I wanted to be a surgeon. Specifically, I loved orthopedic surgery. I wanted to just fix something and not manage a chronic illness for years like internal medicine does. It was not to be for me, though, and my life turned out grand. I have reviewed applications from people who have done THREE specialty surgery internships and it makes me sad because they seem to be throwing themselves at an impenetrable wall. Obviously you can’t choose what you want to do for the rest of your life based purely on numbers, but let’s start by looking at the numbers.
For the 2018 Match, the specialties with the worst match rate (i.e. most competitive) that routinely participate in the match were exotic/wildlife (2.9%), zoo med (6.6%), and avian medicine (10%). You would not believe the number of vet student applicants who have told me their life long dream is to be a zoo vet. I feel so bad for them. Their dreams will almost surely be crushed. If you plan to do zoo med, you need a backup plan.
The specialties with the best match rate were lab animal, emergency/critical care, and anesthesia. Lab animal often pays quite well and allows you to do diverse interesting things. E/CC can be challenging and complex, but be sure to review the specialty board pass rate for the institution- some of them do not train their residents very well. Anesthesia of course is great- you don’t have to talk to crazy clients or haggle over money with clients and you can do small animal, large animal, or both.
Small animal surgery is actually higher than I thought- 20%! I have heard some programs receive 190 applications for one small animal surgery position. But the overall statistics don’t seem terrible for small animal surgery.
Obviously the match rate includes _every_ applicant, even those who are clearly not viable candidates. So your odds are probably much better, assuming you are reasonably competent and pleasant to work with. You may be able to improve your odds by having a great application packet and doing an interview well, with which this blog will help you.
So what to do with this information? Well, I would suggest analyzing your future career considering the statistics. Are you SURE the only thing you could be happy doing would be surgery or zoo med? A lot of other clinical specialties offer a similar quality of life, intellectual challenge, and freedom.
The evidence indicates that people can be happy leading life one of three ways – seeking pleasure, doing your best work, or helping others. You can do your best work doing a lot of different things in veterinary medicine. If you don’t match the first time for a residency, maybe re-examine your future and consider other alternatives before you waste years of your life pursuing an impossible dream.