Friday, March 16, 2012

Match Day

Today is a big day for medical students.  All over the U.S., you will gather together to receive mysterious envelopes that notify you of your fates.  Your fates have been generated by a computer (which I imagine looking like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey) that is charged with correlating students’ lists of preferred residency programs with programs’ lists of their preferred students.  This impersonal match-maker determines where you will work, train, and live for the next several years.  For many, the decision means moving to another state, uprooting families, deciding whether to break off relationships or continue them long-distance.  The downstream effects on lives and careers are impossible to predict.

Does any other job search work this way?  If so, I am not aware of it.  It seems truly bizarre to be handed an envelope that tells you where you will be for the next 3-5 years.  It is not a complete surprise, since you submitted your rank list for consideration, but you have no way of knowing in advance where you stand in your desired programs’ estimation.  The system was developed in the interests of fairness and transparency, but it still strikes me as an odd method of staffing the nation’s medical centers.

Another unusual element to this process is that there is no room for negotiation.  You accept the conditions of your employment and training without question.  You have been selected for 80 hour work weeks; working nights, weekends, and holidays; low pay and high debt; and very limited control over your life.  But you are so happy to be selected that you do not dwell on these details.  Also, you have spent the last four years working hard with no pay at all, so any step up feels like a major improvement.

I remember my own Match Day fondly now.  I recall the excitement, rather than the anxiety.  I received my first-choice appointment, which probably influences my perception of the experience.  It was fun to be with my whole class at a decisive moment in our lives.  I am sure that many of you have festivities planned to celebrate (or commiserate) this weekend.  Do keep in mind the advice that you will probably be giving to others for the rest of your career: to celebrate responsibly.     

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