Categorical vs Preliminary vs Advanced Residency Programs: A Primer for Residency Applicants | MedSchoolCoach

Categorical vs Preliminary vs Advanced Residency Programs: A Primer for Residency Applicants

medschoolcoach

Posted in: Residency

If you are applying to residency in the US through the NRMP match program, you may be confused about the different types of programs offered. This may be especially confusing for international medical graduates (known as IMGs), who may not be familiar with the US training pathways for physicians.

Categorical vs Preliminary (vs Transitional Year programs)

Most U.S. medical students are looking to match into what is known as a categorical position for residency training in a given specialty during their final year in medical school. A “categorical” position is one which offers full residency training required for board certification in a particular specialty.

That is different than a “preliminary” position, which usually is one year of training prior to entry into advanced specialty programs. Many internal medicine and surgery training programs offer preliminary positions in addition to categorical positions.

What is a transitional year program?

Transitional programs can be thought of as a sampling of many disciplines. Trainees rotate through medical and surgical rotations, including oncology, pulmonology, anesthesiology, dermatology, radiology, rheumatology, neurology, infectious diseases, obstetrics/gynecology, and ophthalmology. Transitional years are for specialties where a thorough understanding of basic pathophysiology and procedures is needed.

Transitional year programs are also considered preliminary year training programs, which are a stepping stone to categorical positions.

Are some advanced programs coupled with preliminary year programs?

Trainees can complete their intern year and residency at the same institution in some situations. These programs may be applied to together. Consequently, applicants don’t have to secure an intern year separately from their residency. Instead, their program offers the full training necessary to acquire board certification in that particular discipline. Popular residencies with many categorical programs include internal medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, emergency medicine, family medicine, anesthesiology, and OB/GYN.

What is an advanced (PGY-2) residency?

Advanced residencies are the residencies in non-categorical programs after completing an intern year. Applicants apply for both their intern year and advanced residency simultaneously but separately. As a result, the application fees and interview trail costs can double! Advanced (PGY-2) positions are often for the most competitive fields, such as dermatology, ophthalmology, radiology, radiation oncology, etc.

What if I don’t match into an advanced program?

When a student is applying to an advanced program and doesn’t match, they may still be able to match into a prelim year program. They can impress people there and stay in a categorical program after! A great intern might even improve their chances to match at the same institution for an advanced residency spot, but there needs to be a spot open for them.

How do I apply to preliminary, categorical or advanced year residency positions?

Most applications for residency positions are transmitted by using the AAMC’s Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS®). Visit the ERAS website for information about the application process. (nrmp.org)

Suggested Reads:

Recent Blog Posts

View All Posts
Complete Guide to the Residency Match Process | MedSchoolCoach

A Complete Guide to the Residency Match Process

A Complete Guide to the Residency Match ProcessThe months leading up to medical school graduation are an exciting time, but[...]

calendar-icon April 4, 2023
Medical worker stacking hands

Categorical vs Preliminary vs Advanced Residency Programs: A Primer for Residency Applicants

If you are applying to residency in the US through the NRMP match program, you may be confused about the[...]

calendar-icon September 30, 2021
Residency List of Intent

Letters of Intent for the Residency Match Process

The residency match process can be grueling - between away rotations, the ERAS application, interviews and thank you letters, medical[...]

calendar-icon February 9, 2022

Guidebooks

View all guidebooks
The Pre-Med Journey

The Pre-Med Journey: What it Takes to Get into Medical School

Thinking about applying to medical school? Discover what high school students need to know about obtaining a career in medicine.

Download
Successfully Planning for the USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK

Successfully Planning for the USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK

Get ready for the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 with this free guide to study planning and resource utilization.

Download
100 MCAT Study Tips

100 MCAT Study Tips

Taking the MCAT? These 100 tips and tricks will help you ace the MCAT.

Download

Happy April Fool’s Day from MedSchoolCoach!


While mastering sleep-learning is still a dream, MCAT Go helps you study for the MCAT while you are awake. Listen to MCAT Go for free (a $99 value) by entering your email below to receive an exclusive discount code. This ain’t no joke.