A Reflection on “The Match” – 19 Years Later

“If there is a day that defines the rest of your life, one that will shape who you are and what you will become, that day is not Match Day.” ~ Dr. Stewart Decker, American Academy of Family Medicine Blog

Don’t let the name fool you – “The Match” is not a reality TV show, nor an online dating site. It was a social media trend, also known as #MatchDay, #Match2017 and #MatchDay2107, on March 1st in Canada and March 17th in the United States. I certainly didn’t know what “The Match” was until well into medical school. It ends up being a very significant day in your medical career.

“The Match” – the process

To give you a brief overview of what “The Match” entails (mainly because The Match Algorithm is beyond me), it really starts in your 3rd year of a 4 year medical school program. At this point, you have to start to formulate an idea of what area of medicine you want to practice in. It ends up being a struggle for many – it can be hard to wade through all of the specialties to decide which ones are and are not suited for you. It sounds stressful because it is – I don’t think there is any way around it. For the lucky few who knew they wanted to be a surgeon for as long as they can remember, they can hone in their elective time around that specialty. The elective time is your opportunity to shine, and hopefully make an impression, in a given specialty/area of medicine you hope to match to. However, just to complicate the process a bit more, you should really also be doing those said electives in the location you hope to match to.

Next, you have to start applying to residency programs, both the specialty program and its affiliated medical school, that you would like to attend. Now, into your 4th year, you start to hear back from programs regarding interviews. At this point, you realize the interviews to get into medical school were just a dress rehearsal for residency interviews. To add to the stress, your debt load for medical training continues to increase (unless you have financial support otherwise), as you not only have to come up with the means to potentially live elsewhere during your electives, but you now have to pay for travel to your interviews.

Once you have completed your interviews, a timeline exists for this whole process, you then rank the residency programs and locations based on where you had these interviews. Unfortunately, the process may have already become disappointing for you if you didn’t interview in a program or location you desired. At this time, the programs are also ranking their candidates. Once the two-way ranking process is completed, the magic of “The Match” happens – attempting to match candidates with their residency programs of choice, and vice versa, residency programs with their candidates of choice.

As you guessed it, “The Match” is when the results are revealed. My husband Colin and I were in a room with all of our medical school classmates and various faculty members when we were handed our envelopes. Nowadays, some students find out through email. At that moment, it feels as though your future lies within the envelope. Only years later can you recognize it is just another brick in the road on your journey in medicine.

“The Match” – our experience

By second year, it became very apparent that CaRMS, the Canadian Resident Matching Service, was essentially the center of the residency matching universe in Canada. The whole process streamed through CaRMS and it became an acronym to both admire and abhor.

What made my CaRMS experience a bit more intense is that Colin and I were entering the match as a couple. This is offered to medical students entering the match process at the same time. It meant we ranked programs and schools as one. We knew some people entering the match this way and they utilized as many combinations as possible. Already married by this time, Colin and I had no interest spending years apart during residency, especially knowing that those years would be the most emotionally and physically demanding of our medical training.

In light of this fact, we only ranked schools where we both received interviews, for our respective programs. We had put a lot of emphasis on Calgary – we spent 3 months doing electives there in our 3rd year, and all of our energy on one program each.

And this is how it ended up for us:

As you may know, Colin is a Radiologist now – he switched programs after his first year of residency, but that is a whole other story unto itself.

We matched to our first choice and didn’t take that for granted at all. Many of our classmates were just as grateful, but unfortunately, some were disappointed that day. In the event you don’t match at all, you can enter a second iteration, but logistically, many of the positions in the more desirable programs and locations will have already been filled (not always though).

Given “The Match” just came and went this month, I wanted to reflect on the process and what that experience was like for us. At the time, as with many things in life, it seemed to be the most important day determining our medical future. Having perspective now, I see that it was indeed important but that I was always in control of my future regardless of what the envelope contained. Luck and destiny play a part in life but so do choice and free will.

Some sound advice from other physicians

From the AAFP Blog March 16th, 2017:

Take a Deep Breath, Relax and Trust the Magic of the Match by Dr. Stewart Decker

“You’re going to be a great doctor. You’re already a great person, and that’s arguably more important. Do not forget it, no matter what happens. Just remember to do the compassionate, thoughtful, generous things that make you — wherever you are. It’s the family doctor way.”

From Twitter March 17th, 2017:

I wish all the best to everyone who just found out their residency match results.



Dr. Tobin Okanlawon – Physician Wellness – Preventing Resident & Fellow Burnout

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