I am sitting here anticipating one of the biggest moments of my life thus far, maybe second to getting married or being born. Well, let's just say the Match is in the top five and move on.
I am anxiously waiting the news on Monday to find out whether I matched with any program, which would be great news on its own. Then the big reveal will come on March 16, and I will know which program I will be training at for the next three years.
There are a million ways to approach the National Resident Matching Program, but I will share some secrets with the Class of 2019 (and those who follow) that made my experience enjoyable and minimally stressful, as well as some tips on saving money.
First, a great tool for anyone going into family medicine is Strolling Through the Match. This free resource, updated annually by the AAFP, provides an excellent foundation for understanding the timeline of the fourth year of medical school and all the application deadlines that must be met. But don't wait until your fourth year to start using Strolling. It will guide you in understanding the primary care specialties, making your specialty choice, and keeping up with what you need to do early in medical school to build your curriculum vitae and obtain letters of recommendation.
Don't kid yourself into thinking you'll knock out the residency application in one sitting. It does not require a great deal of mental energy, but it does require time to ensure you have filled in all the appropriate boxes. The most difficult task is deciding where to apply, because there are more than 400 programs in family medicine. My algorithm was simple, and I recommend that whatever method you choose, you just keep it straightforward.
First, I looked at geography, which was important to me and my wife. Then I thought about where I want my career to be in five and 10 years. (It's OK if you aren't sure, but programs will ask you this during interviews, so consider your options.) Understanding where I want to be helped me select programs based on the populations they served and the specific skills taught during residency. For example, I am passionate about working with vulnerable populations in an urban setting and want to be well trained in behavioral health and using medication-assisted treatment for drug addiction. At this stage, I also considered academic versus community-based programs, but this distinction did not help me narrow my list.
You must identify what is important to you, and the above is a list of my top variables. What are yours?
To better understand how each of these variables aligns with your programs of interest, while also meeting residents and faculty at those programs, I would encourage you to attend the 2018 National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students in Kansas City, Mo. Representatives from more than 350 programs will be available to meet with you in the Expo Hall.
Keep it simple, and don't overapply. If you don't want to move to a certain part of the country or a specific type of program, then don't apply. It will save you money on application fees and travel.
As I went through the interview process, I considered two key factors: my mind and gut. The mind was analyzing all the components of the curriculum, the benefits (insurance, food stipend, etc.), and the demographics of the hospital and clinic. The gut was responsible for getting a sense of community within the residency. Did the residents appear to get along and love their program? Did they know their faculty and support staff well? Did they have time to socialize outside of the hospital and clinic settings? Did the residency have a clear and obvious mission they were striving to achieve? Was the feel of the program upbeat and lighthearted or rigid and formal? These are too subjective to have any defining criteria but are crucial for your well-being during three years of training. Unfortunately, there is no correct mix when deciding between factors of the mind and the gut, but I trust you will find the right balance when the time comes to submit your rank list.
I want to offer everyone participating in the Match many well-wishes and early congratulations. I had the opportunity to meet many future family physicians along the interview trail with whom I hope to cross paths either during residency or in my future career. I also trained with many wonderful future family physicians at Saint Louis University. Thank you to all who have supported me along this medical school journey, and best of luck to all of you applying in the future. I hope you find your home in family medicine. Even if you are called to another specialty, I hope you continue to value primary care and participate in team-based care with family physicians to improve the health of our patients and our nation.
John Heafner, M.P.H., is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.