From Undergrad to Postgrad: Why Medical Residency Programs Choose CASPer®

We’ve discussed medical program admissions quite a bit on this blog, and the focus has largely been on undergraduate medical education (UGME). For this post, we’re turning our attention to a different, but also incredibly competitive kind of medical school selection: admissions for postgraduate medical education (PGME), also known as residency.

Selecting the very best students to admit to residency programs is just as important as it is during undergraduate education. Just like in UGME, residency admission committees want to ensure that students have a strong foundation of medical knowledge, along with the personal and professional competencies required to become a successful physician. Along with clinical competency and quality of patient care, program directors rank professionalism, ethics, and communication skills as the most important factors in assessing residents’ success — ahead of academic performance.

Upon being admitted to a medical program (through a stringent selection process), undergraduate students are typically required to complete their basic science courses in years one and two, followed by their clinical rotations in years three and four, to obtain their M.D. degree. That’s when another round of selection begins: with M.D.s in hand, a large pool of graduates competes for sought-after residency positions.

A residency program receives, on average, about 912 applicants each year. Most are rejected during the pre-screening process; of those 912, only 118 are granted interviews. Because the interview process for residency selection can cost programs anywhere between $45,000 and $148,000 each year, it’s not feasible to interview each applicant.

Similar to the selection process for UGME, residency selection committees rely on a number of applicant metrics to guide their decisions, such as:

Pre-clinical grades;
Reference letters;
Board scores (USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2);
Clinical grades;
Personal statements; and
Research experience.

In the recent National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Director Survey, board scores and reference letters were cited as the tools used most often to select interviewees and to rank applicants.

This is problematic. Reference letters have been shown to be too unreliable to provide meaningful information about candidates. They’re often heavily dependent on the student’s ability to establish social connections which, while a useful skill for anyone, should not be a medical student’s primary focus.

CASPer® fills this gap in the residency selection process by providing programs with reliable and meaningful information about students’ personal attributes, alongside their board scores and grades, to offer a more holistic assessment. Research demonstrates support for the use of CASPer® in residency selection; a study from Stanford University found that CASPer® scores correlated with applicant rankings for general surgery residency.

No additional cost is incurred by the programs to use CASPer®. The cost to applicants is kept as low as possible in order to give every candidate a chance to showcase their personal strengths. Plus, 84 percent of applicants surveyed for the Stanford study reported that a program’s requirement of candidates to complete CASPer® would have no bearing on whether they apply, or would make them more likely to apply.

CASPer® is currently being used for selection by a number of UGME and PGME programs. By the end of 2017, over 100,000 applicants will have taken CASPer®, illustrating the adoption of CASPer® as a leading assessment tool around the world.

Published: December 18, 2017
By: Christopher Zou, PhD
Education Researcher at Altus Assessments