Thursday, March 16, 2006

Holy match day

Match day. It means little to most people, if it means anything at all. But to medical students it is just about one of the biggest days of our lives. It is the day where you find out if everything you have been doing for the past four years is going to pay off. It is the day you find out your future. Not only where you are going to be living, but it is the day you finally have nailed down what branch of medicine you are going to specialize in. Once you have matched, you can finally say "I am going to be a (blank)." Today was match day. There was a big get together at school. Lots of food. Lots of alcohol will be flowing tonight. Futures were changed. Some were thrilled, others looked a little crest-fallen. I was unsurprised. Since Urology is early match, I have known for almost 2 months where I would be going. I still had an envelope to open today, but I already knew what it would say. But it was great to be there for my classmates. Congratulations to all of them, even those who may not have gotten their first choice. Once all is said and done, I bet every one of us will be pleased with where we go. Congratulations again to all. But what is the "match"? When you apply to medical school you send off your general application (one application that gets sent electronically to all the schools). They then request more money, oh and a school specific secondary application. Then they may offer you an interview. Once those are done they extend acceptances. If you get multiple acceptances you get to weigh your options. Residency is different. I think the goal is to be more "fair". I'm not quite sure how it is more fair, other than the fact that everyone knows the answer at the same time on the same day, with no one being wait-listed. But I have to say, it makes for a lot more stress than applying to medical school. You apply through ERAS, a single, electronic application. Then you wait and pray for the interviews. Go on as many as you can, or, if you are lucky, as many as you want to and can afford. Then the wait comes. You think, you weigh your options, decide what you think are the best choices for you and then rank them. Create a list of all the programs you interviewed at that you are willing to go to, from number 1 to whatever. Hit submit, and you future soars on the electric ether. In the meantime all the programs are thinking and talking about everyone they interviewed. They come up with a rank list of how much they liked everyone. They send it off. Then the magic happens. Or voodoo. Some fancy computer algorithm takes every applicant and every program and starts lining things up. It does work in favor of the applicant. In simplistic terms, it looks at my list, takes my #1 ranked program, and then looks at their list and sees if I am high enough on their list to match there. If so, I matched. If not, it moves on to my #2 ranked program, and so on. And it does this for the thousands of people matching each year. The hardest part about it is the fact that when you send in that match list you are contracting to attend any program on there. If you are concerned about matching then you will put as many programs on there as you can. This means you are potentially contracting to go somewhere you really would rather not, just so you can match. And then you get that envelope. One program in there (or two if you are going to do your prelim work at a different place), your future for the next 3-7 years. You can't say no, you can't try for a different place. That little envelope is final. Not a very relaxing environment. But it works. Most of the time. For most people. Not everyone matches. Not everyone is happy with their match. But it is the match. Just another one of the many hoops we jump through to live our dreams.

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