Some residents decide to switch specialties all together, while others simply switch residency programs. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about switching residency programs, including what the process looks like and what it means for your career in the future.

As you know from your personal experience with applying to residency programs, it isn’t an easy process to get started. You should plan to begin the residency application process 18-24 months before you plan to start residency. Below, you’ll find guidelines on when to complete certain tasks on your journey toward joining a residency program.

18-24 months before residency:
-prepare your CV
-research residency programs

6-9 months before residency:
-rank residency programs by preference and submit applications

3-6 months before residency:
-complete your interviews with residency programs
-rank residency programs after completing interviews
-accept an offer from a residency program

3-4 months before residency:
-obtain the licenses and certifications needed to practice

3-9 months after completing your residency or fellowship:
-finalize your residency program
-begin submitting your visa information to prepare for becoming a practicing physician

Reasons for switching residency programs can include your spouse getting an opportunity in another city, having a family member back home that needs special care, or maybe you just aren’t enjoying the residency program as much as you thought you would.

Regardless of your reason for transferring residency programs, there are steps and precautions you can take to ensure that you’re happy in your new program. Something you should make sure of before switching residency programs is that you’re receiving the same rights, pay, and protections as the other residents in your new program.

If you’re considering transferring to a new residency program, be sure that you have no doubts about doing so. Some residents end up loving their residency program even though it wasn’t the first one on their rank order list. Avoid being quick to transfer programs – you may end up really enjoying your program, even if it takes some time.

In most cases, the program you transfer to will be ranked even lower than the one you started in, so if you’re planning on transferring in hopes of joining a higher-ranking program, you might want to re-think your decision. You should go into the residency program transfer process with realistic expectations, both for yourself and for the program to which you’re transferring.

The best time to begin the transfer from one program to another is in the fall or winter. There are a lot of materials required to transfer programs, and beginning the process in the fall or winter will give you the time you’ll need to gather all of the materials required. Your transfer will require the following:

  • Transfer application
  • Rapport with your program
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A letter of good standing from your current program director

Residents will leave their current programs all year long, so this isn’t a rule – merely a suggestion. Programs are likely to have openings throughout the entire year, so if you decide to start the transfer process in the spring or summer, there’s no need to worry.

One of the most important things you can do throughout this process is keep your program director in the loop. They’re going to find out about your desire to transfer regardless of whether or not you tell them, and as mentioned previously, there are materials you’ll need to gather from them to transfer programs. In addition, program directors of other residency programs will need to speak to your current program director about the transfer. This is necessary just to ensure that you are switching programs purely out of necessity, rather than due to a probation or policy violation.

If you’re interested in resources regarding residency, immigration, contract negotiations, or anything else of that nature, you can find them here, or you can request access to our PracticePath Career Guidebook. In the event that you’d like to start a conversation with us, send us an email at We love hearing from you!

Crystal Carter

Crystal Carter, Content Marketing Specialist

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