitting your ERAS packet. Given the recent changes in the 2024 residency application process, we have also included more recent data collected from the NRMP Main Match Results 2023. As well as the AAMC ERAS Statistics for 2022 and 2023.



As you may already know, orthopedic surgery residency is very competitive to match into, and continues to get more competitive.


Over the past five years, increasing numbers of medical students are applying to the specialty. Additionally, they are submitting some of the highest numbers of applications on average. 


Top 5 Residency Specialties by Average Applications per Applicants for USGs - 2018-2022.



For Orthopaedic surgery residency applicants, major components of the application you should pay attention to include: 


Selection Criteria for an Interview


With Step 1 changed to pass/fail, Step 2 is now the MAJOR objective factor. Having an appropriate LOR in the specialty, significant research experiences and high class ranking are also highly recommended.


Orthopedic surgery - Top 10 factors program directors use in selecting applicants to interivew and in ranking according to the 2020 directors survey.


Step 2 – Score 


Orthopedic surgery - Step 2 CK scores above which programs almost always grant interviews according to 2020 directors survey.


  • 235-250 seems to be the minimum threshold at which programs will grant interviews.
  • Scores below 230 generally will place you in an unfavorable position to receive an interview. 
  • Now that Step 1 has been changed to pass/fail, it is essential you do well on Step 2. This is because there is no other objective test in which to demonstrate your competence.
  • Within the next few years, most orthopedic residency programs will require Step 2 scores before you have submitted ERAS. 


USMLE Step 2 CK scores of US MD graduates - orthopaedic surgery based on the 2022 NRMP charting outcomes. 


Failing Step 1 or 2 is more likely to be a showstopper


82% of orthopedic surgery programs will NOT consider you if you’ve failed Step 1. Additionally, 71% will NOT consider you if you’ve failed Step 2. Take a look at our blog post about addressing red flags if you have a failure on your application.


Consideration of applicants who failed the exam on first attempt by exam type - orthopedic surgery according to the 2020 director's survey.


So, if you’ve failed an exam, you can still apply. But you may consider applying to a second residency or having a backup plan should you not match the first time.



More emphasis is being placed on research experience and productivity


This is represented by the number of research “abstracts, presentations, and publications” between applicants who matched and those who went unmatched in 2022—16.5 versus 12.1, respectively. 


Number of abstracts, presentations and publications of US MD seniors who matched into orthopaedic surgery in 2022


“Signaling” on ERAS can now help applicants indicate their top 30 priority programs.


While the majority of residency programs are still determining how to best interpret the signaling functionality on ERAS applications, when comparing similar applicants, the presence of a “signal” is more likely to deliver the applicant an interview.

With orthopedics currently rated the least diverse medical specialty, applicant gender, race, ethnicity, and experience, are increasingly being valued. 


Thus, consider ditching the story about how you tore your ACL in high school. Instead write about an experience that makes you unique in that personal statement



Types of Applicants Considered:


  • International Grads (U.S. and non-U.S.) are more likely to have difficulty matching into orthopedic surgery: According to the NRMP 2020 director’s survey, there are few programs that consider interviewing or ranking non-U.S. IMGs on a routine basis. Atditionally, only 2-4% consider interviewing or ranking U.S. IMG on a routine basis. 
  • About 46-49% consider U.S. IMGs seldomly, and 50% never consider a U.S. IMG for an interview or rank. 
  • If you are a non-US IMG, the chances are even lower, with 74-77% of programs never considering such an applicant. We recommend doing your homework to determine which programs may even consider IMGs. We also definitely recommend a back-up specialty to apply into.
  • Osteopathic graduates have a slight chance to match into orthopedic surgery: 21% of programs will routinely interview and rank DO applicants, while ~33% of programs will never interview or rank a DO applicant. 
    • However, over the past five years, recent research has found a decrease of nearly 5% in the total number of matched spots for DO applicants. As a larger emphasis is placed on medical school accreditation status within the specialty. This trend may continue to worsen for non US MDs (1). 
    • Therefore, it is very important to do your research to identify these programs so that you can best increase your chances of matching.




