And now we wait.
After spending roughly 2,000 hours in a classroom, 4,000 hours in clinics and hospitals and thousands more studying or taking tests, my classmates and I are ready to graduate from medical school. We are moving on to residency, the yearslong apprenticeship that teaches newly minted MDs to apply many of the concepts we’ve struggled for years to learn, to forget others and to subvert a few. We’re ready to take charge of our own patients in a real hospital.
We just have no idea which hospital, in which state. That we learn on March 21. On that day, at the same hour (9 a.m. Pacific), every graduating medical student learns where he or she will live and work for the next three to seven years.
The process is called The Match. It’s mildly nerve-wracking.
For months, my classmates and I have been crossing the country to interview with hospitals that employ and teach residents in medicine, surgery, psychiatry and a handful of other fields. But The Match is less like traditional job interviewing than a computerized medical-employment dating service. No one gets a job offer after interviewing. Instead, every prospective resident ranks the top places they hope to spend their coming years. Every hospital with a residency program similarly ranks all the applicants they’re interested in employing. Then, a supercomputer somewhere compares the lists and decides which new doctor goes where. I like to think of the computer as Skynet from the Terminator series – fast, powerful and destined to alter life as we know it. And, like Skynet, Matchnet is a bit cruel: We all submitted our rank lists a week ago, and the program has already run and partnered us with our employers, but it makes us wait a few weeks to learn our fate.
Many of my classmates ranked programs across the nation, and will learn at 9 a.m. on March 21 whether they’ll live in Boston or Louisville, California or Vermont. Some of us who ranked very few or very competitive programs worry we will not match at all, and will have to scramble to find a jilted hospital also looking for a new dance partner. It’s moderately nerve-wracking.
There are landmark moments in life where effort, hope and uncertainty unite in stomach-churning suspense: when you’ve proposed marriage and are waiting on the answer, when the game-winning shot is still arcing toward the basket, when you’re listening for your newborn baby’s first cry. The Match is one of these moments, in which our hard work and dreams get affirmed, denied or, most likely, move on in a direction that is not quite what we expected, but turns out to be a great trip.
Three years ago, in my first year of medical school, I asked a fourth-year friend which programs she ranked and where she hoped to end up. She kindly told me, then offered some advice: Don’t ask a fourth-year about The Match around Match Day. The Match is like religion, sex or money – a source of great possible satisfaction frought with worry, guilt and doubt. If a fourth-year wants to talk about it, by all means let them, but it’s not polite to ask.
So, for the next two weeks, my classmates and I await our fate. We’ve come a long way, and all want to know where we’re headed. Yes, we’re excited. Yes, we’re anxious. Thank you for wondering, and for not asking. We’ll all know soon.