What Are the Least Competitive Residencies?

October 17, 2023


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

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

Reviewed: 10/17/23

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. 

So, you’re ready to start applying to residency programs, but you’ve heard it can be hard to match into one. You may be wondering, “what are the least competitive residencies?” If you are, you’re in luck! 

Here we break down the least competitive residency programs by specialty and discuss why. We’ve also included statistics on each program to help you make an informed decision on which residencies you should apply to. 

Let’s get started!

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Least Competitive Residencies

Here’s our list of the least competitive medical residency programs by specialty. Our list has been determined by fill rate, positions offered, number of applicants, and more. 

Family Medicine 

Family medicine is one of the most common 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 are able to secure a match.

In 2022, The Match data shows that Family Medicine offered 5,088 positions across 745 programs, which is the highest number of positions offered since 1992. Of these positions, 4,511 were filled, meaning that the fill rate was almost 89%. About 30% of these positions were filled by DO seniors, which is also quite a high percentage compared to previous years. 

Fill Rate: 88.7%

Number of Applicants: 7,425

Number of Positions Offered: 5,088 


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  2,986 pediatric (categorical) positions were offered to new residents across 248 programs. About 61% of the positions offered were filled by MD seniors, while DO seniors made up about 20% (US citizens). Together, the specialty presented an overall fill rate of 97%. 

Fill Rate: 97.1%

Number of Applicants: 1,822

Number of Positions Offered:  2,986


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. 

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 2022 Match data shows that psychiatry offered 2,164 positions across 379 programs. In total, there were  2,143 matches into the specialty, making the fill rate an excellent 99%. Of the positions filled, 61.2% were MD Seniors.

Fill Rate: 99% 

Number of Applicants: 3,039

Number of Positions Offered: 2,164

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, 3,010 positions in emergency medicine were offered across 132 programs. Of those positions, 2,456 were filled, giving the specialty a fill rate of about 81%. In total, 42.3% of the total positions offered were filled by MD seniors, and 25.8% were filled by DO seniors (US Citizens).

Fill Rate: 81.6%

Number of Applicants: 2,765

Number of Positions Offered: 3,010

Internal Medicine

Internal medicine is devoted to 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. This is reflected in the positions offered, which was 9,725, the highest number of positions on record. Of those, 9,345 were filled, meaning the program has an overall match rate of 96%. 

Fill Rate: 96.1% 

Number of Applicants: 14,231

Number of Positions Offered: 9,725


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 1,609 positions across 172 programs. There were 2,959 applicants in total, with 74% of those successful applicants being MD seniors. Additionally, there were 1,606 total matches, bringing the fill rate to 99%.

Fill Rate: 99.8%

Number of Applicants: 2,959

Number of Positions Offered: 1,609


An OB-GYN is a physician that specializes in the female reproductive system and pregnancy. This specialty encompasses obstetrics and gynecology in order 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 1,503 positions in total across 283 programs. The total number of applicants to the specialty was 2,100. Of those applicants, 1,499 were matched into obstetrics-gynecology programs to equal a fill rate of almost 100% (73.3% MD seniors).

Fill Rate: 99.7% 

Number of Applicants: 2,100

Number of Positions Offered: 1,503


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 613 positions were offered across 166 programs. There were 1,023 total applicants to the programs. There were 607 matches in total, bringing the fill rate to a respectable 99% (39.5% MD seniors).

Fill Rate: 99% 

Number of Applicants: 1,023

Number of Positions Offered: 613

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 243 neurological surgery positions offered across 115 programs. In total, there were 375 applicants to these programs. Of those applicants, 240 matched into neurosurgery programs, making the fill rate an impressive 98%. Over 86% of the matched applicants were MD seniors. 

Fill Rate: 98.8% 

Number of Applicants: 375

Number of Positions Offered: 240

FAQs: Least Competitive Residencies

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the least competitive residencies.

1. Which Residency Programs Are Least Competitive?

There are multiple factors that 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

If you’re concerned about the competitiveness of a residency, consider taking a look at the NRMP Match data.

2. What Is The Least Competitive Medical Field?

Generally speaking, some of the least competitive medical fields are psychiatry, internal medicine, and emergency medicine. 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, it is not always the case.

Final Thoughts

While some residency programs are less competitive and perhaps easier to get into, you should choose your residency program based on your passion. Your years in residency will be taxing and ultimately lead to a long career in whichever specialty you choose. Because of this, your residency program should reflect your own personal interests and needs.

Some factors to consider when selecting a residency program in your specialty are reputation, location, and length. Don’t be afraid to go for a more competitive program if you feel you would truly be a good fit for that program. Just make sure to build excellent application materials and show up prepared for your interviews. 

Good luck!

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