A Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for a PM&R Residency

Career Support


Applying for a residency can be a complicated process. Learn more about the 4 steps of applying to residency by clicking on the links below. Also make sure to check out the Medical School Roadmap to PM&R 4th year medical student section on information about details of the application itself (e.g., personal statement, letters of recommendation, USMLE Step 2 testing, and away rotations.)


Finding an ACGME-Accredited PM&R Residency Program

Ways to research both intern year (PGY1) and residency training programs include:

  • Visit the Residents section of the AAPM&R website and view a map of PM&R programs in the U.S. and find out more information on PM&R residency training.
  • Use the American Medical Association Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database Access System (AMA-FREIDA). For more information, visit the AMA-FREIDA Web site.
  • Talk with current PM&R residents and attendings at your institution.

Selecting a Program for Application

Facts and Figures

  • 83 ACGME-accredited programs across 28 states
  • 30 Categorical programs (4-year programs)

Seek advice about specific residency programs from a wide variety of sources including:

  • Attend the AAPM&R Annual Assembly’s Residency Fair as part of the Medical Student Program.
  • If you are at a medical school with no associated PM&R department or program, please contact the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) to identify resources in your area.
  • Talk with your PM&R department chair, program director, or other PM&R faculty.
  • Ask PM&R residents and fellows at your institution.
  • Talk with your PM&R student interest group.
  • Check with your Graduate Medical Education office and see if there are any alumni that matched into PM&R who might be able give you some insight.
  • Talk with your medical school advisor.
  • Check program websites directly—application requirements, curriculum, research opportunities, etc.

Consider the following factors when selecting programs:

  • Academic environment:
    • Education curriculum (Lecture schedule, protected study time, etc.)
    • Conference schedule
    • Research activity and opportunities
    • Facilities
      • Some programs are based at a free-standing rehabilitation hospital and others have an inpatient rehabilitation floor within an acute care hospital.
    • Availability of PM&R subspecialty expertise (i.e., Spinal Cord Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury, Pediatric Rehabilitation, Musculoskeletal, or Pain Specialists).
  • Area of interest:
    • Academic career: Consider university-based programs with a well-balanced faculty involved in full-time teaching and research commitments
    • Subspecialty interest: Seek out programs with a well-developed division in a specific area to facilitate introduction to research and more specialized practice (e.g., spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, pediatrics) and to determine which programs might offer a fellowship in that area after completion of residency.
  • Accreditation: Check the ACGME website and research the accreditation status of residency programs. Residency programs are routinely reviewed and given accreditation status. It is good to know if the program you are applying to is accredited or on probation. After ACGME review, a program is issued accreditation for a certain number of years before requiring another site visit, with a 10-year accreditation being the highest. If a program is on probation, make sure to inquire why they were cited and what is being done to remediate any problems identified.
  • Benefits: Inquire about resident benefits at each program, including ability to attending conferences locally and nationally, reimbursement for conference participation, reimbursement for memberships to professional organizations such as the AAPM&R, book money, salary, and health benefits.
  • Location:
    • If you want to go into clinical practice, remember that many residents go into practice in the same geographical area where they trained. During the training process, you usually become familiar with employment opportunities and practicing physiatrists and groups in the area.
    • Residency can be a stressful time so proximity to family, friends, and your social support network should not be undervalued.
    • Consider your own hobbies and interests. Its important that you train in a location where you feel you will be happy to live for at least 3-4 years.
    • Cost-of-living varies by location. Consider your expenses, expected stipend, and the cost-of-living in each city to determine if it’s within your budget.
  • Size of residency program: The size of PM&R residency programs can range from 2–14 residents per class. Having a small versus large residency has both pluses and minuses and is program dependent. Reflect on your learning style and what would be the optimal environment for your education. Make sure to speak with current residents to determine if the program is a good fit for you.
  • Patient-to-resident ratio: Ask specifically about the patient-to-resident ratio on the inpatient service and the structure of the team. Some programs have senior residents that round on the inpatient service whereas, in other programs you may be interacting with the attending directly. You should also inquire about the average inpatient consults seen per month.
  • Selectivity/competitiveness of the program: Ask your medical school's PM&R department chair and other PM&R faculty for assistance in estimating both the selectivity of training programs and applicant competitiveness. You can also check out the NRMP Program Director Survey for specific information.
  • Quality of Resident Life: There are several factors that play into the quality of life of a resident. A good way to gauge quality of life is by talking with the current residents. Inquire about call schedules, camaraderie among residents, local recreational activities, etc.
  • Board Pass Rate and Post-Graduate Plans of Residents: Ask each residency its board pass rate for the last several years as well as the steps taken to ensure their residents are prepared for the boards (doing a SAE-P or AAPM&R’s Qbank questions together, mock oral boards, etc.). Inquire about the post-graduate plans of the residents in the program. Did their graduates go into private practice or academic medicine? Did they pursue fellowship training? How successful have their residents been in obtaining a fellowship?

PGY1 Training

There are a number of residencies (i.e. radiation oncology, neurology, dermatology, etc.) that start residency after a year of preliminary training. There are some PM&R programs that include a PGY1 year and PGY2-4 years, which are called categorical positions. However, a majority of the PM&R residency programs offer only PGY2-4 or advanced positions. Therefore, you typically will have to apply for a separate preliminary year (i.e. internship) along with your PM&R residency program during the summer of your 4th year in medical school.

