Scholars Behind National Resident Matching Program Algorithm Win Nobel Prize

Oct 16, 2012, 9:00 AM

Every year, fourth-year medical students anxiously await “Match Day,” when they learn where they will complete their residencies. But long before they receive their sealed envelopes, an algorithm is at work matching them with schools based on their own rankings and those of the institutions to which they are applying. This week, two men responsible for that algorithm were recognized with the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

In the 1950s and 60s, Lloyd Shapley, PhD, helped create the main concept of “pairwise matching,” or how individuals can be paired up if they have different views regarding who would be the best match. His model was the basis for the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).

Alvin Roth, who worked independently of Shapley but had closely studied the algorithm as well as other countries’ medical markets, helped redesign the NRMP in 1995 to take into account married couples searching for residencies in the same region or at the same hospital, and to eliminate the system’s bias for hospitals over students.

The new system is still used today, and helps match more than 20,000 positions a year. The scholars’ work is also used to match students to high schools and to match up kidney donors.

Read a press release about the prize.
Read more about Roth and Shapley’s work.
Read a New York Times story about Roth and Shapley.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.