(Editor’s note: Results of the National Resident Matching Program will be released on March 19. As Match Day drew near, Cindy Ciccotelli, the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors and a fourth-year medical student at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton, Penn., met virtually with Anna Askari, M.D., M.S.B.S., the resident member of the Board and a third-year resident at the Eisenhower Health Family Medicine Residency Program in Rancho Mirage, Calif., to discuss their respective Match experiences.
We’re sharing their conversation below for the benefit of others awaiting Match results this week, as well as medical students who will participate in the process in the future.)
Anna: You’ll be learning about your couples match on Friday. I know things are a little bit different with COVID, but tell me, what is Match Day going to look like for you?
Cindy: This year has been unique. It’s not exactly how I expected my fourth year of medical school to go. I can’t believe it’s gone by so fast, and we’re already at this time when I’m going to be matching. Every year I’ve gone to my school’s Match Day celebration, and they’ve all been really happy events, celebrating the accomplishments of the fourth years. I’m sad this year it’s not going to be an in-person event. My school decided to make it virtual. In addition, my husband and I have kept a really tight social circle during the pandemic, so we’ll be celebrating at home with our 3-month-old daughter.
My school is doing a virtual Match Day celebration on Zoom. We don’t know all the details yet. A lot of it will be a surprise. The executive board from my class is mailing Match Day boxes to everyone, so we’ll be opening our boxes. We know there is a T-shirt inside, but we don’t know what else. I’m really excited to celebrate in some way. They’re also going to have class photos and bios on the screen. We get to make our own PowerPoint slide that says our name, hometown, specialty and anything else we want to put on there. Although it’s not the Match Day I anticipated, I think it’s still going to be a great day celebrating with my little family at home.
Anna: It actually sounds really cool. I love the idea of that Match Day box and a lot of it being a surprise. That’s something to look forward to. And, of course, the most important thing really is that envelope or email that you’re opening that tells where you’re going.
Cindy: You’re a third-year resident — almost done! That’s so exciting. What would you say was the happiest part of residency for you?
Anna: It was the day I found out that I got my job at One Medical in Aliso Viejo, one of their new offices in Orange County, Calif. That was a Zoom meeting that I had with my regional medical director, the district medical director and my recruiter. That was a culmination of all my hard work, and getting that dream job was a really special moment.
Cindy: That’s great. Congratulations. When do you start?
Anna: Thank you! I start Aug. 9. I finish residency on June 30, and then I’ll get a month off. Looking forward to our AAFP Board meeting and National Conference around that time as well!
Cindy: That will be perfect.
Anna: During the interview cycle as a medical student, in-person interviews and travel didn’t happen. You couldn’t see programs in person, so what was your strategy? What kind of questions did you ask on the interview trail that gave you the best sense for what each program was like?
Cindy: Before I applied, I looked into programs based on region as well as proximity to programs my husband was interested in because we are couples matching. I spent a lot of hours on residency websites reading about the programs, especially focusing on their curriculum and resident bios. I’ve only seen a few of the hospitals that I applied to in person. The rest I hadn’t seen before, so that was a little scary.
I started out asking, “What kind of residents would fit in here?” I got the same answer every time. Everyone said, “A hard working resident, someone who is adaptable, someone who is a team player, etc.” So as I progressed, I changed it. I think the best question I asked of faculty, and sometimes program directors, was, “What makes you most proud to be associated with your program?” The answers varied. Some people focused on talking about curriculum, like, “Our curriculum is innovative, and I love that.” Or maybe there was a certain aspect of their curriculum that they thought was really powerful and exciting to them. And some focused on other faculty or the work environment and would say things like, “I work in an environment where I feel valued,” or “I’m proud of the faculty I’m with.” Some, obviously, said the residents, but they said specific things about the residents like, “I love that our residents are ‘blank’ or do ‘blank.’” The answers to that question spoke volumes about those programs and what their values were, which was helpful. It was challenging overall to get a sense of each program virtually. I wish there was a part that was in person — second looks or something. Hopefully next year’s class will get that opportunity.
Can you tell me about the virtual interview experience from the resident side? Was anything familiar about it from your experience with in-person interviews as a student?
