A total of 25,246 medical students participated in the annual competition for residency programs through the National Resident Matching Program, a 5.3% increase over 2003 and the highest number in four years, officials said.
All told, 20,012 people were placed in either the first year or the second year of a residency program, according to Robert Beran, executive director of the NRMP.
It was the first time more than 20,000 people were matched in one year by the NRMP, Beran said.
In addition, a total of 21,812 matches were made, a number that includes residents receiving their matches for both first-and second-year programs at the same time. Total matches rose 2.9% over last year.
"Everything went smoothly," Baran said.
The matching program is the subject of a year-old class-action lawsuit brought by three former residents charging the program is anticompetitive.
Meanwhile, the competition for desirable programs like the orthopedic residency sponsored by the Maricopa County Hospital in Phoenix remains ferocious.
About 500 medical students applied this year for just three openings at Maricopa, according to Carole Richards, who for 13 years has served as program coordinator. All three slots were filled from the top six students on the rank order list that Maricopa submitted to the NRMP, Richards said.
"As long as I remember, we never went below 10 on our rank list," she said.
Even with its high demand, Maricopa has made some significant changes benefiting residents, and not just the recent limits on hours of work, according to Richards.
The 15 interns and residents enrolled in the five-year program joined with the 14 attendings in interviewing 60 of the top candidates, she said. Sample contracts were sent to candidates for the first time this year, she added.
"I've noticed we are more far more family-oriented for our residents," Richards said. "I've seen residents taking time off when their wives were having babies."
In the past, she said, "That never would have been considered."
Joseph Conn contributed to this story.