Thursday, April 10, 2014

Match Day

So how does getting into a residency program work? For U.S. medical students, graduating from medical school is the first step. Residency program is where we complete our training, where we're no longer babied, and we have to work through sweat, tears, and blood, all that grueling stuff that shape us into doctors who can finally be sent out into the public to practice alone, safely and responsibly.

For most fourth year medical students, the big day is Match Day. It's the culmination of all your years of work and the past few months of applications, waiting for interview invitations, deciding which interviews to accept and which pre-interview social you'd attend, traveling for the actual interviews, hospital tours, meals with the residents, and struggling to come up with as many responses to "Do you have any questions for us?"

After all the interviews, we struggle to form our rank list in the order of which hospital program you'd like to work for more and the programs formulate their own rank list of all the candidates they've interviewed. A giant computer at NRMP takes in our rank lists, does its magic, and we all wait for Match Day, the day when we find out which residency program you're going to spend your lives at for the next x number of years.

So Match Day this year was officially March 21st. Some students applying for more competitive fields like dermatology care more about March 17th though, the Monday of that week when everyone gets a generic email informing them whether or not they matched. My classmate - a derm applicant - specifically took Monday off from our rotation while I covered for her because she didn't want to be working if she found out she didn't match (she did! Matched back to our home school program!). And you find out through the grapevine which of your classmates who sadly did not match.

Since I'm going into pediatrics, a less competitive field, Monday was not a super huge concern for me. I still had butterflies just in case I'm actually an extremely unlikable person and all my programs hated me on sight, but fortunately, all went well. On Monday at noon, I checked my email from NRMP with that suspenseful subject title "Did I Match?" And it was a very brief email with the most important words Congratulations!  You have matched! bolded. So YAY!

And then we had to wait another four days for Match Day on Friday to find out where we're matched to. Except for this dumb NRMP computer glitch this year that actually allowed some resourceful candidates to be able to check their match results earlier - a seriously dumb glitch involving a simple right click, view source code - but since I didn't find out about the glitch until NRMP fixed it and it was too late to check, this is all moot point to me.

But I have to say, not finding out earlier and being able to have anticipation build til Friday ... it was worth it in the end for me. Because there's nothing quite like that atmosphere of being in an auditorium with all your classmates and friends, that heady rush of excitement and nerves as you get up to collect your own sealed envelope, the countdown to noon when everyone, all at once, cracks open their letter and finds out where they're heading off to.

I, myself, took a few seconds to really absorb the words. My name ... my medical school name ... Congratulations, you have matched! ...

And then I saw the name of my first choice listed.

I think I must have let out some incomprehensible sound, like a whuh, covered my mouth and turned to my friend. She was shaking her head and just thrust her paper out to me. I shoved mine at her. We both got into our first choices.

There's a breath of silence and then screams of joy overfill the auditorium. Everyone gets out of their seats and starts running around, finding their friends, and grabbing each other in tight hugs. Some are crying, some are laughing, others are in shocked silence. Cameras flash and a school photographer follows people around, picking out the happy faces. A lot of people are bouncing around, especially my fellow pediatrics applicants - we're naturally bubbly people?

There is nothing quite like that roller coaster of emotions.

And then, of course, everything turns a bit anti-climatic in the aftermath. Your program emails you a welcome email and then starts cracking down with multiple HR forms, NPI request, resident work hour attestation, sleep deprivation attestation, etc. ("We own you now. Please sign your life over ASAP.") But yay, I don't care, I'm still living in my fourth year medical student bubble! I'm still excited over signing all your scary forms! Real job confirmed!