March 14th, 2019

Musings on Match Day, the Conception Day of our Residencies

Ellen Poulose Redger, MD

Ellen Poulose Redger, MD, is a Chief Resident at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, NY

Match Day. The one day that medical students across the United States all simultaneously look forward to and also fear. It’s really a whole week of roller-coaster emotions: on Monday we find out if we matched somewhere, and on Friday we find out where. (And, in between, if we unfortunately didn’t match, we scramble to find a position that is hopefully what we wanted to do but that at least gives us a job for the next 1-7 years.)

I’ve been through several Match Days for residency now, one as a spouse of a MS4 and one as an MS4 myself. (And, I guess, two others as the child of MS4s, but I didn’t know enough then to have any idea what was going on.) These days (weeks) are stressful and exciting at the same time.  Stressful waiting — to find out where we are going, what the algorithm determined is the best fit for us based on our preferences and the preferences of the programs at which we interviewed. Stressful wondering — to find out if we’re going to have to move somewhere new or if we’re going to know anyone else who’s going there, or if we’re going to find new friends at a new place. Stressful excitement — to think of a fresh start and another step in our training in medicine. Scary to contemplate it all. And very confusing to explain the process to anyone who isn’t in medicine. Yes, a computer algorithm analyzes preference lists from applicants and programs and then figures out a very important piece of our careers and commits us to a training program.

My Match Day as a student was a complete collection of all emotions. I was excited to see where I was going to train for the next 3 years, really hoping it would be at the same place my husband was going, and scared to find out. Scared because, if we didn’t end up at the same place, the 1 year of training in separate cities that we’d already done could end up being 3 or 4 years of living apart. And very nervous that, if all went well, we’d be moving halfway across the country to city where we didn’t know anyone.  I remember very nervously walking up to the stage with my husband to get my envelope, opening it with him, and then turning to the microphone to announce where I [we] was going. (My husband, clearly, was very excited that we were going to the same place for the following 4 years.) I remember cheering on my classmates and friends as they found out where they were headed to for the next stage of their training. Some were ecstatic with their matches, and a few were mildly disappointed, but everyone was proud that they had made it to the next step.

As a resident, I also look forward to Match Day. It’s exciting to find out who is coming to join our program, because those matches are a reflection on our program and its current residents, faculty, and leadership. It’s also a reminder that I’m almost done with another year of training and am that much closer to a fellowship or a job. There’s a palpable energy in our program during Match Week as we wait to find out if we filled all of our positions (phew) and then anticipate who will be joining us, and then finally find out who they are. A perk of being a future Chief Resident last year was that Match Day was also the day we found out who the social butterflies of the incoming class would be, as the social media friend/follow requests came flying in.

Match Week marks the beginning of the end of medical school and the start of residency. It’s the time when the promise of graduation becomes very real (which is awesome), and the idea of having a job shortly becomes more concrete. It’s when we start getting paperwork to fill out for hospital privileges and licenses and NPI numbers. It’s when we realize that the last few months of freedom until we retire are coming up and when we look for cheap flights to somewhere to celebrate our accomplishments. And it’s the start of new Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups so that we can stay connected to our medical school friends and make new residency friends.

There’s a temptation to speed up the time between finding out where we are going for residency and actually starting residency. A thought of getting ahead by reading something or learning something or practicing something to help us hit the ground running as interns. Don’t do it. Relax and breathe in those last few weeks of freedom before residency starts. Take the 3 months between Match Week and Intern Orientation to learn more about yourself and take care of yourself and your loved ones. Deepen the friendships you have with your medical school classmates, and be open to new friendships with residency colleagues. After all, once the algorithm has decided where we are going, it’s up to us to make the most of it.

NEJM Resident 360

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