One Day. Ever since beginning medical school, “Match Day” felt like more a myth than reality, an elusive goal that never seemed to get any closer. And now finally, FINALLY, it’s only one short day away. We haven’t graduated yet, but for the first time, we are being told all our efforts are worthy of being a doctor. After all the time we put into the books, the clinics, the call nights… someone out there wants us to be a doctor! Match Day is the realization of a dream. Only. One. More. Day.
Ok, boring stuff first (skip ahead if you want to read about my experience!): this is how “The Match” works! A big part of the 4th year of medical school is dedicated to finding a job. Graduating from medical school is not enough to practice medicine in the United States; one still needs to complete additional training after graduation to become certified in a specialty. This process begins when 4th year students submit applications in September to residency programs of his or her choice. The next few months are a blur of interviewing, trying to impress programs all while searching for the perfect place to train.
Next comes the tricky part. Each applicant makes a preference list of where they would like to work for residency, the “rank list.” Likewise, each program makes a list of applicants, ranking the interviewees in the order of its preference. All these lists are thrown into a huge algorithm, and when the switch is thrown, it tries to match each applicant as high up on his or her rank list as it possibly can.
So for example, lets say my rank list has 3 programs: Awesome is at the top of my rank list, followed by programs Spectacular, then Fantastic. If Awesome still has one open spot left when the computer reaches my rank list, it will put me there tentatively. If the algorithm later finds another applicant who is higher up than me on program Awesome’s list (boo!), because there are no more spots left, I will get bumped out in favor of that other applicant. The algorithm will then try to put me in Spectacular. This process continues until I am permanently put in a program, or the algorithm has exhausted my list of potential programs. Because of that possibility, applicants typically have a lot more than 3 programs ranked!
Ranking Programs Is Hard Work!
Back to my story. In my last blog post, I was finishing up interviews and ready to start creating my rank list. That was a whole lot harder than I thought it would be! Fortunately, that was because I liked most of the programs at which I interviewed, and not because I hated them all. It was a nice problem to have! I knew where my first two or three programs would fall on the list, but after that, it was pretty tricky.
After submitting my rank list toward the end of February, there was nothing I could do but wait. And it’s been the hardest waiting game I’ve ever had to play! I’ll be 100% candid with you, this whole process of applying for residency has been pretty stressful. Emergency medicine has a firm grasp on my heart, but it’s a tough specialty to get into. And even though it’s where I know I belong, lingering doubts about my application kept trying to get me down: Are my grades good enough? Did I say anything dumb during interviews? Is my repeat year of medical school going to hold me back? How do I stack up next to other applicants?
The Monday before Match Day, all applicants are sent an email letting them know if they matched or not. Those that don’t match usually have to try for a spot in any remaining programs that didn’t fill up (which usually means having to change specialties). Needless to say, this past Sunday night was a long one for me. I tried sleeping, but about two hours before the expected email arrived, I just couldn’t keep my eyes shut anymore. I rolled over in bed to see my wife, wide awake.
“You can’t sleep either?” to which she replied with an anxious, “Is it time yet?!” Those two hours crawled ever so slowly, and I was reminded of being an elementary student, staring at the clock and watching the seconds tick down to the end of a Friday afternoon. But then it happened. At exactly 8:56 AM, my phone gave off it’s recognizable notification ding, and this is what I saw:
Next thing I know, my wife is sobbing, I’m doing this crazy happy dance, and my son is squealing with delight. I did it!! I’m going to be a Doctor of Emergency Medicine! So now here I am, with one day left to go, a guaranteed match in hand,but no clue where I’m headed. Tomorrow (Friday) at 9 AM, my classmates & I will gather in a big celebration to find out the results of the Match… To be continued…