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Medical Education
Medical Student Education

Career Information: Otolaryngology

Specialty: Otolaryngology

Completed by: Drs. Anna Meyer, Andy Murr, Steven Pletcher, Kristine Rosbe, Steven Wang

Date completed/updated: updated August 2012

  1. What can students do in the 1st and 2nd years to explore and/or prepare for this career?
    Excellent performance in the basic science curriculum and demonstration of mastery of the material on the USMLE Step 1 are of paramount importance. A publishable project in the field is desirable and most programs highly value a commitment to research. Shadowing practicing otolaryngologists who practice in different aspects of the specialty can aid in getting exposure to the field.
  2. What common variations exist in the length/content of residency programs for this career?
    The vast majority of programs consist of one year of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery – supervised general surgery internship, followed by four years of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery training, culminating in the Chief Residency year. Some programs require two years of general surgery; some have a 7-year research track (Hopkins); some require mandatory research and extra time (University of Washington).
  3. What common variations exist in this career after training?
    Most people who complete their training go on to practice otolaryngology. Some do fellowships as follows:
    Facial Plastic Surgery (1 year)
    Pediatric Otolaryngology (1 or 2 years)
    Otology/Neurotology (2 years)
    Head and Neck Oncologic Surgery (1 or 2 years)
    Rhinology/Sinus Surgery (1 year)
    Laryngology (1 year)
    Sleep Medicine (1 year)
    Allergy (1 year)
    Skull Base (1 year)
  4. What is a typical work day for someone in this field?
    The typical work week for a private practice otolaryngologist is two days in the OR and three days in the office. An academic clinician scientist will likely spend 2.5 days doing research (either in the lab or clinical). Ten hour days are fairly typical.
  5. What is the culture of this career?
    Nice folks, happy, well‐adjusted. Otolaryngologists are procedure oriented and are interested in devices and equipment to a high degree. They are often more open to innovations compared to some other surgical fields. Otolaryngologists often enjoy the balance between clinic and surgery and the ability to have continuity in care of their patients.
  6. How compatible is this career with raising a family? How is this different for men and women?
    A career in Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery is compatible with raising a family. Balancing a family and professional life is challenging in most areas of medicine. Of the surgical disciplines, otolaryngology is more family friendly than some fields. There are excellent male and female role models on our field who excel in their professional endeavors while raising a family.
    The number of women applying in the field increases every year. Currently, the field is approximately 70% male and 30% female. This is the same ratio as the application pool applying to residency.
  7. What are the most important qualities or character traits for a person in this field?
    Dedication to the field and enthusiasm are important traits. Attention to detail and clinical excellence are prized.
  8. How competitive are the residency programs in this field?
    Otolaryngology is one of the more competitive residency application processes in the U.S. Our program at UCSF receives about 250 applications for three positions. However, 75% of U.S. seniors who complete the match process will be placed.
  9. How competitive is the job market after residency?
    The job market in this field is excellent. About 280 new otolaryngologists are produced each year and the attrition from death and retirement is approximately the same. There are about 9000 otolaryngologists in the U.S.
  10. What programs have been popular among UCSF applicants, or how should applicants go about considering programs?
    First Tier: Hopkins, Pittsburgh, Penn, Michigan, Washington University, University of Washington, UCSF, UCLA, Ohio State, Iowa, Harvard, Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt, Stanford
    Second Tier: Cincinnati, Virginia, OHSU, UCSD, Utah, Columbia, Cornell, Sinai, UCD, Loyola, Northwestern, MUSC
    Third Tier: Boston University, USC, UIC, New Mexico, University of Vermont, Henry Ford, St. Louis University, Louisville, Miami, Missouri at Columbia, other Texas programs, Nebraska, Wayne State, Penn State, Jefferson, Georgetown, Louisiana State University
    Please note: This is a personal assessment. There is no "bad" Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery program. Also, programs can change rapidly, so this is a moving target.
  11. What resources (eg, websites, books, professional groups) would you recommend for students interested in learning more about this field?
    Individual departmental websites
    Pub Med to do literature searches on people who you meet in the field
  12. How important are each of the following for admission to a competitive program?

Very Important

Somewhat Important

Not Important


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Honors in third year




















Other: Performance on  Step 1 of the USMLE