Thursday, March 14, 2013

Match Week!

The week we've all been waiting for is finally upon us!! It's MATCH WEEK, ladies & gentlemen!

For those of you who may be wondering "what in the world is match week?", let me give you a little break down of how it works. In a nutshell, it's how medical students are selected for residency positions in their desired specialty.

In August, fourth year medical students begin to compile the list of programs where they may apply for residency. To select the programs of interest, people use different techniques - some value location highly, some value reputation, some value a positive history of exceptional fellowship placement, some value research opportunities, some value benefits of the program, etc. For me, my main requirements for determining whether or not I would apply to a program were: availability of my desired fellowship at the institution where I would receive my residency training followed closely by location. Another requirement for me was that it also had to be an academic-affiliated medical centered and not a community hospital. Using strict guidelines and also refining my application to suit my living preferences (near my family or in a city that both my fiance and I agree on), I had narrowed my list of applications to 14 places. I applied to a few "high-reaches" and one or two "safe bets".

The applications consisted of an extensive CV (a more comprehensive form of a resume), filing out forms on ERAS (the online national application service), letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.

On September 15, the applications were sent off electronically to the institutions which the fourth year medical students selected. Of course there are fees for this sort of stuff (becoming a doctor is certainly not cheap!), with my total cost of submitting applications coming to $200. The cost increases as the number of applications increase. My applications actually weren't sent off until September 25 (I was waiting for a few letters of recommendation to come through before I sent the apps off).

By October 1, the medical schools released to the applicable programs what is called the "MSPE" - the "Medical Student Performance Evaluation" - which basically is a breakdown of how each student performed in each area of education, from first year biochemistry and anatomy to third year clerkships and everything in between, including (both positive and negative) subjective comments from residents and attendings the student had worked with throughout their time in medical school.

On October 2, I received my very first invitation to interview. I was ecstatic! To see a program interested in your credentials and offering an interview somehow made all of the work of the past 3 years worthwhile. It definitely made the idea of becoming a doctor more of a reality.

Between October 2 and November 15, I received 9 invitations to interview out of the 14 places where I had applied. I only had one "high-reach" program officially decline my application. Not bad odds when comparing with the average response.

On November 17, I had my first interview at one of my top five programs. I was absolutely shocked by how low stress the interview process was, how friendly everyone was, how accommodating. I soon realized that these interviews weren't just for the program to decide if they wanted us, but was clearly emphasizing how impressive the programs are so that we could positively interview and be impressed by them. I received several kind little "thank you" gifts and ate some amazing dinners.

My final interview was at the end of January with a program for which I didn't have high expectations. I arrived at the location the night prior to the interview and was blown away by how much my fiance and I loved the location, and during the interview I discovered I loved their program and residents and attendings. I ended up ranking them #2!

Over the interview season, I would under-estimate the total cost for transportation and accommodations as $800. It may not seem like all that much, but keep in mind that I only ended up interviewing at 6 places and 3 of them were within 3 hours drive and didn't require a hotel stay. Also, some programs offer free hotel accommodations. I ended up spending considerably less than most of my colleagues, which is nothing short of craziness. Note - it is not cheap to become a doctor.

The last task of applying to residency is compiling in the Rank Order List. This is where you rank the programs from 1 to X in order of preference of where you'd like to complete your training. My rank list was submitted on February 19, and consisted of 6 programs. The fee to submit the rank order list was $50 ($100 if you paid late).

So - "the match" is exactly what it says it is. Like stated earlier, the students submit their rank order list, ranking their most preferred programs highest and lesser preferred programs lower (and completely undesirable programs are not ranked if the student so desires). A rank order list is also submitted by all of the residency programs across the country, ranking candidates they desire most highly and ranking less desirable candidates lower (and my decide to not rank undesirable candidates at all). These rank lists are then sent through an electronic algorithm and assign each candidate (as possible) to a program (as possible). Funnily enough, this is the same algorithm that some dating website have adopted for determining compatibility among users!

In order to find the perfect residency, I spent around $1500 (of course I had to purchase a new suit and shoes to boost my confidence!). Oh and one more thing - our student loads do not account for the added cost of interviews during fourth year and are not legally allowed to be used for interview purposes, so this money has to just "show up out of nowhere" according to our government! So I need to say a thank you to my parents for the shoes and my fiance for the extra funds...

On Monday, March 11, I received an email stating that I matched with a program. Reading the email gives a sense of excitement - YES, I WILL BE A DOCTOR! - followed by relief - YES, I FOUND A PROGRAM - followed immediately by anticipation - WHERE WILL I BE SPENDING THE NEXT THREE YEARS OF MY LIFE!? - and fear - I HOPE IT'S WITH MY TOP PROGRAM!!!

On Friday, March 15 - at noon - I will find out which program that is. I'll discover where I will spend the next 3 years of my life by opening a little envelope at noon tomorrow. How EXCITING! (and slightly terrifying!). The suspense is killing me!!!!!!! I think I'll go have dinner/drinks with my classmates to pass the time... (ahhhhhh match week fun!)