Internships can be done through Internal Medicine, Surgery, Family Medicine, Pediatrics, a rotating osteopathic (DO) or transitional year (MD).

If you are applying to:

  • A residency program that offers both categorical and advanced positions, it is the applicant's advantage to rank both positions and maximize their chance of matching.
  • Only advanced positions, you will need to apply and rank for a separate internship year along with your PM&R Residency.
  • Programs with a variety of categorical and advanced options, you still need to rank and apply for a separate internship in case you do not match for a categorical position.
  • Also consider ranking preliminary year positions only at the bottom of your rank order list in the event you do not match into a categorical or advanced position.

Pediatric PM&R

There are currently two ways to enter into pediatric rehabilitation:

  • Medical students can apply for a combined pediatrics / PM&R residency program, which is a 5-year combined pediatrics/PM&R residency program that is offered. There are only a few programs that provide this option (may change each year): Cincinnati Children’s/University of Cincinnati PM&R (1 spot each year), Jefferson/DuPont Hospital for Children (1 spot each year), University of Colorado Denver (1 spot each year), and Detroit Medical Center/Wayne State University (1 spot each year). Alternatively, you can also apply for a 2-year pediatric rehabilitation fellowship following completion of your PM&R residency. 
  • Medical students can also complete PM&R residency and then apply for a pediatric rehabilitation fellowship. After completion of this two-year fellowship, graduates are eligible to sit for PM&R and pediatric rehabilitation board certification. Applicants typically apply for pediatric rehabilitation fellowships in the spring of their PGY-3 year.


Talk with each program to get an idea of scheduling. Most PM&R programs start interviewing in late October/November and as late as January/February. Most interview invites will be sent via email, so it is important to check your email early and often during interview season. Each program has a limited number of interview dates and spots may be filled rather quickly, thus a timely email response will increase your chances of getting your desired interview date. If you are interested in a program and cannot schedule an interview, it is important to be proactive and ensure they know you are interested in an interview if a spot were to become available.

You will be invited for interviews based on your timely and completely submitted credentials, personal statement, Dean's letter, transcript and letters of recommendation, all of which can be uploaded onto ERAS. The interview day is the best opportunity to gather more information about the program and to learn more about the resident’s perspective. You will likely be interviewed by several interviewers (usually 2-4), and they will include faculty, chief residents, and fellows. It is best to prepare for interviews by reading more about specific programs (residency websites are often a great place to start.) You should be prepared to answer expected questions such as why you are applying to their program, what makes you a great fit, why you are entering the field of PM&R, what your career goals are, etc.

It is also useful to prepare a few specific questions that you want to ask your interviewer, as they will ask and expect you to have questions. Interact with the current residents at each program as much as you can as this is a great opportunity to get an idea of how they feel about the program and whether you feel you would fit well with the people at that program. Some programs offer a dinner or social event the night prior to the interview day. It is strongly encouraged to attend these events if possible so that you can interact with the residents in an informal setting, ask informal questions, get a feel for the camaraderie and atmosphere of the program, and sense whether the residents like their program and are genuinely happy. After your interview day is complete, you may also choose to send a thank you email to your interviewers and program coordinator. However, this does not affect your ranking and is often just viewed as common courtesy.

After your interviews are complete, you must prepare and submit a ranking list of programs to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) which is typically due in the middle to end of February. You can rank as many or as few of the programs for which you had interviews. The rank is often the most important step in the application process, so it is highly advised to choose your list wisely!

Match Program: The PM&R Match

PM&R Programs utilize ERAS (Electronic Residency Application Service) for resident applications and the NRMP to match the residency positions. All allopathic and osteopathic PM&R and internship programs use ERAS for the application process. You will typically upload all necessary documents (i.e., personal statement, USMLE/COMLEX scores, MSPE, transcript, Dean’s letter, letters of recommendation, photo) onto ERAS. NRMP is the matching program where you finalize your program rank list. Contact ERAS and NRMP for more information about the Match process and specific deadlines. 

The Match process in PM&R is generally quite favorable. The percentage of U.S. medical school seniors matching to programs has generally been 95-98% over the past 10 years. It is also important to keep in mind that PM&R has also become an increasingly popular and competitive specialty amongst medical students. View the ERAS Match Timeline for all the latest dates.

Final Thoughts

Applying for residency is a very exciting process that requires a lot of planning and organization. This period can also become easily overwhelming (i.e., traveling, scheduling, etc.), so it is important to also try to find some time for yourself throughout this process.

These recommendations are an outline to help guide your decision in choosing a residency. Every person is different and we all have our priorities that play into our choices. The right program for you is usually the one that you feel is the best fit from your interview day. If you still have questions after your interviews or are stuck between ranking two programs as your top choice, it may be helpful to take a second look at a program (or a couple of programs) for a day or two. Most programs are more than willing to set this up if you contact the chief residents or program coordinator.

Don't forget to use all the resources available through the AAPM&R to guide your application process. Contact chief residents and other residents through the AAPM&R PhyzForum, check out sample CVs on the resident resources website, map-out PM&R residencies in your desired areas, and much more.