Grad Student Series 3: Match Madness
Everything happens for a reason. Hearts are broken. Jobs are lost. Friendships fade away. When a horrible something happens when you least expect it, you get thrown into an exquisite blindness, confused and looking down a dark, never-ending tunnel. Why do these things happen? You think to yourself, “what did I do to deserve this?” At this point, you have two options: to fall down and succumb to the insanity of what you can’t control or to keep the faith that yes, everything does happen for a reason.
On Monday this week, emails went out to all hopeful and terrified fourth year medical students including me saying if they secured a job in the specialty they chose for the next few years; it’s called the residency match. I, like most of you probably know, applied to train in OBGYN. I won’t lie, and I’m not being arrogant when I say my application was stellar. My test scores were way above average, I had performed well in all my classes, and I had the research and letters of recommendation to back up the logistics. So, it came as an enormous shock when those gut-wrenching words came to my email: “We’re sorry, you did not match to any position.”
Chaos is probably the most accurate word to describe what my mind turned into after reading those few words I never thought I’d see. As I broke the news to my family and mentors at school, every single one of them was just as shocked as I was. No one could begin to understand what happened besides I was just maybe the unluckiest applicant of the year. Everyone knew I was a great candidate, am very personable during interviews, and would succeed beyond expectations wherever I ended up.
So what do you do when you’re completely unprepared for the worst-case scenario? After completing four years of college and nearly four years of medical school, I was basically told I wasn’t going to be a doctor. But here is why I am really sharing all of this with you: I didn’t give up. Unfortunately for me, all the OBGYN positions had been taken in the original process. This means, I was not going to start my OBGYN training this summer no matter what. About a year and a half ago, I decided to apply for OBGYN after debating between that and general surgery. I knew I wanted to operate, but I liked the OB patient population better.
Now for all of you totally unfamiliar with this daunting process, there is a program in place for those in my same situation that you can reapply over the course of the next few days to open positions throughout the country in any specialty to secure a job for the next year. To my excitement, tons of what are called preliminary general surgery positions were available. What that means is you do a year of general surgery training. Get treated exactly the same as all the other surgical interns: learn what they do. Operate in as many cases. Even see the same patients.
When November rolls around, you decide what you want to do next year. For me, I could reapply for OBGYN and go through this whole process again, but with a year of surgical training to back up my application. I could instead apply for general surgery if I decide I loved my preliminary year so far. If I stuck with general surgery, preliminary interns sometimes get lucky enough to secure a second year position at the institution they did their intern year at, essentially not losing any time. Things were starting to look up for me.
A list goes live online of unfilled programs, and you speak with open programs in a frenzy trying to convince them why they should want you for their last few spots. It was the most exhausting two days of my medical school life. I had 12 phone calls over the course of 24 hours with surgery program directors all around the country. These were mini interviews, and it is extremely difficult to stand out among all the candidates each program is calling throughout the day. All of them were so surprised a candidate such as myself was even available, and the interest I was getting surged my confidence level. As you can imagine though, I was still uneasy about my odds considering I had been very confident a few days prior.
Thankfully to my benefit, I had scored very high on my surgery rotation, and the Indiana surgery program director was at my side the whole way. I had met her once during my third year when I was thinking of pursuing general surgery. It was the most gracious thing for her to be a reference on my behalf, speaking of how amazing I had performed when working with the surgeons in Indianapolis, and that these programs need to seriously consider picking me. I know her help was the biggest difference in me securing a job for next year, and I could not be more thankful for her and my university for ensuring my dream of becoming a doctor came true.
So with that, I am beyond thrilled, stunned, and ecstatic to say I have accepted a general surgery position at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California next year. It has been my dream to train at such a reputable program, and I could not be happier despite the last few days of madness. California has always been the dream, and I can finally call it a reality. This outcome is perhaps even better than if I had been given a guaranteed four-year offer to one of the OBGYN programs I interviewed at because my heart was not 100% invested to any of them. Who knows where I’ll go next year or even what type of doctor I’ll officially decide to be, but for now all I can say is I hope my story helps you guys keep the faith throughout whatever setbacks you guys endure, and that everything really does happen for a reason.
I’M MOVING TO CALI!!!!!