Photo courtesy of University of Michigan Medical School.
I found myself waking up at 2:00 a.m. with great horror two days before I submitted my rank list for the 2017 residency match. Though it was the middle of the night, my thoughts raced, and my pulse quickened. However, before I get too far ahead of myself, for those of you unfamiliar with the match process, let’s rewind for a minute.
In order for a physician to complete their training, most medical school graduates go on to complete residency training in the field (i.e., specialty) they have chosen to practice. Residency applicants submit applications online to training programs, and then wait for interview invitations to, hopefully, come rolling in.
Interview season is October through early February. Applicants and residency programs submit “rank lists” in late February that are entered into a computer algorithm that creates matches based upon the rank order list of both parties. This year, most applicants will find out where they matched at the same time, 12 p.m. EST on Match Day, which is today, March 17. (Read more about applying for and matching to residency training.) Today, my entire next phase of life is waiting for me inside of an envelope that I’ll tear open in front of family and friends at my school’s Match Day ceremony. No pressure, right?
Now that we are caught up, back to my 2:00 a.m. panic attack. You would think after months of interviewing, and hash-tagging #FourthYearBestYear, I would have known exactly what I was looking for in a residency training program before I submitted my rank list. So why, with only two days left to decide, was I still unsure? Well, like anything in medicine, it depends.
Along the way, I realized that I like hospitals with patient diversity, locations close to loved ones and programs with residents I connect well with. I made excel spreadsheets and had hours upon hours of conversation with my family analyzing which programs may be the best fit. Family and friends, all with good intentions, weighed in, offering their strategies, recommendations and support. However, at the end of the day I knew that the decision was mine alone.
Should I choose the program with the most prestige and name recognition? What about the program closest to my family? Should I select a program with perhaps the best educational opportunities, but at the expense of my work life balance and personal happiness?
Most confusing of all, how do I interpret the emails I received from program directors after the interview that expressed their desire to have me as their future resident? Do they send these emails to everyone? What does it mean when I don’t get one of those emails? Should I email my top choice programs and let them know that they are my top choice? No, really, should I email them???? It was a difficult decision, and I received conflicting advice from different people. Ultimately, all I could really do was try and make decisions that were the best for me. Finally confident with my selections, I pressed “certify and submit” on my rank list, knowing that from there forward, the decision was out of my hands.
What’s amusing is that though this process felt so personal, the experience itself was actually quite universal. Now looking back on my experiences from the interview trail and speaking with classmates and other applicants, the same themes appeared in many of our stories. I even found several relatable youtube medical parody videos discussing this topic (Yale Medical School’s “Rank List Parody of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space” and Undacova Gunnaz “Rank Me”). Some of the shared experiences I found:
- That feeling back in September and October when our hearts skipped a beat after getting an email from noReply@aamc.org. Woo hooo, another interview offer just arrived via email! Then thinking, “Oh no!” I now have to pretend to use the restroom again so I can respond to said email.
- The first interview where I was so nervous I felt physically ill.
- The fifth or sixth interview when I was officially “warmed up” and realized the interview stress had disappeared.
- Later realizing that maybe I should have maintained some of those interview jitters, when I tried to casually lean my body weight on the arm of a chair (attempting to convey with my body language how comfortable and relatable I am), and then almost falling out of said chair.
- The awkward interview questions – “Do you actually like working 24 hour call shifts?” Does anyone?? I probably didn’t answer that question smoothly.
- That moment several weeks into the process when my friends and family finally stopped asking after each interview, “Did you get the job?” Each time re-explaining the rank list/magic computer algorithm process all over again.
- The thank you note fatigue.
- The cookie fatigue. Good thing I sized up on my new interview suit. The amount of food provided at the interview breakfasts, lunches and dinners was unreal.
- The indescribable, even approaching unhealthy amount of jealously felt towards those participating in early match programs such as military, ophthalmology and urology. It’s not fair they get to know “early” where they will train!
- The sorrow I experienced when I decided to make an excel spreadsheet to track my expenses. It turns out those hotels and flights really added up!
- The feeling of excitement mingled with extreme anxiety I felt each time match day was brought up (usually shortly after I had just blocked the idea out of my mind).
- My personal favorite, the most popular interview question of all time, “Do you have any more questions about the program?”
- Thinking to myself: “After attending the pre-interview dinner, morning presentation, hospital tour, luncheon with residents, and multiple interviews this afternoon, I think I could sell your residency myself”.
- Actually answering: “Well yes, please tell me more about XXX”.
Today is an important milestone, and though the days were long, the four years of medical school went fast. Today is Match Day, and the thousands of neurotic medical students just like myself, can set aside our angst and finally have peace in knowing where we will each spend the next three or more years of our lives. I hope that everyone (including myself!) matched to their top choice program; and if you didn’t, know that no matter where you train, you will still become a doctor capable of impacting the lives of patients. What an awesome privilege, and the reason we entered medicine in the first place. Congratulations Class of 2017…WE DID IT!
About Jessica Turner
Jessica Turner is a fourth year medical student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. She received a degree in neuroscience from Trinity University and a Master’s degree in Medical Science from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Upon graduating, she worked for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society where she helped raise money to fund blood cancer research.
As the president of her medical school class, Jessica enjoys organizing class events and representing the student voice for campus issues. She also serves as a member of the Admissions Committee for her medical school. She has a passion for community service, and in 2014 she attended a medical mission trip in Nicaragua where she helped treat underserved communities. Jessica will graduate with a Doctor of Medicine in 2017. She plans to specialize in psychiatry.