Tips for Making Your Rank List

Amiethab Aiyer, MD | Jonathan Kaplan, MD | Matthew Varacallo, MD

December 23, 2020

It is that time of year again.  Creating, modifying, and submitting your rank list was always one of my favorite parts of the process.  Just like anything else in life – if you tackle it head on and get yourself organized during the process; you will appropriately position yourself as best you can for a successful future!

While creating lists/columns of the pros and cons are to be customized to your unique factors that you desire in your residency program, below are 5 key tips for general considerations in making your rank list (in no specific order and certainly not exhaustive!):

1Resources and Opportunity Portfolio

While all accredited programs cover the basic core elements of residency training, there is no substitute for additional resources and availability to further enhance one’s career.  Consider each programs unique portfolio of resources and opportunities and how each caters to YOUR specific goals in training.  For example, if you are interested in sports medicine – are there opportunities for sideline coverage during football season? What about volunteer/uninsured clinic coverage?  The latter can propel your autonomy and decision making very early on in your career.

2Geographical Considerations

One of the most influential factors of 2020-2021 has been the regional and geographical considerations for applicants in the setting of the COVID 19 pandemic.  That being said, it is worth considering that you will be spending several years in this area

3Curriculum and Rotation Structure

All programs have the same core elements of residency training.  However, it is important to keep a list of what is important to YOU in addition to these basic core facets of training. 

Here is a quick example for customized application if research is a particular interest of yours—it is important to note different program nuances and differences which span the spectrum of research electives (which can be as short as 4 weeks) versus research track options which may include an additional year in training.  In this setting, if research is important to you but you are not interested in taking an extra year in training, then it would be important to find a program that has a built in elective opportunities.

4Stand on the Shoulder of Giants

Many programs out there have a solid foundation and ever-growing alumni network.  Utilize these potential powerhouse factors to your advantage. 

Consider where recent / past alumni have gone for fellowship.  Have all previous residents gone to fellowship? What subspecialties are represented? What reach and reputation do the current faculty, chairman, program directors have? The latter can be particularly helpful when launching into fellowship.


Everyone loves perks! However, this category is surprisingly overlooked by many applicants/candidates when considering ranking programs.  These were some of my favorite questions to ask the current residents in the program – what is the salary? How much driving is required for rotations? Are there any options for free meals/discounted meal plans available?  

Look, is free parking during residency going to have a dramatic impact on your life as a future practicing physician/surgeon? No.  But in the moment, it is certainly a nice benefit!

*Bottom line* – we have all been there when making our rank list.  It is not uncommon to be switching around your top 3 choices back and forth right before the final submission deadline.  You are not alone.  At the end of the day, it is all about making the most of every single day in training and that is an intangible element that NO PROGRAM OR INDIVIDUAL can decide for you!  Good luck!

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Aiyer American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: Board or committee member, Delee & Drez Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support, Medline: Paid consultant, Medshape: Paid consultant, Miller’s Review of Orthopaedics (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support Dr. Kaplan Medline: Paid consultant, Wright Medical Technology, Inc.: Paid consultant Dr. Varacallo This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2020 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s