Pharmacy Residency: The Match Algorithm

Pharmacy Residency Preparation Specialists

Understanding the algorithm that is used to power the Match is vital as you begin the process towards your Pharmacy residency. Here we will assess what algorithm is used, how it operates in regards to both candidates and programs, and what happens if multiple applicants have selected one program as their number one choice. We’ll also break down some common myths around the process. 

The Pharmacy Match Algorithm Explained

The US Pharmacy Match (the ASHP Match) is performed using the Roth-Peranson algorithm, which itself is a version of the Deferred Acceptance Algorithm. Put simply, the algorithm will begin by attempting to place an applicant onto the program that is most preferred on their list of programs. Therefore, it works down through an applicant’s Rank Order List, from most preferred program to least preferred, until it reaches the first program which the applicant can be matched tentatively to (or until the entire Rank Order List is exhausted). In other words, it might stop at the very top of your list – if your selected program ranked you first as well – or it might need to work its way down towards the bottom of your list. Meanwhile, programs accept applicants upwards on their Rank Order Lists – meaning that less preferred matches are removed in favour of more preferred matches, until the program is ranked to the applicants that it most prefers, and who themselves wish to be matched to the program. The algorithm is run using computers, although it could also be performed by hand – which would, of course, be much slower. The objective, in its simplest terms, is that each applicant and program receive the best result that is possible for them.

That means that for applicants, the algorithm matches you to the most preferred program on your Rank Order List that has also ranked you, and that has not filled its positions with other applicants that it prefers. For programs, the algorithm matches a program with the most preferred applicants on its Rank Order List, until such a point that its total number of positions are filled. Note that these applicants must not have obtained positions at programs that they would prefer over this program.

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What Information Does the Pharmacy Match Algorithm Use?

The algorithm uses three pieces of information only. These are the Applicant Rank Order Lists, the Program Rank Order Lists, and the number of available positions at each program. Absolutely no other information is used, including no demographic information or other personal qualities or e.g. socioeconomic factors.

Does the Algorithm Work Better for Applicants or Programs?

The algorithm is designed to work for both – it will not prioritise one party’s rankings over the other. It is, in fact, ‘applicant proposing’ – as stated above, it will start with the applicant’s Rank Order List and then check to see if a program on the applicant’s list has ranked the applicant. As this is an applicant-proposing algorithm, there have been studies that have found possible scenarios in which applicants are given more preferred matches, and programs are given less preferred matches, than if an algorithm that worked through proposing programs was used. However, this is likely to affect only about 0.1% of matches, and is likely to be a positive for applicants, not a negative.

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What if two Applicants Both Rank the Same Program as Their Number One?

If two applicants both have the same first choice of program, then the algorithm will use the program’s Rank Order List to decide who gets the position – the applicant that is more preferred on the program’s list will receive it. That means if you have ranked the program number one, and they have ranked you number one, then you will match. Meanwhile, if another student has also ranked it number one, and they have ranked that student number one, then they will receive the position. Of course, if a multitude of programs have selected the same student as their first choice, then the applicant’s Rank Order List will be used to decide which position the applicant will accept – as it will work down through their choices and select the program that is most preferred for them.

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