Discrimination by age is not permitted by the US laws. One cannot be simply refused a residency position because they are ‘too old’. Another subset of applicants with special situations are those who have a disability and has been dealt before. Laws preventing age discrimination in residency selection are a good and a bad thing.
Old graduates do match: It is good because it provides hope and chance for many old graduates that are thinking of pursuing residency graduate medical training in US. Many applicants are medical graduates in other fields like surgery or psychiatry who are now wanting to pursue training in US. They may not get into the field of their choice but are willing to make adjustments with other fields like Family medicine or pediatrics. I know personally of one 45 year old applicant who was a surgeon in his home country who matched into a family medicine residency. Another example is a close colleague who was in her 40s matched in to an internal medicine residency program. Examples like these are plenty and offer hope to those who are thinking of changing their career plans at a later stage in life.
Though legally there is a law in effect preventing ‘ageism’ in work place and residency recruitment, the reality of the situation includes some level of discrimination against those who are old. Program directors or admission committees can make any number of excuses to not take an older candidate and since there is no requirement to provide a reason to the applicant who does not match, most of the time, it is left to speculation as to what may have happened.
Reasons for 'ageism' in workplace: Part of the reason why the PDs and programs may not prefer to take older graduates is because, residency is in itself an extremely stressful situation. Successful completion of internship and residency demands sharp mental acuity, good physical condition and ability to deal with ever increasing stress of patient care. Each incumbent resident is a valuable member of the hospital workforce that cannot be easily replaced. It is because of this reason, that the programs want to hire a candidate they can see finish the residency without issues and complications. The general thought being that those who are older – like in their 40s and 50s are too set in their ways and will not be easy to train. There is also consideration that health issues may be relevant when older graduates are taking increasingly difficult responsibilities of patient care. Thus, in the real world, there may be a situation where, for two applicants A and B who are evenly matched except for age, the younger applicant may have a slight edge than compared to older one. This is however not a rule set in stone, as there are some FM programs or community peds/IM programs that may actually prefer to have more senior house staff due to their maturity in dealing with all circumstances.
If you are an older graduate (30+, 40+ or even 50+), have decided to pursue your dream of medical practice in US, then by all means go for it. There are good reasons to fulfill your ambition but temper it with a good measure of reality knowing that this will be a hard task, but which can be won with fair amount of knowledge of the match process, hard work and effort. If you wish to be in touch and get the latest posts and updates, join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Also Scroll below ↓ for the most popular articles this week!