Neurology Appears More Competitive in This Year’s National R… : Neurology Today

By Mary Beth Kidney Garden

June 16, 2022

Article In Brief

Data from the 2022 National Residency Match Program show that the number of neurology residency positions continued to increase from 2018 to 2021, and that nearly 100 percent of the positions were matched. AAN members say outreach programs that support the pipeline to neurology (supported by an AAN grant) have helped encourage more interest in the field.

Seven years later, a Conrad N. Hilton Foundation grant awarded to the AAN Education Committee—and matched by the AAN—seems to be meeting its goal of increasing the number of medical students who pursue neurology as their chosen career, at least based on the latest data from the National Residency Match Program.

Data released from the 2022 National Residency Match Program show that the number of neurology residency positions continued to increase—1,005 this year compared with 969 in 2021 and 839 in 2018—and that nearly 100 percent of the positions were matched.

“Among all US physician graduates, we saw an increase in the number of matches to neurology from 1.6 percent in 2018 to 1.8 percent in 2020 and 2.1 percent in 2022,” said Justin T. Jordan, MD, MPH, FAAN, vice chair of the AAN Medical Student Pipeline Subcommittee, a subcommittee within the AAN Education Committee created during the grant-funded research.

Looking at the 2022 matching data in a slightly different way, Joseph I. Sirven, MD, FAAN, chair of the AAN Education Meeting Subcommittee, pointed to the supplemental offer and acceptance program (SOAP) data showing that only 1.2 percent of open positions in neurology were not filled in 2022. “Think of this [data] as the unemployment rate for residents,” he said.

dr Sirven said these numbers highlight how competitive neurology has become. When compared with other specialties in the 2022 SOAP data, neurology has a lower percentage of open positions than fields like pathology (1.9 percent), pediatrics (2.8 percent), internal medicine (5.0 percent), emergency medicine (7.5 percent), child neurology (9.2 percent), family medicine (9.5 percent), and radiation oncology (18.8 percent), he said. He pointed out that the rates of open neurology positions are more comparable with dermatology (1.0 percent) and psychiatry (0.8 percent).

Successful Neurology Pipeline Strategies

Gordon Smith, MD, FAAN, professor and chair of neurology and the Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research at Virginia Commonwealth University, was the principal investigator of the Hilton Foundation grant. dr Smith said that the grant aimed to explore why medical students chose to enter or not pursue neurology and to develop programs and approaches aimed at increasing the percentage of medical students entering neurology as a field. He thinks the data from the 2022 match are encouraging.

Citing the increased number of neurology positions and numbers filled, Dr. Smith said, “I’d like to think that the enthusiasm for pursuing neurology among medical students “has been positively influenced by the work funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation grant and what the Academy has been doing to increase interest in the field. ”

Published data funded through the grant highlighted a number of areas to foster interest in neurology among students. Data show that four main areas determined the interest by medical students in neurology: 1) early and broad clinical exposure to neurology, 2) preclerkship experiences and a strong neuroscience curriculum, 3) positive personal interactions with neurology providers, and 4) negative personal interactions with neurology providers.

dr Smith, a coauthor on the studies, said that these findings helped identify ways for the Academy to tap into student interest in neurology and increase the pipeline of positions available in neurology. Calling the specialty vibrant and highly diverse, Dr. Smith said that “effectively communicating this reality to medical, graduate, undergraduate, and high school students promises to continue to grow our pipeline, as does exposing learners to inspirational and diverse neurologists role models.”

Building on what the data showed, the AAN Education Committee has implemented multiple programs to generate early and broad interest in neurology among students. dr Jordan, also a coauthor of the studies, listed a few current programs such as the use of video chats with neurologists with high school and college students, robust scholarship programs to invite students to the AAN annual meeting with dedicated programming, and broad mentorship opportunities.

“We are expanding our current outreach to undergraduate students, especially those who are neuroscience majors/minors and expanding our Guest Neurologist virtual program for elementary through high school students to increase exposure to neurologists.”—DR. RANA SAID

Rana Said, MD, FAAN, chair of the Medical Student Pipeline Subcommittee, said that the medical student symposia at the AAN Annual Meeting is particularly popular and drew about 280 students at the last meeting. She also cited other outreach initiatives such as a Medical Student App that allows students to test their knowledge via a Question of the Day, as well as a way to connect with mentors across the country.

“We are expanding our current outreach to undergraduate students, especially those who are neuroscience majors/minors and expanding our Guest Neurologist virtual program for elementary through high school students to increase exposure to neurologists,” she said, adding that mentorship and relationship-building are the keys to increasing the pipeline.

She cited two current initiatives that focus on these goals: The Visiting Medical Student Scholarship program that provides medical students with the chance to participate in a visiting program to network with neurologists, and the Visiting Medical Student Diversity Scholarship program to attract students from underrepresented racial and Ethnic backgrounds to neurology residency programs in the US.

Growth of the pipeline

To sustain and grow the neurology pipeline going forward, Dr. Said it would be important to move clerkships to the third year of medical school as has been done in many programs. “This has been beneficial towards recruitment of medical students to our field with exposure earlier in their medical school career,” she said.

She added, however, that significant challenges remain, including the increasing number of medical students graduating each year but the minimal increase in the number of available residency slots. Another major priority is the need to attract diverse students at all levels of training to enter neurology. “Strong efforts are underway,” she said, “but they must continue to expand as we attract those historically underrepresented in medicine to enhance the diversity of our graduates and better serve the diverse tapestry of our patients.”

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“Id like to think that the enthusiasm for pursuing neurology among medical students has been positively influenced by the work funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation grant and what the Academy has been doing to increase interest in the field.”—DR. GORDON SMITH

Along with early exposure to neurology, students are also becoming more interested in the specialty because of the technical and innovative advancements in the field. “I think that increasing therapeutic options and scientific advances in neurology are important considerations, as well as technological advances including diagnostics, therapeutics, and even the fact that neurology is a pioneering field in technology,” said Dr. Jordan.

Another factor driving interest is the perception that neurology is fulfilling and fun. “Neurologic diseases dominate the health headlines and students are seeing neurology as a fulfilling career,” said Dr. sirven

dr Smith sees the fields of neurology and neuroscience as capturing the imagination of students on all levels. “The bottom line: being a neurologist is fun and rewarding,” he said.

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