Anna: It was interesting. From the resident perspective, and I think a lot of programs can relate to this, a lot of our magic and what we want to show prospective residents is the feel we have at our program, and hanging out with us for the interview dinner is one way to do that. Even our interview lunch during our interview day is a great time to hang out with us and our faculty and see that. In a virtual setting it can be difficult to create that same close-knit environment. There’s a lot of potential for distraction as well on a computer with whatever alerts that you have. Or if you’re at home, or wherever it is you’re participating from, there could be distractions that could keep you from getting the full experience.
Overall, I felt I was still able to get a good feel for the applicants I was interviewing. It still ended up being a good experience from our end to meet, hopefully, our future residents. But one thing I really did wish was for the applicants to get that experience because part of why I fell in love with my program as a student happened at the interview dinner. It was really set in stone for me during those in-person experiences.
Cindy: A lot of people say that. It was the feeling they got on their interview day. When I was interviewing, I definitely felt like some programs would be a great match for me, but I never got that overwhelming feeling of, “I’m meant to be here. I belong with these people.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it probably would have made the process of ranking easier.
Anna: I try to reassure med students that there are other parts of their decisions that are still really important and will have helped them make the right choices on their rank lists. Things will work out the way they should.
Cindy: Programs’ websites were really important this year. That might sound silly, but it really made a difference. You could tell what a program was proud of and what they were promoting based on their website. In addition, I was reading resident bios and looking for things I had in common with those people.
Anna: That leads me into my next question, which is, “What kinds of things are you looking for in your family medicine training, and do you think you found it in your search?”
Cindy: Everyone wants a strong education. Everyone wants to leave as the best doctor they can be, having obtained all the opportunities they were looking for in their training. Family medicine is such a broad specialty that each program really had their unique features like maybe areas of concentration, tracks or proud alumni accomplishments — for example “Our alumni can graduate doing surgical OB.” I was looking for a strong educational experience but personally I was also looking for a family-friendly program. A lot of my mental health is tied to my husband, child and home life, and if my home life is failing then I can’t be the best physician I can be. I think that’s true for everybody. So one of my biggest factors was, do other residents have young families? Will they have a child in daycare like me? What about lactation rooms?
These factors aren’t the most important things when it comes to my training, but it was something I was looking for personally. I didn’t rule out programs if they didn’t have residents in these positions, too. There were other things I was looking for. Do the residents respect each other? You could see during the virtual dinners how residents interacted with each other and whether they were just colleagues or truly friends and kind to each other. I don’t think you need to be best friends with everyone in your program, but residency is challenging and knowing you have support in a friendly person to go to work and take care of patients with matters to me. Also, I was looking for opportunities for health policy and administrative tracks and leadership, which caused me to apply to programs I might have otherwise overlooked. I was really impressed with what was out there.
What’s your advice for students transitioning to residency?
Anna: From Match Day on until you start, do your best, if you have the time and the resources, to celebrate. Take a break. Do whatever is on your bucket list of things you want to get done within your means and COVID restrictions. Residency is a very busy time, one of the busiest of my life, in a great way. There are people who study before residency, and that’s ridiculous. You don’t need to. If there’s an elective left, get the most you can out of the rest of your medical education, but in general take time for your mental and physical health. Develop some habits you can continue into residency, whether it’s meal planning with healthy foods or setting up an exercise regimen. You need to walk into residency with that because there will be times for sure when you lose motivation. You might not be your healthiest. So set yourself up beforehand to prevent an issue like that. You are prepared. You deserve your spot. You have to put that imposter syndrome behind and just go for it.
Cindy: Awesome. That’s really good advice.
Anna: What advice would you give students going through Match next year, especially if it’s virtual? What have you learned from your experience?
Cindy: I think being honest with yourself is the most important thing. With the virtual format, there’s no financial, time or travel barriers to applying because all it takes is the click of a button. It’s easy to convince yourself that you could see yourself at a program. Applying with intention is extra important when it’s virtual. You don’t want to take interview spots from people who truly can see themselves there. Only apply to places you can actually see yourself going.
Anna: What are you looking forward to most in your first year as a family physician?
Cindy: I’m so excited to start clinic and have my own panel of patients. I can’t wait to take care of someone long term. It’s going to be magical. The limitation I’m finding in medical school is that I’m on a rotation for four weeks, so I never get to see what happened to that patient after we did some sort of intervention like changing their medication, for example. I want to be able to celebrate when the patient comes back a few weeks, months or years later and their lipids are better or their symptoms are gone or their A1c is improved. I’m so excited for those moments. Bring it on.
2021-2022: Strolling Through the Match Guidebook