Interviews for Matching into Orthopaedic Surgery Residency:


  • Once you get an interview, ranking is based primarily on your interview and interpersonal skills.
    • This means, forget about your numbers. Focus on demonstrating who you will be as a coworker and future resident in the program. 
  • Interviewees Get Ranked!: If you get an interview invitation, you are likely to end up on the rank list if you interview. We recommend ranking at least 8-10 programs. So once you receive 10 interview invitations, you can feel okay with starting to prioritize and cancel as more come in given you are likely to get ranked.
  • Expect to receive interview invitations in November: 50% of the interview invitations will be sent out in November, and over 20% will be sent out in October and December.
    • Expect to interview in December/January: Only 13% of interviews will occur before December, which gives you ample time to prepare. More than 50% of your interviews will occur in January or later. For further discussion on how to prep for your interview, see our blog post on how to Crush your Residency Interview: https://elitemedicalprep.com/preparing-for-your-residency-interview/
  • Don’t expect to get your top rank choice, so ensure you are happy with your rank list from #1 through #7
    • In a recent 2023 survey of orthopedic residents who matched, only 34% matched at their top choice program, while 40.8% matched at their fourth or lower ranked program (2).


After you’ve browsed your specialty, take a look at a few other specialties and note what’s NOT important for Orthopaedic Surgery:


  • MSPE/Dean’s Letter isn’t particularly important in Orthopaedic surgery
  • Personal statement isn’t particularly important for Orthopaedic surgery
  • Interest in a specific residency program isn’t as important in Orthopaedic surgery as in other specialties



Summary for Matching into Orthopaedic Surgery Residency and ERAS Applications:

  • A solid orthopedic surgery application would include a 250+ on Step 2, very strong LOR from orthopedic surgeons, a minimum of 14-16 research publications, and a strong performance on away rotations.
  • Orthopedic surgery is not IMG-friendly, but it may be possible to match as an IMG if you do your research to identify programs with active IMG residents and establish proper connections.
  • If you’ve failed an exam, you can still apply in Orthopaedic surgery, but you should apply for a back-up specialty.
  • Expect Interviews in December-January. Reach out to programs you have high interest in if you haven’t heard from them by mid-December. Once you have about 14 interview invitations, you can consider being a bit more selective about which ones you actually take (but not before). And make sure you are happy with your rank list through rank #7, given the majority of orthopedic surgery residents do not get their #1-3 preferences even when they match!


Good Luck! ☺ 


If you need further or specialized assistance understanding which residency specialties you are best suited to apply to, you can contact us or visit our residency advising page to learn more about Elite Medical Prep residency advising services.

  1. White, Peter B. DO, MS; Giordano, Joshua R. DO; Chen, Matthiew BS; Bitterman, Adam D. DO; Oni, Julius K. MD; Zacchilli, Michael MD; Poon, Selina C. MD, MPH, MS, FAOA; Cohn, Randy M. MD. Residency Match Rates in Orthopaedic Surgery Based on Sex, Under-Represented in Medicine Status, and Degree Type. JBJS Open Access 8(1):e22.00143, January-March 2023. | DOI: 10.2106/JBJS.OA.22.00143
  2. Imbergamo, Casey MD; Sequeira, Sean MD; Pizzo, Dane MS; Wright, Melissa MD; Boucher, Henry MD. Where Do Orthopaedic Surgery Applicants Match on Their Rank Lists? A Survey of Incoming Residents. JBJS Open Access 8(1):e22.00089, January-March 2023. | DOI: 10.2106/JBJS.OA.22.00089

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About the Author

Alexandra R., MD

Alexandra earned her Neuroscience degree from the University of Michigan, graduating with Summa Cum Laude recognition in 2014. She continued her education at the University…

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