If you are wondering which program to apply for, take a look at the best residency programs for surgery to make your decision easier. A residency in surgery takes five years typically and resident surgeons work under the guidance of an attending surgeon. As they gain experience, their responsibilities grow. Medical schools in the US follow the ERAS timeline while the medical schools in Canada follow the CaRMS timeline and application system for residency matching. In this blog, we will take a look at what makes a residency program the best, some of best residency programs for surgery in the US and Canada, and tips on how to match them.

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List of the Best Residency Programs What Makes a Residency Program the Best? Best Residency Programs for Surgery in the US Best Residency Programs for Surgery in Canada Tips on How To Match With the Best Residency Programs for Surgery Interview Prep for Residency Programs FAQs

List of the Best Residency Programs for Surgery

  1. General Surgery Residency program at University of Michigan
  2. General Surgery Training Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  3. Surgical Residency Program at Massachusetts General Hospital
  4. General Surgery Residency Training Program at University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine
  5. General Surgery Residency Program at Queen’s University School of Medicine

What Makes a Residency Program the Best for Surgery?

Before we talk about what makes a general surgery residency program the best, note that “best” is very subjective in this case. Something that a surgery residency program is famous for, might not be what you are looking for in that program. For example, a medical school may boast of its variety of facilities which makes it “the best” for that reason, but you may be more interested in the core curriculum of a residency program.

With that in mind, there are quite a lot of factors that determine the value of a certain residency program and make it stand out. These can include a comprehensive curriculum, suitability to the student’s goals, variety of facilities, notable faculty members, affiliate hospitals, focus on research, and more. So, depending on what you are looking for in a surgery residency program, the meaning of “best” can vary.

Best Residency Programs for Surgery in the US

US medical schools can be either public or private. Public schools usually keep a number of seats for in-state candidates which is why they can be more difficult to get into. Private schools, on the other hand, do not have this regulation. You should make sure to check the medical school GPA requirements and MCAT score requirements of the school you are applying to.

Several medical schools across the US offer general surgery as a dedicated five-year residency program:

1.     University of Michigan Department of Surgery

The University of Michigan Department of Surgery offers a General Surgery Residency program which is ranked #1 among public institutes in the nation by Doximity in 2021. The program boasts of a well-rounded curriculum, depth and breadth of clinical and research opportunities, and excellent career outcomes. It has more than 100 full time faculty, four of which are members of the National Academy of Medicine while several others hold leadership positions in national organizations. Residents also get two years of protected time for research across a range of interests as well as academic development.

The curriculum includes all aspects of surgery including diseases of the abdomen, head and neck, breast, skin, soft tissues, and endocrine systems. It also exposes residents to management of trauma and burn patients. With the help of specialties, residents can gain knowledge in solid organ transplantation, vascular surgery, thoracic surgery, bariatric surgery, and pediatric surgery.

According to the medical school, it has a recent 2-year fellowship acceptance rate of 100% and over 90% of general surgery residents take on advanced fellowship training. In the past 13 years, 156 trainees from University of Michigan Department of Surgery have become faculty at over 60 universities nationally. The team of general surgery residents at the school produce a total of around 70 papers and 130 presentations a year.

What makes this program stand out is the depth and breadth of research at the labs and research centers. The medical school boasts of its residents being very successful in getting NIH loan repayment and funding through the American College of Surgeons and other national surgical organizations.

Admission requirements: along with the ERAS application, candidates are encouraged to provide the AAMC ERAS Supplemental Application as it gives the institute additional information about the medical education journey, professional journey, and research experiences. Applicants will also be required to show their USMLE numerical scores but there is no minimum step score requirement. A passing score for USMLE Step 1 is required to be considered for an interview. The institute strongly encourages applicants to include their USMLE Step 2 scores in their application as well. Selected candidates will then be invited for interviews.

2.     Johns Hopkins University Department of Surgery

The surgery program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is ranked #1 by the U.S. News & World Report 2023 based on the quality of a school's faculty, research, and students, as well as expert opinion about a program's excellence. The General Surgery Training Program at Johns Hopkins welcomes only seven individuals from all over the world each year, making it a very competitive and challenging program. Because the number of residents is low, each resident is offered a customized academic development experience.

The first two years of the program focus on foundational skills and experiences in general surgery along with its sub-specialties. The majority of the time will be spent at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The third and fourth years bring further training in various areas such as endocrine, transplant, oncologic, pediatric, hepatobiliary and trauma, and vascular surgery, among others. At the end of the five clinical years of the General Surgery Training Program, residents in recent years have performed around 1,000 operations.

