Editor's Note: With the results of the National Resident Matching Program scheduled to be released on March 20, we asked our new physician bloggers to share memories of their own Match Days and tips for this year's class of fourth-year medical students.
I remember describing Match Week to my family and friends, none of whom are in the medical field, and being hit initially with blank stares followed by a million questions.
"You won't know until Friday where you are going?"
"What was the Monday email about again?"
I remember answering the questions in a matter-of-fact manner, trying to portray this cool, calm, collected vibe. Deep inside, I was a wreck.
Match Week put me through a roller coaster of emotions. It went from elation on Monday when I found out that I indeed landed a residency spot somewhere, followed by anxiety regarding where that somewhere is, which was ultimately replaced by elation when I finally found out where I would spend the next three years of training.
If I close my eyes now, I can still picture a specific moment in Match Day when one of my medical school mentors handed me my envelope. It took only seconds before I opened it, quickly read the name, and proceeded to scream in excitement. My mother, who still had no idea where I was going, was also screaming next to me, clearly thrilled because I was happy. That is what continues to stand out to me about the day -- the amount of love and support that filled that gym -- regardless of outcome.
So to all of you who are going through Match Week, experience it. Get nervous. Scream for joy. Reach out to your support group. They may not understand the inner workings of Match Week, but they will be there for you no matter how confusing the process is. Truth is, they'll likely be with you as you go through your residency journey.
Astrud Villareal, M.D., D.I.M.P.H., Dallas
For me, Match Day was my graduation. I had previously decided that I was going to skip the actual medical school graduation ceremony so I could travel, and I was allowed to do so (by parental fiat) if my family was allowed to attend the Match.
Being somewhat short-sighted, I only realized how calamitous this arrangement could be a few weeks before Match Day. My parents had bought plane tickets months in advance, and my grandparents were taking the train from North Dakota. What if, come Monday of Match Week, I had not matched? What if on Match Day I wanted to cry instead of celebrating with my family, who had put so much effort into coming to celebrate with me?
I would not force myself to fake happiness or pretend satisfaction if I was disappointed, but I also trained myself to remember that I am me, regardless of location, and I like me. I have a purpose, and the most consistent joy I feel is pursuing that purpose. Thankfully, I can do that anywhere.
Thus, I spent those weeks reminding myself of one all-important fact: I had the inestimable privilege and responsibility of self-determination both before and after Match Day. Where I matched wouldn't change that.
So, as you approach Match Day, please remember:
Stewart Decker, M.D., Klamath Falls, Ore.
Within the medical community, Match Day elicits a lot of emotions and memories, both positive and negative. That day -- when after months of applications, personal statement reviews, traveling and interviews -- thousands of medical students and residency programs trust their fates and futures to a computer algorithm. Although this sounds scary, it has been a successful program to help students and teachers find the best match.
My Match Day memory is a little different than most. During my fourth year of medical school, I decided that I would take a break from medical training to race full time as a professional athlete. When Match Day rolled around, I attended and enjoyed the festivities with my graduating class, but I was not matching. When I recall that Match Day, my immediate reaction is one of loss or missing out. It felt as if everyone was moving on to other things, and I was being left behind. Although I had big plans, too, it felt anticlimactic.
I'm sure every year on Match Day there are many in that position, those who attend Match Day with friends and classmates but are not actually participating in the process. Perhaps they did a research year, completed a master's degree or simply decelerated med school to address a multitude of issues.
When I reflect on that day, I realize that we all have our own journey, personally and professionally, and that for me, disappointment or sense of loss may ultimately have been a gift. By delaying my residency, I was able to compete all over the world at the highest level of triathlon, push my body to limits I never knew possible and meet amazing friends. That experience ultimately led me to family medicine and a sports medicine fellowship.
I can directly relate to injured athletes given my past experience, and that has been invaluable. I have had many patients find me and seek my care directly as a result of my athletic background, and this has been more rewarding that I could have imagined.
Eventually, another Match Day arrived, and I was excited to match into my first-choice family medicine residency, and I celebrated at home with my family (although there was less applause and fewer balloons than when my co-residents matched).
Alex Mroszczyk-McDonald, M.D., Fontana, Calif.
I was incredibly excited to graduate from medical school, but I was not looking forward to residency. The long hours and work stress were daunting, and after four years of intense studying, I was not eager to give up the minimal normalcy I regained in my fourth year of school. That is why my top choice for a residency program seemed like a godsend. It was a brand-new program, looking for some brave residents to pioneer a new concept in residency education: joy.
It was a novel concept, considering that depression is so prevalent in residency, and it actually made me excited to become a doctor. I was able to place in my top program and, in the beginning, it was fantastic. As time went on, though, we started to encounter the arch nemesis of joy in medicine: financial viability.
We were a brand-new residency program in a new family medicine department looking to provide as many services for the community as possible. But we were also in a new health system that was trying to rein in costs and avoid financial risk. Not a perfect match. After two years, my program shuttered its doors, and I had to find a new program. The whole ordeal was anxiety-ridden, and the future of my family and career were on the line. I made it through unscathed, and I have been doing fantastic postresidency.
Even though the experience was one of the darkest chapters in my life, I would do it all again. It taught me that passion for communities is not enough to care for them. The business of medicine is not something that is taught in medical school, but it is vital to understand if you want to make a sustainable change in a community. From my residency experience, I learned how important the AAFP is in fighting for what is important in family medicine and allowing great doctors to practice the medicine they think is needed for their community.
This worst-case scenario for my match turned out to be the defining experience that has allowed me to excel as a physician postresidency. So, for all of you contemplating taking a risk this Match Day, my advice is to go for it. There is more to being a doctor than medicine, and I hope you match into a program that will challenge you and help you grow to become a physician leader.
Michael Richardson, M.D., Boston
I like to think that I give good advice, but I often fail to take it myself. Therefore, I preface my Match Day story with a warning of caution: I do not recommend my path even though it worked out for me.
I don't ponder or waffle. I submitted an Early Decision Program application to one program. I actually applied to two programs but withdrew the second application.
I finished my board exams in half the time it took my colleagues (because I never re-read a question, not because I know all the answers). And I only ranked one residency program. I continued this pattern by signing an employment contract with a federally qualified health center at the end of my intern year.
So, Match Day was anticlimactic for me because when I learned that I had matched early in Match Week I knew that it had to be at Marshall University.
I knew as I made each of these decisions that I was taking a risk, but I'm not one to dwell on things or regret, and I don't second-guess my commitments.
I find it ironic that I chose the most malleable field of medicine so as to enable myself a flexible practice despite my rigid decision-making history. So, my advice is to do what you want, where you want, and never look back.
Kimberly Becher, M.D., Clay, W.Va.