What Are the Least Competitive Residencies?

May 6, 2024


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 5/6/24

Matching into a residency program can be tough, but we’ve got you covered! Follow along for a complete list of the least competitive residencies. 

Are you ready to start your medical residency journey but feeling a bit anxious about the competition? Don't worry, we've got your back! Matching into your dream residency program may seem daunting, but there are plenty of excellent options that are less cutthroat.

In this article, we'll dive into the nitty-gritty of the residencies with less competition, breaking it down by specialty. We'll explore why certain programs are less competitive and arm you with key statistics to help you make an informed decision about which residencies to target.

Whether you're passionate about primary care, fascinated by the mind-body connection, or eager to tackle medical emergencies, there's a less competitive residency out there for you. So take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee, and let's explore medical residencies together!

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Least Competitive Residencies

Matching into a residency program can be a challenging and competitive process, but some specialties are less competitive than others. Here, we'll explore the least competitive medical residency programs by specialty, discussing why they are less competitive and providing statistics to help you make an informed decision about which residencies to apply to:

  • Family Medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Anesthesiology
  • Obstetrics-Gynecology
  • Pathology
  • Neurological Surgery

1. Family Medicine 

Family medicine is one of the easiest medical specialties. This specialty exists within the domain of primary care and provides continuing health care for each individual member of a family, no matter the age, gender, or disease. Because this specialty is in high demand, many positions are offered each year, and most students who apply can secure a match.

In 2024, The Match data shows that Family Medicine offered 5,213 positions across 796 programs, which is the highest number of positions offered since 1992. Of these positions, 4,577 were filled, meaning that the fill rate was almost 88%. About 30% of these positions were filled by DO seniors, which is also quite a high percentage compared to previous years. 

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
87.8% 7,081 5,213

2. Pediatrics

Pediatrics is the branch of medicine dedicated to the care of infants, children, and teenagers. Generally speaking, the demand for pediatricians is quite high, and it is a popular specialty choice. What makes this a less competitive residency program than others is the large number of positions that are typically offered. 

Match data shows that an all-time high of  3,078 pediatric (categorical) positions were offered to new residents across 251 programs. About 47.6% of the positions offered were filled by MD seniors. The specialty presented an overall fill rate of 91.8%. 

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
91.8% 2,827 3,078

3. Psychiatry

Psychiatry is the medical specialty focused on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of all types of mental disorders. Mental disorders treated by psychiatrists can relate to mood, perceptions, behavior, and/or cognition, which they learn in school

This specialty is widely considered one of the least competitive residency programs to get into, although the reason for this is a bit of a mystery. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of interest, salary, or job satisfaction.

The 2024 Match data shows that psychiatry offered 2,261 positions across 382 programs. In total, there were  2,249 matches into the specialty, making the fill rate an excellent 995%. Of the positions filled, 58.5% were MD Seniors.

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
99.5% 3,176 2,249

4. Emergency Medicine

Emergency medicine is the medical specialty dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of urgent care patients. Emergency doctors see all kinds of ailments that require immediate care in all ages, from broken bones to parasites. The number of available positions, which has grown steadily since 1983, shows that emergency doctors are in high demand.

This year,  3,026 positions in emergency medicine were offered across 292 programs. Of those positions, 2,891 were filled, giving the specialty a fill rate of about 95.5%. In total, 42.5% of the total positions offered were filled by MD seniors, and 25.8% were filled by DO seniors (US Citizens).

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
95.5% 3,574 3,026

5. Internal Medicine

Internal medicine is devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of internal illnesses. Internists will also manage severe long-term internal illnesses and help patients with chronic conditions. 

Internal medicine (categorical) physicians are high in demand as their responsibilities are so broad. Across 707 programs, 10,261 positions were offered, which was the highest number of positions on record. Of those, 9,767 were filled, meaning the program has an overall match rate of 95.2%. 

