What is a transitional year residency? In short, the transitional year residency is your first year of medical residency training, or your internship year. It’s the transition from medical school to some of the best residency programs in the US and the best residency programs in Canada. If you’re applying to one of the more complex or in-depth medical specialties, chances are you’ll be completing a transitional year residency first. In this blog, we’ll cover what your transitional year residency is, what it looks like, how to match to a transitional year residency program and our tops tips on how to choose your ideal program!

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Article Contents
8 min read

What is a Transitional Year Residency? Transitional Year Residency: Structure Transitional Year Residency Match Rates Matching to Transitional Year Residency Programs: What You Need to Know How to Increase Your Chances of Matching to a Transitional Year Residency Should I Apply for Transitional Year Residency Programs? How Do I Choose a Transitional Residency Program? Conclusion FAQs

What is a Transitional Year Residency?

As a medical student, you may be starting to explore your options after you graduate, and this includes the big question of your residency years. You may have heard of different types of residency programs, including the transitional year residency.

What exactly is a transitional year residency? Your transitional year for residency is akin to your “internship year” of residency. It is a one-year graduate medical training program that helps you prepare for residency and the next step in your journey to becoming a doctor.

Your transitional year is the first step towards completing an advanced residency program. It provides a transition from medical school into the rigorous training of residency by giving you a solid foundation of in-hospital training before you move onto the in-depth specialty training of your choice. Your transitional year essentially bridges the gap between medical school and operating as a working resident doctor in a hospital environment.

Transitional year and preliminary residencies are often a required step for certain residency specialties, such as:

In other words, a transitional year residency is usually required for the more complex medical specialties. For example, if you’re interested in the best residency programs for surgery, the best pediatric residency or the best internal medicine residency programs, you’ll likely be doing a transitional year first. If you’re applying to the best family medicine residency programs, most of these are categorical programs, and do not require the “intern year” first.

What’s the difference between a transitional year and a preliminary year?

There’s a lot of different lingo thrown around when it comes to residency positions, and they’re each a little different. Depending on the medical specialty you choose or where you choose to apply to residency, you might be applying to several different types of residency program.

Let’s break things down a bit.

Transitional Year Residency: Structure

The transitional year residency is sometimes called the “fifth year of medical school” because it is a broad, clinical training year similar to your clinical rotations in medical school. In a typical transitional year, you will undergo rotations in various medical disciplines deepen your medical knowledge, improve your patient assessment skills, develop your professional attributes and overall prepare yourself for the residency years. The biggest difference is you’ll be completing your transition year in a working hospital setting and learning the ins and outs of patient care in a professional setting, rather than strictly a school setting.

Your transitional year will take you through a number of different rotations, including but not limited to internal medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, psychiatry and outpatient primary care. Transitional years also include a number of electives and even opportunities for extensive research. Every transitional year residency program may be a little different, offering custom experiences depending on the location and curriculum. For example, there are differences between urban vs rural residencies, or residencies with many elective options and varied schedules and residency programs that offer few electives but have intensive training in a few disciplines.

Some transitional year residency programs are nearly identical to preliminary residency programs. Others are extremely varied and flexible. Still others might be very intense and require a greater amount of time spent in emergency, or pediatrics, or primary care.

Each transitional year residency program might be unique, so it’s essential to examine each one carefully. The process of applying to a transitional year residency, and subsequently an advanced residency position, is more involved than applying to categorical positions, so you want to know what you’re getting into ahead of time!

Next, we’ll look at how you can match to transitional year residency programs and what you need to know when applying.

Transitional Year Residency Match Rates

Transitional year residency programs can actually be quite competitive to get matched to. Not just because they are required for some of the most competitive residencies out there, but because they often have greater flexibility and options than some preliminary residency programs and are “easier” than most categorical residency positions.

The draw of less stress, more flexibility in schedule and electives, and a smaller workload is appealing to many medical school grads looking for a smooth transition from medical school to residency.

Because of this, the competition can be quite fierce when applying to transitional year (TY) residency. For instance, the overall match rate to transitional year residency for MD seniors is 34.8%, with the overall fill rate being 58.5%. The competition is just as tough for DO school grads. DO seniors had an overall match rate of 31.2% to TY residency, with a fill rate of 16.9%. International medical graduates (IMG), both US and non-US IMGs, saw an overall match rate of 12% for TY residency programs.

MD Seniors TY Residency Match Rate

DO Seniors TY Residency Match Rate

IMG TY Residency Match Rate


Applying to residencies this year? Check out our Residency Match Calculator!


Matching to Transitional Year Residency Programs: What You Need to Know

Matching to a transitional year residency follows the same procedure as applying to any other residency program, with a few important extras.

To apply to a transitional year residency program, you’ll still fill out an ERAS application for residency programs in the US and a CaRMS application for programs in Canada. The important difference is that applicants hoping to match to a transitional year residency program ALSO need to apply to their advanced residency positions at the same time.

In essence, you’ll be completing two applications. This means choosing the transitional year residency programs of your choice and creating a rank order list for them, then picking out advanced residency positions you’re interested in and creating a separate rank order list.

Once the match is complete, you’ll need to prepare for a residency interview at BOTH programs, write a residency personal statement for both programs, and so on. The reason why the applications are essentially separate is because you may not be completing your transitional year at the same place as you complete your advanced residency training.

Here's a quick guide on preparing for residency applications!

For example, your transitional year might be completed at location A, before you move to finish your residency training in location B. This may be because location B only offers advanced residency positions, or because you didn’t match to the transitional year program at location B, but you did match to their advanced program.

Another scenario might be this: you’ve matched successfully to a transitional year with your first-choice program, but you went unmatched for an advanced residency position. This means you can still complete your transitional year and improve your residency app after going unmatched. But, you will need to re-enter the match the following year and re-apply to advanced residency programs.

