Couples matching allows any two people to be matched with residency programs in the same geographic area if they so desire. ANY two people applying in the same cycle can apply as a couple, even from different medical schools. Partners apply and interview separately at programs in the same geographic region and then submit a rank order list of PAIRS of programs. The list algorithm is such that it will also allow partners to match in separate locations or for one partner to go unmatched in the event that a couples match is not possible.
Plenty of thought is required before entering into a couples match. Couples matching requires a great deal of compromise and sacrifice on both parts and should not be entered into lightly. Matching as a couple may mean going further down on your individual rank list. If you are considering couples matching, get as much advice on the process as possible- from previous applicants, faculty within the department, and OME/OSA. OME is also very helpful in explaining different options such as preliminary and research years in the event that one partner is less competitive than the other.
First, to make it official, you will need to register as a couple on the NRMP website. This basically entails entering each other’s AAMC ID during registration and paying an extra fee. There is also a place to mark that you are couples matching within the ERAS application.
The hardest part is then deciding where to apply and how many programs to apply to. This depends largely on what field each partner is applying to. The competitiveness of each applicant in his/her respective specialty also plays a role. Some people suggest doubling the number of programs one would apply to individually. It is generally better to apply to too many programs and cancel interviews than to add programs later in the season since many of the interview spots have already been filled. Additionally, it is easier to couples match in larger cities (Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago) that have more programs and thus allow more permutations within the rank list.
If you are applying to a specialty that recommends doing away rotations and you are the type of student who typically does well on your clinical rotations, consider doing a rotation at the same institution or geographic location as your partner. Also, if you and your partner are not geographically restricted, try to do rotations in different parts of the country to demonstrate your willingness to go anywhere.
For couples applying to the same specialty: Be sure to apply to programs large enough to accommodate both of you. For example, the likelihood of both matching in a program with 20 residents is per year greater than a program with only 6 residents per year.
Certain programs, like pediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine, tend to offer interviews soon after submitting your ERAS application. On the other hand, some programs (i.e. Surgery, EM, etc.) will wait until the MSPE's are sent out on October 1st. This can make scheduling interviews difficult since one partner may hear back a lot sooner from programs than the other. In any case, schedule interviews as they come in – DO NOT wait for your partner to get an invitation. Remember, you can always cancel an interview as long as you do so in a timely fashion. If you are not sure whether you would want to travel to a certain location without your partner, try to schedule your interviews for later in the season so that you can adjust as necessary.
The most important part of couples matching is communicating with the potential departments. Once you are extended an offer to interview, consider mentioning in your response email that you are applying as part of a couple. Also, let the program know the name of your partner and what program he/she is applying to – some programs will try to work with you to schedule interviews on the same day. Although it may not always be possible to travel together on interviews, it is definitely worth trying to coordinate. With this in mind, by late November (give programs time to process Dean’s Letters and “complete” applications) it is okay to call or email programs you have not heard from. Use the couples match to your advantage. If only your partner has an interview at Program X, call or e-mail your respective program to “check the status of your application” and mention that you are couples matching and your significant other will be interviewing on this day. Additionally, feel free to email coordinators who often know coordinators in your partner’s department and can reach out on your behalf. Many places will quickly get back to you with an interview offer. Plus it shows the program that you are interested. If they happen to say “No,” then at least it can save your partner a trip out to Program X.
On the interview day, mention to your interviewer (especially the program director) that you are couples matching and give him/her the name and specialty of your significant other.Even though it may be on your application from ERAS, some interviewers may miss it.
It helps to keep a running rank list of programs as you interview. Some people create elaborate charts and write pages of notes detailing the nitty-gritty aspects of each program; however, most make a rank list based on “gut” feelings. If there happened to be a program you absolutely hated – don’t rank it. It can’t be said enough: if you know you won’t be happy there, don’t even put it on your list! There will be places you both liked. The hard part is figuring out how to make the paired list. Here’s where the compromising comes in. One of the more creative systems I’ve heard of involved averaging the couple’s individual lists. So if Jon ranked Program X # 1 and Jane ranked it #5 then it would be #3 on the paired rank list. No matter what, you will need to sit down as a couple and hash out a list of pairings that you both are happy with. This might mean including pairings in different cities or “unmatched” options for one or both partners.
Couples can rank 20 pairings before having to pay additional NRMP fees.
Once you have a paired ROL completed, you must enter it into the NRMP website. Each partner enters his/her side of the list separately. This means you may enter one program multiple times. Each partner must also have the same number of programs listed. Don’t worry, this may sound confusing but it is a fairly simple process.
Advice for couples match can be difficult to come by since not many people participate in it and situations are variable from couple to couple. With this in mind, talk to as many people as you can – whether fourth years, residents, faculty, or other applicants or residents you encounter on the interview trail. You’ll be surprised how many people you meet have couples matched and are happy to share their experience with you. A helpful website that explains the process in a little more detail is the UWSOM Couples Match Guide. A very detailed outline for approaching the couples match.
The main things to remember as a couple are:
- Make sure all programs know you're a couple.
- Don't rank any programs where one or both of you will be unhappy; who knows, you may end up there.
- Depending on what subspecialties you've chosen don't expect to get your first choice. Remember, two independent programs are looking at two individuals, and you may go pretty far down your rank list before everything "clicks"- make sure your list is long enough!
Last Revision: March 20, 2018