Away Rotation Applications in Emergency Medicine: Medical Student Behaviors, Outcomes, and Stressors

Author Department

Emergency Medicine

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Background: Completing an emergency medicine (EM) away rotation is integral to matching successfully into an EM residency program. The demand for EM away rotations (ARs) drives students to submit numerous applications without evidence-based recommendations to guide stakeholders on the approach or number to submit.

Objectives: We conducted a survey study of EM-bound fourth-year medical students to gain insight into their AR application experiences, outcomes, and perceptions.

Methods: We distributed a 40-item questionnaire to EM applicants in Fall 2018 via e-mail through the Clerkship Directors in Emergency Medicine, Council of Residency Directors in EM, and Emergency Medicine Residents' Association listservs. Responses were evaluated using quantitative and qualitative analysis. Primary outcomes were the number of AR applications submitted and AR offers received by students. Secondary outcomes were students' self-assessment of their competitiveness, differences in AR application numbers by degree type, sources of student advising, and student perceptions of the AR application process.

Results: There were 253 respondents, consisting of 192 allopathic (MD) and 61 osteopathic (DO) medical students, who met the inclusion criteria, representing about 10% of the applicant pool. On average, students submitted 13.97 applications (95% confidence interval [CI] 11.59-16.35), received 3.25 offers (95% CI 3.01-3.49), and accepted 2.22 offers (95% CI 2.08-2.36). DO candidates submitted twice as many applications as MD candidates while experiencing a similar rate of offers received. Peer influence (n = 154, 61%), peer online advising networks (n = 83, 33%), and self-assessment (n = 114, 45%) were the most often reported causes of increased applications; cost (n = 104, 41%) and geographic limitations (n = 114, 45%) were the most often reported causes of decreased applications. Open-response analysis revealed frustration with lack of standardization (n = 44, 29.5%), insufficient transparency on available positions (n = 37, 24.8%), limited communication (n = 30, 20.1%), and cost (n = 12, 8.1%).

Conclusions: This study showed that, as a whole, students received one away rotation offer for every four to five applications submitted. It clarified factors contributing to increased EM away rotation application submissions and associated stressors inherent in the application experience. Our findings offer insights to inform advising recommendations. They also suggest that stakeholders consider standardizing the process and improve communication over spot availability and application status.

Keywords: VSAS; VSLO; Visiting Student Application Service; Visiting Student Learning Opportunities; advising; application; audition rotation; away rotation; emergency medicine; sub-internship.