Match Day

In Arkansas the state bird is the mockingbird, state insect the honeybee, and state motto is "the natural state." It is also the only state in the union where diamonds have been discovered. Who knew? I'm glad to be right here in "the heart of it all" though, you a friend of mine who attends medical school in "the natural state" will have his future broadcast on the local cable channel for all of Little Rock to channel surf past as he nervously peels open the envelope that determines what exotic locale he will spend eighty hours a week and thirty-hour days for the next three years. At Wright State we gather together to announce our fate to family, friends, and classmates, watching one another's faces contort in a mixture of sheer dread and nagging fear of the unknown. To me it seems like this arrangement provokes quite enough pressure and apprehension. Thank you.

"THE MATCH" ("da-da-duhn," think ominous, scary movie music), as it is referred to in hushed tones and veiled secrecy by medical students across the country incites differing degrees of apprehension and loathing depending on both a student's circumstance and self-confidence.

First, an explanation of this process called "THE MATCH" is warranted. It's a kind of pseudo job interview process that medical students participate in during their fourth year in order to find a residency in the specialty (internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, etcetera) that they prefer in the location (North Dakota, south Florida, what have you) that they favor. At the beginning of the senior year each medical student fills in an electronic application with a listing of grades, comments and observations submitted by clinical professors via your dean's letter, a resume affectionately called a "CV" (curriculum vitae - I suppose it means something in Latin), and letters of recommendation, most likely from attending physicians you tried your hardest to impress during a clerkship in whatever area of medicine you believe you're ideally suited to practice. You choose from among the thousands of programs nationally which programs you wish to send this packet of information to electronically. So, if becoming a surgeon in the Sonoran desert is your chosen dream, programs in Arizona and New Mexico would find a message on their computer that your application is awaiting downloading from a central clearinghouse website.

Depending on a program's interest in your e-application, face-to-face interviews are scheduled late October until early February. Many programs offer to send applicants to dinner with their residents and may even pay for your lodging before the interview so a medical student can see how he or she fits into the program. For many medical students, including myself, this is the first time they've ever been wooed to a job, albeit a $9-an-hour, 80-hour week form of apprenticeship minus "the Donald." The interviewing and traveling culminates in the formation of a "rank list," which is submitted electronically into a database near the end of February. Residency programs do the same, ranking who they'd like to see in their respective programs in order most desirable to least. These are wish lists with a twist. By signing up for the match, you commit to sign a contract with wherever you're matched the fateful third Thursday in March and programs commit to offer you appropriate training. Hence the ominous moniker, "THE MATCH." Hopefully the process fails a location you desire that wants you too.

The rumor remains that the mathematic formulas used to match everyone's respective futures favor a student's rank order list rather than the program's preferences. It all feels a little like how I magically ended up in fifth period health when I really wanted second period gym with my best friend Chris followed by a study hall with Mr. Issac in junior high, but my professors assure me that it all works out in the end.

So there I'll be March 17th, worried that my best laid plans might only be my best laid plans; that my match envelope will sentence me to residency somewhere near Nova Scotia. My wife and I have been married under a year. We wed just two days after she endured this same stress, and are wondering if moving in together full-time might be the next step in our relationship. You see, couples who graduate and enter the match process at the same time may register and complete the process together, using fancy algebra to ensure them a mutually satisfactory location of their preference. For those of us who fell in love with older, more intelligent women, we're reduced to shameless pleas to charm program directors into matching us together after the fact.

We'll all be dressed up, complete with nervous half grins and expectant hopes. My high school soccer coach always taught us that if we looked good, then we'd play good, and this is an especially important day to play good. Our names will be in the coffer that looks conspicuously similar to a contraption used at a bingo parlor (it even rotates like the Ohio lottery Superlotto™), waiting for the dean of the medical school to pick my envelope and invite me to the front of the auditorium. It feels a little bit like a carnival or circus with palpable tension in the air. Everyone hopes they won't be last, even though the last person gets the $5 everyone puts in a fishbowl as a reward for the poor sap tortured the longest. I'll be shaking. I shake a lot when I'm nervous, holding Mindy's hand tightly for support. Tearing the envelope apart and reading the results to my friends, praying this will all work out in the end, just like I've been telling myself.

--Andrew Jacques ('05)