If you know me personally, you know I don’t really care for sports – but whether or not you’re into college hoops, if you’re a 4th year medical student in the U.S., March means only one thing: Match Day.
Before completing their final year of training, senior medical students participate in the competitive application process run by the National Resident Matching Program, known affectionately as “The Match”, to determine where they will begin their careers as physicians.
In many ways, the process is reminiscent of applying to medical school – personal statements, letters of recommendation, credentials, standardized test scores, and extracurriculars are all reviewed by admissions committees who then decide whether they will grant an applicant the privilege of interviewing. However, unlike medical admissions, which are determined solely by the school’s committee, residency matching involves a mysterious, all-knowing computer program that reconciles the “rank list” of the applicant and all of the participating institutions, and generates a result that both parties are bound contractually to fulfill.
Actually, in reality, it’s probably more like this:
Anyway, the day began in the auditorium where we spent our first two years trying to “drink from the fire hose” to build our clinical knowledge base. A few friends and I decided to sit in our old seats (yes, it was cute as hell). Some folks from the school’s administration spoke to us, but I’d bet good money no one remembers a thing they said. Our musically-talented classmates entertained us with a rendition of “Call Me Maybe” to help us pass the time:
“Hey, I just met you
and this is crazy
Here’s my rank list
so match me maybe!”
Finally, it was time, and we were corralled into the main lobby to collect the envelopes that held the answer to the biggest question of our careers thus far. On-lookers, well-wishers, and even a few hospital employees crowded the balcony above the lobby.
Some final wishes of good fortune were exchanged as we redistributed ourselves amongst friends and family. The Dean said a few words and led the count-down as High Noon approached:
“10, 9, 8…” Every student’s eyes are fixed on their envelope (or the clock), and their families’ eyes are fixed on them. Some begin to raise their cameras.
“5, 4, 3…” A few flashes. Everyone I can see has at least one finger already inside the envelope, ready to pull the trigger when the signal is given.
“…ONE – Open your envelopes!” A burst of cheers, some camera flashes, followed by a brief pause and relative silence as the papers were drawn from their envelopes and unfolded.
Then, the first scream. And another. Then, more erupt from all parts of the lobby, like popcorn, until the room is filled with a roar so loud I can no longer hear the people closest to me exclaim where they’ve matched. The building was electric. Cheers, hugs, tears, more screams & yelps, more tears; the names of cities and hospitals bounce off me as I move through the crowd to find more friends.
The cacophony died down over the next several minutes, as more handshakes and high-fives were distributed. Phone calls, photo ops, and Skype sessions on smart phones continued in the background. People began to file out of the building for celebratory lunches with their families.
I’m glad all of those cameras and smart phones were there – I barely thought to take any pictures. Overall, the day was an amazing experience, and my colleagues matched at some very impressive institutions, in very competitive specialties, proving that my class really was as gifted as I thought they were. Next year’s graduating class has their work cut out for them.