Approximately 70% of a resident’s rotation time is spent at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, while 25% is spent at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The remaining 5% or less is spent at local affiliated institutions doing electives. All residents at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Surgery are given one- to four-year research experiences. They are appointed fellows of the university, which gives them graduate student discounts on social activities and performing arts programs.

Along with the variety of hands-on experience options, the General Surgery Training Program at Johns Hopkins stands out for the benefits it offers to its residents. These include medical and dental care, liability insurance, disability and life insurance, four weeks of paid vacation, and a competitive stipend.

Admission requirements: as part of the ERAS application, applicants will need to have a personal statement, Dean’s letter, medical school transcript, USMLE Step 1 score and, if available, Step 2, and three letters or recommendation. One letter must be from an emergency medicine physician. Applicants that have previous residency experience will need to submit letters from their previous program director. If selected, you will receive an interview invitation from the medical school which means you should start preparing by reviewing some Johns Hopkins medical school interview questions.

3.     Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Surgery

The five-year Surgical Residency Program at Mass General's Department of Surgery boasts of significant hands-on experience and an abundance of clinical materials. A surgical trainee gains early experience with this program and by the end of it, they would have performed 1,100 to 1,200 major operations. There is no mandate for a research sabbatical, but the majority of students at Mass General spend two years on in-depth research and career development.

Furthermore, it has six endowed fellowships which promise salary support to all residents conducting research. Another aspect of the student experience is that the Chief Research Officer at the Department of Surgery, Genevieve Boland, MD, PhD, works with each resident to put together a team of suitable mentors. Residents at Mass General Department of Surgery are exposed to one of the largest hospital-based surgical research programs in the country with an annual research expenditure of over $50 million.

With the Global Surgery Pathway, residents can pursue international work in developing countries.

The Mass General Department of Surgery has a budget of over 50 million in annual research expenditure making it one of the largest hospital-based surgical research programs in the US. This makes the medical school an ideal choice for students interested in research. Furthermore, it has six endowed fellowships which guarantee salary support for residents conducting research.

Admission requirements: required application materials include a 500-word personal statement, Dean's letter, Curriculum vitae, and three names of supporting references. They will also need to complete a supplemental application via ERAS. Candidates must have pass scores on USMLE Step 1, and both USMLE Step 2 CK and CS scores by the matched date.

Best Residency Programs for Surgery in Canada

Medical schools in Canada follow the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS), a not-for-profit organization that provides a computer-based match for students to enter postgraduate training in the country. CaRMS allows applicants to efficiently choose where to pursue residencies and allows residency program directors to effectively choose applicants that best fit their program. It includes the following components:

1.     University of Toronto Division of General Surgery

The residency training program in General Surgery offered at the University of Toronto is touted as the largest of its kind in Canada. The training program involves around 100 faculty members, more than six Fully Affiliated Academic Health Centres, along with five Affiliated Community Hospitals. The Clinical Investigator Program or longitudinal research electives offer a multitude of research activities for residents.

It also focuses on rural training opportunities through the Rural Ontario Medicine Training Program (ROMP). This program has sites located in Barrie, Collingwood, Midland, Kawartha Lakes, New Tecumseth, Orangeville, and Orillia. The rotations are more individualized based on the clinical content at the different sites. Those interested in working and gathering experience in rural settings can make use of this training program.

The focus on rural training for its residents is what makes the General Surgery Residency Training Program at University of Toronto stand out. Applicants looking forward to gaining experience in rural settings, small medical centres, and serving undeserved areas. Additionally, the high number of faculty members in the department ensures that residents get the time and resources they need from their mentors.

2.     Queen’s University School of Medicine

The Department of Surgery at Queen’s University offers a five-year General Surgery residency program that is fully accredited by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. There are fourteen faculty members in Kingston, eight faculty members in Oshawa, and sixteen residents in this program. It covers surgery subspecialties including thoracic, colorectal and critical care, hepatobiliary, esophageal, cardiovascular, bariatric surgery, surgical oncology, and pediatric surgery.

Residents must complete at least one research project during their residency, which will then be presented at the Annual Department of Surgery Resident Research Day. These presentations also involve monetary awards:

  • Best General Surgery Paper ($1,000)
  • Best Poster ($500)

It also supports students who want to focus on research by providing financial support when attending educational meetings in the PGY 1 and 2 years, one meeting per year in years three and four, as well as two meetings in the fifth year. Residents will also get to live in Kingston, which is one of the best places to live thanks to its high quality of life.  

