March 15th, 2011

Match Day

match dayI was talking to the third-year medical student who was rotating on my Medicine service the other day about what type of medicine he thought he might end up practicing and, astutely, he said, “Family/Internal Medicine.” I raised my eyebrows. Shortly thereafter, he conceded with a chuckle that he wasn’t sure.

“I hope I figure it out soon,” he said. “It is really nerve racking.” I told him not to sweat it. I also told him that things would work out like they are supposed to and that one day he would wake up and just know. 

When I went to medical school, I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to be an orthopedic surgeon and work with elite athletes. Coming off of a collegiate sports career myself, that’s all I knew. So for my first 3 years of medical school, I did everything I could to make sure that this would be my reality. I joined the orthopedic interest group and served as an officer; I did research; I schmoozed with the faculty to assure quality letters of recommendation; and I surrounded myself with orthopedic friends. I did everything I could be become a member of the fraternity.

But when I did my orthopedics rotation as a third year, I found that I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. I tolerated the operating room and the surgeries, but I never found myself getting excited about scrubbing in like I thought I would. Initially, I chalked it up to being a MS-III and not really being able to participate — other than to retract — and possibly to not having the best residents and faculty on my team to introduce me to the specialty. But as time went on and the ERAS application began to stare me in the face, I felt just like my medical student does now — scared about my future.

Daily, I would try to convince myself that things would be different in residency and out in practice; that I could learn to love the operating room; or that orthopedics was still what I was supposed to do. Then, one morning in late May of my third year, out of the blue, I awoke and saw things differently. As if I had decided in my sleep, my worries were gone and my mind was clear. I realized that I was not going to pursue orthopedics, but rather Family Medicine.

What!!?!?! Family Medicine?? Out of nowhere, I jumped ship from the specialty for which I had been grooming myself to primary care?? 

My only experience with Family Medicine was a 6-week rotation at the very beginning of my third year. Sure, I loved it, but I figured that was because it was my first rotation, and I was finally out of the lecture hall. Heck, I probably would have loved basket weaving at that time! When I analyzed my decision, a determining factor was the ability to have more consistent time with my family. With Family Medicine, I could coach little league, go to the school plays, and take my kids camping — things I couldn’t do if I was tied to the operating room. Plus, I could envision myself seeing patients in a clinic at age 50, but I couldn’t see myself in the OR at that stage of my life.

This week is “Match Week” for the 4th-year medical students. By Friday, these young physicians will be learning their professional fate. Whether they’re ready or not, they will open envelopes that will tell them where they will be spending the next 3 to 5 years of their life. And, if they are like I was, the anxiety of this moment is killing them because the future they were so scared of as third-year students will soon be reality. Their fear and anxiety now likely isn’t about making the right choice, but rather is about not getting into their number one choice, ending up living in the middle of nowhere, or of not matching at all.

 However, on my Match Day, my fear and anxiety was centered around whether I had made the right choice by not pursuing orthopedics. Now, though, 3 years later, I am about to graduate from JPS as a Family Medicine physician, and I am happier than I could have ever imagined. And I can say without a doubt that I absolutelymade the right decision. Family Medicine has afforded me every opportunity that I want out of medicine. I think critically about medicine patients; I perform procedures ranging from colonoscopies to skin biopsies to joint injections to delivering babies; I develop relationships with my patients; and I get to see my family. I get to live the life that I always dreamed of!

So if I could talk to this year’s graduates, I would tell them what I told my third-year medical student, “Don’t sweat it. That things will work out like they are supposed to.”

Believe it or not, dreams do come true. Mine did.  Happy Match Day!

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