match day: the before, thoughts and emotions

For those of you who have followed along here for a while, you know that my husband, Will, is nearing the end of his medical school journey. He and his classmates will soon be entering the next step in their medical training – residency. I mentioned in my 2019 goals that we might be moving to a new city for residency. When people hear this, the most common response is “where?,” to which we can only say we have no idea. We aren’t being vague just to be vague, we truly don’t know where we will end up come June and won’t have an answer until Friday, March 15.

The process of getting into a residency program is unlike many other fields. I liken it to the sorority rush process, where bid day is Match Day, the day that everyone in every medical school across the country finds out where they have been placed for the next however many years of residency (in our case 3-4). For the past few months, graduating medical students have been interviewing at medical systems, competing for their spot on the team interns (first year residents). Last week, students submitted their list of programs where they interviewed, ranked in order of their favorite to their least favorite, and programs submitted their ranked list of students who came to interview with them. Within the next few weeks, all of the lists will go into the algorithm in the sky which will match programs and students. The algorithm is not published, but people claim that it is based on the stable marriage problem, and that no school or student can do any better (match with a student/school higher on their list) with just one swap. Fast forward to Match Day. Each doctor-to-be receives an envelope with one school inside – the school where they will spend their residency. Like on sorority bid day, Match Day will bring tears of excitement and maybe of disappointment for some, but overall it is a very happy and joyful occasion. But, before we get to that peak of emotion that I will hopefully address in a post-Match Day blog post, I want to bring up the not-so-wonderful rollercoaster of emotion that these aspiring doctors and their families or significant others feel before Match Day – information I wish I knew before this year.

Right now, we are in this weird holding period between rank list submission and Match Day, where all we can do is wait. We can’t change the list anymore (not that we should, it was discussed at length), but we also can’t do anything to change the outcome, so we just sit in uncertainty. (As a side note, I’m not sure why we have to wait for 3.5 weeks when the algorithm technically should be able to work fairly quickly. This frustrates me a bit.) In my mind, I expected to feel relieved when we submitted the rank list. I had this idea that we had been working toward this for most of the academic year, imagining where we would be next year, and it would be a relief to finally have the list submitted in the system. In reality, I feel more stressed and nervous than before. While I have heard similar feelings from some of Will’s medical school friends, I realize that this is not how everyone feels – some people are genuinely excited about it. I wish I was more like them. The planner in me is not good at sitting peacefully in the waiting period, with nothing to do about the decision, but also nothing to plan without the result. It does no good to speculate, but not a day goes by where I don’t think about it and vacillate between nervousness, stress, and excitement. We could stay where we are, we could move to a totally new city, most of them cities that I have only visited once. I have come to the conclusion that I would be happy with any of our match outcomes, I think it is the unknown that comes in this wait and in the future that makes me uneasy.

Maybe looking for housing in every city on our list will bring me clarity and calmness, maybe it will be a waste of time – these are the thoughts that go through my mind when I can’t sleep at night or feel the need to make progress on something useful during my lunch break. My mind wants a glimpse of certainty, just a piece of something solid to cling to with all of its strength. But there is nothing certain and solid. So we go on waiting, in this roller coaster of emotions.

Being at peace with the uncertainty in this process was one of my goals for the year and I will be the first to admit that I am failing miserably at it. Prayer is helpful, meditation is helpful, talking with people is (usually) helpful, but only for so long until the emotions that I try to squelch with these methods catch up again. This crazy process has led me face to face with my fears of change, uncertainty, and inferiority. All of this because of something I have no control over. But that’s the issue, right? Control. It’s silly, really, but somehow the feelings are still difficult to overcome. “Stop worrying about it, there’s nothing you can do about it”, you might say. “Lean into it and learn from it”, you might say. I say those things to myself too, but here we are, with the uncertainty persisting and a lot of vulnerable words on the internet about real life and my thoughts on this crazy crazy process that is Match. The good news? Come the end of this week, this whole season will be over. The much-anticipated Friday will bring celebration no matter where we match mostly because we will have certainty again (and maybe a new home?). It will be exciting and happy. Until then, I’ll be over here making cookies to cope.

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  1. Hope
    Been there, done that. Wish I could tell you this is the last time you will feel this way. You will however, get better at living in the uncertainty. I know this because you are a woman of strength and introspection. You got this.

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