The residency interview process was not what I expected. As a participant in the couples' match, it was far more exhausting than I'd imagined. I attended 18 interviews between October 2019 and January 2020, significantly more than I had planned. I saw 18 hospitals, 18 clinics, 18 workrooms and 18 cafeterias. I heard 18 spiels from 18 program directors. I likely met more than 100 program directors, residents and clinical faculty.
I often felt more confused when leaving an interview than I had before arriving. I spent a lot of time second-guessing what I'd heard or felt.
Why was she looking at me that way?
Did I even answer that question?
Was that in my teeth all day?
Where is my car?
It was an absolute whirlwind in which my partner and I attended 50 interviews in separate states on separate days, every other day for three months. As someone who describes herself as an introvert, I was ready to crawl into a hole and never wear panty hose again. My mental health plummeted during interview season, driven by emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. I was separated from my husband, my friends and my bed (and my cats!) for three months. I couldn't find time to exercise on the road and I wasn't in town long enough to do yoga at my home studio.
Still, when I heard that interviews for the coming season would likely be driven to virtual platforms because of the pandemic, my initial reaction was disappointment.
Disappointment for all the students who, like me, are having to navigate significant changes to their medical training due to COVID-19.
Disappointment that they wouldn't get to have dinner with residents, shake hands with program directors and see their potential new hometowns.
Supporting fellow medical students through this new and changing landscape is always the No. 1 thing on my mind as a member of the AAFP Board of Directors. However, I have come to realize that most of what mattered to me during my ranking process I could have gotten from a virtual interview. In fact, I think both my judgement of programs and programs' judgement of me would have been positively impacted by the use of a virtual platform. In some ways, I think that graduates of the 2021 class will actually experience a more meaningful interview season (if done correctly), and here are some of my biggest reasons why:
There will be challenges. I don't want to take that away from anyone. Match this year will be different, and if you're a student matching in 2021, you will never experience the Match like it was before COVID-19. You will have to navigate a new Match, and that will be different and difficult. However, I think the necessity for a virtual Match has the potential to drive innovations that can reduce the burden on students and shift the focus of the interview process to what really matters.
I am proud that the AAFP and other family medicine organizations are advocating for standards across family medicine programs to help ensure a holistic, uniform process for everyone matching in such a hectic environment. The AAFP and other family medicine organizations recently released an open letter regarding the upcoming match. It includes detailed recommendations to help medical students, residency programs and medical schools through the process.
In the end, you will be great doctors -- physicians who are flexible, hardworking and do their best to provide for their patients and their communities. I look forward to seeing you all rise to the challenge!
Margaret Miller, M.D., M.P.H., is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.
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