How Reliable Are Doximity’s Residency Rankings?

Fourth year medical students, you probably starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Come this spring, you will get the title of “doctor” that you’ve been dreaming about for years. Finally – all of your hard work will pay off! I can only assume that it’s a pretty great feeling.

Flickr | zumima-

Flickr | zumima-

Yet, just as you all surely felt as you applied to medical school, you’re feeling uncertain about your future. Back then, your thoughts were, “Where will you go to medical school? Will you even get in to medical school?” which have now become “What should you specialize in? Are you competitive for that specialty? Where should you apply?”

It is an important and overwhelming decision-making process.

Where to begin? Perhaps when you applied to medical school, like me, you started your search by looking at the rankings of medical schools. Unfortunately, no such list has existed for residency.

Until now.

Perhaps you’ve seen my colleague Ryan Nguyen’s piece about Doximity’s new Residency Rankings. In case you haven’t, Doximity, a social networking site for physicians, recently took on the task of creating a ranking of residencies to help out students make informed decisions. They reached out to their extensive membership, asking a simple question – What residency programs in your field offer the best clinical training?

Between an initial Internal Medicine residency survey from January to March 2014 and a further survey for 23 other specialties from July to August 2014, they received responses from over 17,000 credential-verified physicians resulting in more than 50,000 individual nominations. They then weighed each nomination based on response rates in geographic locations and used this information to compile their rankings. They additionally acknowledged objective data such as location and board pass rate as well as information from Doximity user profiles to further enhance their data set. Finally, they put the data together in a user-friendly format known as the Doximity Residency Navigator.


Like other ranking systems, this Residency Navigator has been the subject of critique. In threads on both Reddit and Student Doctor Network, users have expressed their concerns about the reliability of the data including that the qualities of residency programs are too complex for them to be simply ranked best-to-worst and that what really matters is someone’s fit with a program, a value that cannot be meaningfully quantified. They also disagreed with some of the residencies listed among the top of their specialty.


Perhaps my favorite comment within these threads, though, came as a result of the negativity toward this residency ranking system. One person asked, “How can one determine the quality of a residency, then?” Only to have in response, “Word of mouth and particular interests that might be strengths of certain programs.” Funny thing is that individual word of mouth can be seen as more subjective and unreliable than any cumulative data set if considering the n-value like the scientist that you all are. While each participant provided their own subjective viewpoint, the large number of responses can take away from the subjectivity of each response and provide a more agreed-upon result.


As we look to increasing transparency in medical education, these rankings may not be perfect, but they are at least a step in the right direction. They can serve as a basis for improved ranking systems that can even further help all medical students find the best residencies for them.


Originally published 9/19/14

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Hanna Erickson, "Almost" MD/PhD

Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at