We know how it feels. Match Day is widely celebrated as a day of absolute joy—crying at the podium, jumping for joy in high heels, and then covering your mouth with your cupped hands. “It was my number one choice,” all your classmates seem to say. For some, that’s the reality.
But let’s be real, that isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, about half of U.S. allopathic medical school applicants do not get into their top choice residency medical program. It is a day loaded with expectations and at the core of it is this: you are very vulnerable. Some of us have taken up an additional $20,000 in loans just for interviews. Students don’t really have control over the entire process—especially where they match. It stings.
But what you do have, post-match, is control over things going forward. Read on to discover what you can do if you don’t match into your top program.
No One Can Predict the Future
Let’s stop for a second and ask a simple question: what was your favorite band ten years ago? Now, are they still your favorite band? Probably not. There is ample research out there that says we are incredibly bad at predicting what will make us happy in the future.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I did not match at my top intern year program. This meant that my internship took me away from my significant other, and it rewarded me with a much heavier clinical workload. But it has a happy ending.
Being apart from my partner made me realize the little things I took for granted. We spent less time together, but the time we had together was higher quality—eating out at restaurants, walking in the park, taking little staycations. And all those hours in the hospital? Sure, it was rough at first but it ultimately made me become much more efficient with Epic. And it lead me to meet some really spectacular friends I keep in touch with to this day. I wouldn’t have predicted those things on Match Day.
You could still get what you are looking for
Let a few months pass. By that time the shock and surprise will have worn off, and you’ll get a clearer view of the situation. Should you still really crave what your first-choice program offered, then find alternative ways to get it. If it was in a certain location (perhaps close to significant other or home) then take some vacations there. If it was a specific fellowship, then follow the journals, attend conferences, and work within your institution to stay up-to-date and competitive. Search out a mentor. Introduce yourself to key people. Put in extra hours doing a small scale study. Join committees.
Let us tell you a little secret
I once met a guy who was originally quite bummed about matching at a certain program. It didn’t have the prestige factor or the desirable location. He had envisioned a different career, one that would make those on SDN drool.
As time passed, he found his unexpected situation to be quite fulfilling. See, he found out lots of little best-kept secrets about his program. He enjoyed the autonomy and brought in extra money by moonlighting. He could enjoy himself out of the hospital in a nice pad and location. Through word of mouth, he lined up a really sweet gig after residency. All these things were not easily evident during interviews. They weren’t on the program’s website, either.
When I asked him how it all worked, out he told me this: “A lot of things in residency are up to you and in your control. If you work hard, reach out to others, and be teachable, that goes really far.”
Missing out on your first-choice program doesn’t mean that you can’t still achieve what you want. Sure, certain programs make it easier than others. You might have to work a bit harder, but ultimately if you want it to happen you can still take control of the situation.
Remember: residency is the beginning and not the last step.
Take a 360 view
There is not a single program that offers every single thing we could want. Sometimes the ones that focus on clinical exposure lack adequate research opportunities or dedicated teaching sessions. Those that are research powerhouses at times may not be located in an area with a favorable cost of living. You get the idea.
Wherever you end up, there are sure to be positive things. They may not be readily apparent or recognizable to everyone, but they are there. The onus is on you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and then find the gems.
I remember interviewing with a candidate who was an absolute rock star of research. We aren’t talking about first author publications in well-established journals. We are talking about millions—tens of millions—of dollars secured in funding. Anyway, he was really bummed that this one program turned him down. I told him that it doesn’t necessarily mean he was a bad candidate, that it just meant they were looking for something else. Fast forward a couple of years—he is situated with a program that gives him not only protected time for research, but a dedicated laboratory and ancillary support staff for him to continue it.
It’s about perspective.
This is the key. Wherever you train, you can still become a good doctor and have a fulfilling life and career. It just requires effort and a positive attitude. So don’t despair about missing out on your first choice in The Match—focus on how to get what you need from the program you’re in.
Our interview management tool for both students and programs makes the Match process a little easier. While we can’t guarantee that you’ll get your first choice of medical program once it’s all over, we can tell you the experience of those doctors that make up our team. That is: you can become a fantastic medical professional, wherever residency takes you.
Team Thalamus is a grassroots collaboration of applicants (past and present), program directors, program coordinators and other GME leadership who wish to share our collective journeys through managing and participating in years of residency application cycles. While we offer a byline to all of our contributors, many wish to write under a pen name, which we have collectively defined as Team Thalamus. Becoming a physician is a long and winding road, filled with sacrifice, dedication, complexity and uncertainty and our team is her to help!