Somewhere, I Have a Match
Medical education is a bit mysterious. Heck, it’s something I’d wanted to do since I was younger, but I had no idea exactly how it works until I started to go through the process myself. When I decided for sure in undergrad that I was going to apply to medical school, I learned what steps I needed to take to make that dream into reality. I discovered what pre-requisite courses I needed to take, how to go about getting recommendations from professors (not the easiest thing at a very large university, like the one I went to), what was on the MCAT, and how to go basically hang out in a hospital as a volunteer to demonstrate my dedication. I knew nothing about what happens after applying medical school because I didn’t need to.
I remember the moment at which I decided that surgery was about the coolest thing anybody could possibly do. It was at my best friend’s home in fifth grade. His father was a plastic surgeon, and my friend wanted to be a doctor just like his dad. I wasn’t so sure yet, but I loved Doogie Howser, MD. And so we, as children still of a single-digit age, used to pretend to be Doogie or his best friend Vinnie. We would make videos of ourselves re-enacting the show, and creating our own scripts. Moments of which my mother never let me hear the end of.
One summer, we found a collection of surgical videos in his father’s collection and started watching them. The image of a beating heart in mid-procedure, chest open, blood flowing, and the patient still alive, is indelibly etched in my mind. I don’t remember any other details from my surroundings, but that picture I will never forget. It was the coolest thing ever.
In college, I took the required courses, did well, and applied to medical school. And I will never forget where I was (at work) when I found out I’d been offered my first interview (to the medical school I wound up ultimately attending). Nor will I forget where I was when I called my dad to tell him the incredible news (standing outside the subway entrance at 32nd and Broadway).
I also won’t forget where I was when I first had that “oh my God, I’m going to be a doctor!” feeling, as I got my first acceptance to medical school. It was midnight on October 16th, 2007, and I was on the phone. My conversation stopped instantly. The acceptance was to my top choice, and again, the medical school I am about to graduate from. The dream I’d had since I was a kid, to become a doctor, was actually going to happen. It all seemed surreal at the time. I even remember early in my first year of medical school when a professor told us all, “you can relax, you’re in medical school, you’re all going to be doctors.” And only at that point did it truly sink in. I was going to be a doctor.
Over the subsequent years, I learned exactly how the residency application process works. It’s incredibly convoluted. We write a personal statement and send that out to all the programs to which we want to apply. Then they invite people for interviews, and at the end of interview season, we submit an ordered list of the programs we would like to attend. A national algorithm matches that up for everybody applying to residency that year and for all of the programs with open spots, and then on Match Day, we each get an envelope with the one program to which we have matched. We don’t get multiple offers, and we don’t have to decide between competing offers. The envelope just has one name inside, the name which determines our fate.
Match Day is March 15th this year. Four days from now.
Today, everybody who applied to match to residency this year found out whether or not they matched. It was another of those unforgettable moments in which my life changed. I received an e-mail from the NRMP (National Resident Matching Program) that simply began, “Congratulations!”
I will never forget where I was at that moment, just before noon, when I found out that I have secured a surgical residency. In the surgical skills simulation lab, practicing suturing and knot-tying. Needle driver and pickups in hand, with a suture firmly but gently loaded.
I have matched. I don’t know where, and I won’t for several more days. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is, in a few short months, I will be a surgical resident. That nine year-old kid has grown up - physically, at least - and is about to be employed in the field that, to this day, still makes me every bit as excited as it did back then. I will be a surgeon.
And it’s the coolest thing ever.