As you can see, the process of applying to a transitional year is a bit more complex than matching straight into a residency without a transitional or prelim year. This just means you need to start preparing for residency applications early!

How to Increase Your Chances of Matching to a Transitional Year Residency

Odds are you want to be certain you’ll secure a transitional year residency spot so you can make the jump seamlessly from medical school to intern to advanced residency training without gaps or obstacles. As we’ve seen, getting into transitional year residencies can be quite competitive! So, how can you boost your chances of matching?

Get ready for your residency interview questions!

Should I Apply for Transitional Year Residency Programs?

If you want to apply for advanced residency training in specific specialties or apply to positions for select residency programs, a transitional year residency is a requirement.

Aside from giving you that initial bridge from med school to residency, transitional year residencies have some definite pros, too. For example, IMGs hoping to match into competitive residencies can gain electives and clinical experience in the US or Canada during a transitional year, increasing their chances of matching into an advanced position. On the flip side, a transitional year adds to how long residency is, so if you’re looking for a shorter path through residency, apply to programs that don’t require a transitional year.

Can I apply to both transitional year residency and categorical residency positions?

As we’ve seen, residency applicants are asked to choose their transitional year programs and advanced residency positions at the same time, but separately. This determines the path you’ll take once you graduate medical school, but it also means your options to change your medical specialty are more limited. Once you’re “locked in” to a transitional year residency, it’s harder to switch. Especially if you’ve already been matched to an advanced residency position. Keep in mind if you decide to change your path during your transitional year, this will mean re-entering the match and potentially repeating a year of residency training.

So, the choice of whether you should apply comes down to which medical specialty you choose and which residency programs you want to apply to. If you’re concerned about how many residency programs to apply to, know that you can still apply to BOTH transitional year residency programs and categorical residency positions that don’t require the transitional year. In fact, many students apply to both categorical and advanced residency positions to increase their chances of matching to a desired specialty.

How Do I Choose a Transitional Residency Program?

Choosing the right transitional year residency program for you involves asking yourself some key questions, like “what are you looking for most in a residency program?” and “what do you hope to gain from a residency program?

When you’re researching potential transitional year residency programs, ask yourself these questions and consider these factors. Just like when you’re creating your residency rank order list, create one for your transitional year program, too!


Your transitional year residency is a crucial step in your residency training and the first step in becoming a medical professional in some of the most complex and in-depth medical specialties.

Applying to transitional year residencies can be fairly competitive and complicated, but it helps to think of your transitional year as a separate step from your advanced residency training. Matching to a transitional residency requires a very strong application, so it might be a wise idea to talk to a residency application consultant for expert feedback and advice.

When choosing which transitional year programs to apply to, it’s important to carefully consider all aspects of the program and research them thoroughly. Once you’ve completed your transitional year, it will be harder to switch gears or change your specialty, so it’s best to have your path through residency mapped out ahead of time and start preparing as soon as possible!


1. What is a transitional year residency?

Your transitional year residency is essentially your “intern” year or first year as a resident. It involves a broad, clinical training year where residents rotate through a variety of specialties to bridge the gap between med school and more advanced residency training. Not every residency program will require a transitional year or preliminary year of training, as these are reserved for the more advanced residency positions and medical specialties that require more time and training. 

2. Which residency specialties require a transitional year?

Usually, the more advanced residency programs or medical specialties that require more advanced training require a transitional year. Specialties that usually have a transitional year include anesthesiology, dermatology, surgery, neurology, ophthalmology and radiology.

3. What’s the difference between transitional and preliminary residency programs?

Preliminary year residencies are for some medicine and surgical residency specialties, and are heavily focused on these disciplines to give residents an initial, broad year of medical training before they dive into their chosen specialty for more advanced training. Transitional year residencies involve clinical rotations in a wide variety of specialties, not just medicine and surgery.

4. Can I apply to both categorical and advanced residency programs? Which should I choose?

Yes, you can apply to both categorical positions and advanced positions during the residency match. Which ones you choose depends on your goals for residency and the individual requirements of a given program. Some applicants apply to both types of residency programs to increase their chances of a match.

5. How competitive are transitional year residency programs?

Transitional year residency programs are just as competitive as most other residency programs. This is partly because they are required for applicants wanting to match to advanced residency positions, and partly because transitional year programs are very popular. They have a reputation for being an easier, less stressful transition from medical school to residency, which is appealing to most students.

6. Are transitional year residency programs easier?

Generally, transitional year residency programs are thought to be easier than jumping straight into a categorical residency position or preliminary year. This is because some transitional residency programs are less demanding and offer more free time, or because they are closer to the final years of medical school and therefore more familiar to graduates. However, not every transitional year residency is the same, so consider each program at face value, rather than thinking a transitional year is an automatic, easy way through residency!

Consider, too, that once you’ve finished your transitional year you’ll be taking an in-depth training in your chosen specialty, which means the “difficulty” level of your residency may increase a great deal, very quickly! It’s still important to work hard and study well during your intern year.

7. Should I apply for a transitional year residency program?

If you’re applying to advanced residency positions, you will be required to complete a transitional year or preliminary year of residency training. If you’re applying to one of the most competitive residency specialties out there, you might choose to apply to programs that include a transitional year to increase your chances of matching or because your ideal program includes one.

8. How do I choose a transitional residency program?

When choosing your transitional residency program, use the same approach you would use for any residency application. Research the program thoroughly to ensure it aligns with your goals, interests and desires from a residency training program. Check out the curriculum, faculty, opportunities and culture. Also consider the location of the program—since your transitional residency is only one year, chances are you’ll be moving locations to continue your training after a short period of time.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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