The Surgical Foundations program (PGY 1 and 2 years) consists of a small group of residents, making for a close working relationship. These residents are from general surgery, orthopedic surgery, urology and OB/Gyn, and they bring their expertise to the General Surgery residency program.

Tips on How To Match With the Best Residency Programs for Surgery

Residency match services like the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) for the US and CaRMS for Canada pair students with residency programs on their residency rank order list which includes all the program’s a candidate is interested in. Note that the application process for residency positions in the US is administered by ERAS but the residency match itself is managed by NRMP.

There are some steps you can take to increase your chances of getting matched. These include working on the individual components of your application, such as:

  • Residency CV
  • Residency personal statement or residency letter of intent
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Medical student performance evaluation (MSPE)
  • Medical licensing exam scores
  • Supplemental application documents

Make sure your academic background is listed in reverse chronological order. Mention your employment history, including volunteer work, extracurriculars, research, awards, publications, and elective experiences. You can get residency CV editing help to help you build a truly impressive CV.

Your personal statement should highlight your commitment to the field of surgery by describing what stood out to you during your rotations. State any personal experiences that influenced you to pursue your specialty right in the introduction of your personal statement. Reviewing surgery personal statement examples will help you understand what the statement should show: resilience, humility, maturity, and a sense of direction.

You will need to obtain strong letters of recommendation. Depending on the requirements of the medical school you are applying to, the number of letters of recommendation can vary. Regardless, you will need to choose your referees smartly. Make sure you ask them in advance, which should be 2–3 months before you start your ERAS application. Your referees should explain and highlight traits that highlight your competence and make you stand out in your ERAS letter of recommendation.

Aspiring residents can show professionalism and ethical conduct through their MSPE, which describes candidates' noteworthy characteristics, academic history, academic progress, summary, and school information. You can speak with your performance evaluators or supervisors to understand and improve your clinical performance and thus enhance your MSPE.

USMLE scores are very important when applying for residency. You should start your preparation for Step 1 as soon as you enter medical school. Take practice exams to familiarize yourself with the structure, focus on interpreting the questions, and review USMLE practice questions and answers. Understanding what residency program directors look for will help you tailor your application and stand out from the competition.

Interview Prep for Residency Programs

The interview can make or break your chances of getting selected for a residency of your choice. It is ideal to prepare for the interview in advance so that you can answer the actual questions with confidence. During your ERAS interview prep or CaRMS interview prep, make sure to review surgery residency interview questions and answers which will help you not only become familiar with the types of questions that can be asked but also give you the confidence and strategies to answer them. Participating in residency mock interviews is a great way to prepare for your surgery residency interview and cohesively highlight your communication skills, interpersonal skills, professionalism, and more.


1. What application system do US medical schools use for residency programs?

Medical schools in the US use the ERAS application system. It is a centralized solution for residency applications and documents. Through this process, candidates can submit their application, complete with documents and supporting materials, to multiple residency programs of their choosing.

2. What application system is used by Canadian medical schools?

Canadian medical schools use the CaRMS application system. Like the ERAS, it is a centralized process to allow candidates to apply to multiple residencies in Canada.

3. How many residents does Johns Hopkins Medicine take in for its surgery residency?

Johns Hopkins Medicine welcomes only seven residents each year to its General Surgery Training Program.

4. Is there a way I can find out what my chances of matching are?

You can use our residency match calculator to assess your match chances. 

5. How can I prepare for my CaRMS residency interview?

You can prepare for the CaRMS interview by identifying your interview format, researching the program, reflecting on and recognizing what you have to offer, answering practice interview questions, and taking mock interviews.

6. Is there a limit to the number of residency programs I can apply to?

In the US, you can include up to 300 residency programs in ERAS. CaRMS does not have a “maximum” number of residency programs. However, we recommend being more strategic and applying to no more than 30-35 programs, at most.

7. What other medical schools in Canada offer a surgical residency programs?

Memorial University of Newfoundland, Dalhousie University, University of Ottawa, University of Saskatchewan, McMaster University, and University of British Columbia are some of the schools in Canada that offer a surgical residency through their medical program.

8. When should I start my ERAS application? What is the best time to apply?

It is best to apply right when the application process opens for your specialty, which means you will need to have your application ready in advance. The sooner you submit your application, the sooner it can be reviewed.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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