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
95.2% 15,451 10,261

6. Anesthesiology

Anesthesiology focuses on the administration of anesthesia and other medicines while monitoring patients’ reactions and behavior throughout procedures. Anesthesiology is considered one of the least competitive medical specialties, though the reason for this is unclear; job satisfaction and salaries are generally on the higher side. 

Match data shows that anesthesiology offered 1,695 positions across 178 programs. There were 3,034 applicants in total, with 70.3% of those successful applicants being MD seniors. Additionally, there were 1,695 total matches, bringing the fill rate to 100%!

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
100% 3,034 1,695

7. Obstetrics-Gynecology 

An OB-GYN is a physician who specializes in the female reproductive system and pregnancy. This specialty encompasses obstetrics and gynecology to meet their patients’ broad needs. As an OB-GYN, your responsibilities and typical procedures vary greatly, from STI testing to ultrasounds.

Match data shows that obstetrics-gynecology offered 1,539 positions in total across 291 programs. The total number of applicants to the specialty was 2,143. Of those applicants, 1,533 were matched into obstetrics-gynecology programs to equal a fill rate of 99.6% (71.7% MD seniors).

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
99.6% 2,143 1,539

8. Pathology 

Pathology is a less popular specialty, which focuses on the study of disease or injury, and their causes and effects. Additionally, the meaning of the word pathology references the study of the essential nature of a disease, which incorporates the fields of biology, research, and multiple other medical practices.

Pathology is a smaller specialty than the others on our list. In total, Match data shows that 628 positions were offered across 177 programs. There were 1,047 total applicants to the programs. There were 381 matches in total, bringing the fill rate to a respectable 98.9% (41.9% MD seniors).

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
98.9% 1,047 628

9. Neurological Surgery

Neurological surgery focuses on the brain. As a specialty, this is one of the longest and most challenging programs you can take—mainly due to the complexity of the procedures and systems you’ll be working with. This specialty is highly competitive in terms of academic prowess, though few actually apply for these programs. 

Match data shows there were a total of 241 neurological surgery positions offered across 116 programs. In total, there were 423 applicants to these programs. Of those applicants, 241 were matched into neurosurgery programs, making the fill rate an impressive 100%. Over 84.6% of the matched applicants were MD seniors. 

Fill Rate Number of Applicants Number of Positions Offered
100% 423 241


If you still have questions about this topic, refer to our FAQ section below for all you need to know.

1. Which Residency Programs Are Least Competitive?

Multiple factors go into deciding which residency programs are the least competitive, including fill rates, total applicants, and total positions offered. Some of the least competitive residencies are:

  • Family Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Emergency Medicine 
  • Pathology

2. What Is The Least Competitive Medical Field?

Psychiatry, internal medicine, and emergency medicine have the lowest competition. However, when it comes to which medical field is the least competitive, the answer is challenging to find. 

On one hand, you can take a look at Match data to see how many residents applied to each program and how many positions were filled. On the other, you can take into consideration the popularity of the specialty according to things like salary, complexity, and job satisfaction rates. 

3. Which Doctor Has The Least Residency?

The shortest residency programs are typically in the following specialties and only take about two to three years to complete:

  • Internal medicine
  • Medical genetics and genomics
  • Osteopathic neuromusculoskeletal medicine (up to five years, depending on the program)
  • Pediatrics
  • Preventive medicine

Other shorter medical residencies include family medicine (three to four years), neurology (four years), and pathology (four years). 

4. Is A More Competitive Residency More Prestigious?

Not necessarily. Competitive residency programs generally have to do with the popularity of the specialty, job satisfaction, salary, etc. While more competitive residency programs are likely to be considered prestigious, this is not always the case. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing your medical residency is a big decision that will shape the course of your career. While it's tempting to pick the least competitive residencies, remember that passion should be your guide.

The years you spend in residency will be challenging, but they will also be incredibly rewarding if you're pursuing a field that truly ignites your curiosity and drives you to be your best. Don't be afraid to aim high and go for a competitive program if it aligns with your goals and values.

So, take a deep breath, stay focused, and remember why you started this journey in the first place – to make a difference in the lives of your patients. Good luck, and may your residency application process be a successful one!

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