Thursday, March 19, 2009

Match Day 2009

Today was Match Day, the day when graduating medical students find out which residency program they will be a part of.

Margie and her match letter

For me, it was a series of poignant moments. A friend, who I had known before she or I were even part of the medical school, matched in Michigan, and while she was very happy, we both blinked back tears trying to reconcile her finally leaving Stanford. Students who I had not been particularly close to while they were MY students, wrapped their arms around me in exuberance. Students that I initially knew as scared, timid first-years, tentatively touching their stethoscopes to a patient's skin, were now going to be surgeons, gynecologists, pediatricians, neurologists.

Explaining Match Day to my housemate, he wondered about the randomness of it, and how strange it was for students to not know where they were going. And while I tried to unsuccessfully explain that they do have some idea, since they have to rank choices, I realized that it was sort of random. And I sympathized with the students' fear and uncertainty that they must have had last night (one said that he hardly slept). These are individuals who, in the face of the randomness of life and death, tightly plan, schedule, and forecast their own lives. To not know what your next step is when you have been used to knowing your future since the age of 15 must be an excruciating task.

It must be even harder to also put all your hopes and dreams into some giant computer system, and wait for the result. From this year's NY Times article on the process of matching:

For every senior medical student nationwide, Match Day is the culmination of years of work, months of applications and interviews, and weeks of wrangling over a final rank list. In mid-February, students submit their top picks to a central computer in Washington, D.C. At the same time, residency programs throughout the country submit their own lists, ranking candidates based on grades, interviews and recommendations. In the weeks leading to Match Day, the computer churns the tens of thousands of choices through a complicated matching algorithm, finally spitting out the name of a single residency program for each student.

At the end of the day, everyone I saw was happy with their result (I imagine the ones that weren't stayed home once they got the e-mail of their match). I met lots of siblings and parents, spouses and partners, and children. And I'm so, so proud that the students I first saw in September 4-5 years ago are now that much closer to what they dreamed of achieving.

I hadn't read the second page of the NY Times article, and now realize that the author discusses this same phenomenon - people who are used to being in control now not able to have control:
I mentioned that over time, each of the women, as well as their classmates, seemed to relinquish a certain amount of control over their own lives. “That was one of my fascinations with the Match,” Mr. Eule said. “In medicine, you are dealing with people who really excelled in their academic career and who were used to being in control. But the Match was a lesson for them because clearly they do not have complete control.”

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