Some call the residency interview season the most expensive vacation of your lifetime. After numberless flights, road trips and train rides, I matched as a categorical intern at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), my first choice, which I ranked cautiously and with a guarded heart. I cried when I awoke on Match Day. I cried as I walked into the reception hall with my family members. I cried as I opened my envelope. I literally ugly cried all morning. These tears were a manifestation of my fear, anxiety and then joy.
When I look back, I can’t believe that was almost two years ago. I remember quite well the moment when I walked into my medical school dean’s office just prior to the start of the residency application season. He looked at my list of programs, glanced at my personal statement and skimmed through my resume. He told me a program like CHOP would be an unlikely match. He ended our soul-crushing meeting with: “I just want you to be informed.”
The impact of this interaction can’t be understated. I navigated my residency application cycle with an almost paralyzing sense of uncertainty.
Some people see Match Day as the success of an individual. I don’t. I fully recognized that I couldn’t have made it through the process without the support of my family, my dearest friends and my mentors. I had the great fortune to match at my ideal program, but this wasn’t without hardship.
Here, I want to share four things I wish I’d known during my journey.
1. Incoming residents are valuable
The framing of the residency application cycle sets medical students up to feel true desperation to match at a residency program and enter their first job. Yet hospitals that are built on trainees can’t function without a class of incoming residents. As much as you need a residency position to continue your career in medicine, these institutions need you in order to function.
2. Residency programs are more similar than different
I made a smattering of pro-con lists as I inched my way toward rank list submission day. Each specialty has requirements that are worked into the residency curriculum; programs vary on the basis of only a few variables. Regardless of where you match, you’ll end up an incredibly competent physician as long as you make your education a priority. If you don’t match to your first choice, it’s not the end of the world.
3. It’s OK to not match at all
Ideally, you’ll find out you matched on Match Monday and you’ll find out on Match Friday that you’ll be a member of your favorite program’s residency class. After an interview season of profound distress, to not match is a blow to the ego, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your career. Seek out your mentors and advisers for moral support and to learn about your options. You can absolutely move forward from here.
4. Your life doesn’t have to end with the start of residency
As much as I wanted to match, I was fearful of what would come. Life in residency is different compared to life in medical school, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have opportunities to continue to explore your interests and hobbies.
Match Day is fraught with ups and downs. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll be a phenomenal physician. Hold on to that.