That's a Match

Monday, March 26, 2018

Now that the dust has settled, I feel like I can finally sit down and write about the culmination of years of hard work that occurred on March 16, 2018. All the travel, the money, the time, the miles walked in heels, the handshakes, the dinners, the sprints made through airports, the exhaustion, it all was for a single day in March that to most people was either just another Friday, or maybe just the day before St. Patrick's Day.

I suppose more specifically, it was for March 12th also, which is the day I found out that yes, I HAD MATCHED. I had a job, it was to be a pediatrician, and it was at one of the 11 places where I had interviewed. I was in a subacute rehab, sitting at a table with my attending and a third year student, hiding my phone in my lab, waiting for the email to hit my inbox at 11 am and I was a ball of nerves. When it finally arrived, right on schedule (thanks, NRMP!) I was so relieved to see "Congratulations..." at the beginning of the email. It was as if a weight had been lifted off of my chest and I could finally breathe a little again.

Then I had to wait four more agonizing days to find out my fate. It was torturous.

Finally, it was Friday morning and I was dressed and ready to go by 10:30, even though we didn't have to leave until 11:30. I eventually decided I couldn't sit at my kitchen table any longer, so I told Ken we should just go over to the banquet hall where the festivities would be occurring. The lobby was buzzing with tension and excitement, people just milling around because standing still wasn't an option. I found my med school best friend/wifey and her boyfriend, picked up our Match Day class t-shirt, and awkwardly took some photos by the Match Day poster.

Eventually, we were let into the hall and we found a table near a door in case anyone needed to beat a hasty retreat. Then, these sadists made us eat lunch and listen to a bunch of speeches before we could pick up our envelopes! At this point, I seriously thought I might vomit from anxiety. It was not great. I knew what I was hoping for and daresay, even expecting, but there was always a chance I could have gotten my last choice. I could barely eat, and of course there was no alcohol (womp womp), so the waiting was awful.

After more speechifying, it was finally letter time. We all picked up our envelopes from tables outside the hall and returned to our seats. I felt like I was holding a very carefully constructed bomb in my hands. The answer was in this envelope, on a single piece of paper. It was going to dictate where we would be moving and where I would be learning how to be a real, live, pediatrician for the next three years. It felt strange to be almost afraid of a piece of stationery, but there it was. My best friend/wifey was holding her envelope up to the light in an attempt to see through it. The envelope was sealed with a single piece of tape.

There was a dramatic countdown from five and envelopes across the room were torn open. Whoops of delight and laughter and shouts of joy started erupting as people discovered their matches and were clearly pleased. I held my envelope for a few seconds before carefully peeling the tape off. I unfolded the envelope and learned my fate.

It was not what I was expecting.

It was not my first choice. It was not my second choice. It wasn't my third, fourth, or fifth choice.

It was my sixth choice program.

Next to me, my friend was crying with joy because she had matched into her top choice, a very competitive Physical Medicine & Rehab program. I was SO HAPPY for her! But I was also so very sad for myself. I didn't want them to, but the tears came anyway. By this point, Ken had read the news and was sitting with his arm around my shoulder, not really sure how best to console me in a room full of celebrating people. Another friend of mine who had matched in the military match in December ran over to congratulate me and instead ended up wrapping me in a giant hug while I cried. I was in shock. I didn't know what to do, and I knew my mascara was running down my face. I turned to Ken and quietly said, "I want to go home." So we did.

The entire ride home, I was texting with my mom about the news. All of my non-medical friends and family were texting and messaging me with messages like, "WELL!?!" and "CONGRATS!" It felt so wrong for everyone to be so happy for me and proud of me when I felt like I had failed. Yes, I had matched, but it wasn't where I had dreamed of going, and now I had to take that in and be excited about it? It wasn't happening, at least not right then. When we got home, I got changed and laid in bed for awhile. I didn't want to sleep, I didn't want to be awake, I didn't want to exist. I wanted to put my brain in a jar and just take a damn break for a minute.

Instead, I pulled out the giant pile of residency program information I had accumulated from the interview trail and flipped to the folder of the program where I was going. To be perfectly honest, I couldn't remember much about the place, other than I had liked it well enough. I couldn't remember what electives they had, how many beds there were, or what their call schedule was like. I knew it was a small program, and everyone had been friendly enough, and that it was in Pennsylvania. So I took the time to reorient myself with the program. As I did, the interview day came back to me. The Program Director had been very nice and knowledgeable, and Associate PD was an amazing woman. All of the residents I had met were friendly and seemed genuinely happy with where they were working. I hadn't seen much of the area, but I knew enough to know that it was a nice place to live and that cost of living would be lower than where we live currently. Slowly, things began to pile up in the positive column.

Then I remembered that one of my brother's childhood friends was a Family Medicine resident there, so I immediately messaged him and we started talking about the program. He had nothing but good things to say about his interactions with the pediatrics teams, and reassured me that the area was great and that yes, there was a Target. A friend I had made during my post-bacc at Penn reached out and reminded me that she worked as a PA for the trauma service at the hospital where I had matched, and she was very happy there was well. I started to feel like maybe this wasn't so bad after all.

As the days continued to pass, I was finally able to get excited about this next step of my life. I started receiving emails from the program (lots and lots of emails) and saw pictures and names of the other people in my residency class. I was relieved that half of the group was male! (This is a rarity in pediatrics, it seems.) The PD and Associate PD seemed truly excited to have gotten us as residents, which was nice. The reality really sunk in when I signed my contract and sent back my letter of intent. I had a real job! Reality also slapped me in the face when I found out that orientation starts in early June and that we had a hell of a lot of things to do before we could move. But that's another post for another time.

So why am I telling you all this? Because it's important to know that not everyone gets their first choice on Match Day, and that it's really hard to see everyone's posts about how happy they are when you are simultaneously overjoyed that you have a job and devastated that it's not where you thought it would be. I learned that nearly 98% of the pediatrics residency spots were filled in the first round of the match this year, which is INSANE. I feel extraordinarily luck to have matched at all, let alone into my desired specialty. I know a lot of people out there who can't say the same thing, and my heart breaks for them. I'm telling you this because I feel like it's important to show that you can not get your first choice and still be okay. Obviously I haven't started residency yet, but I know that this program will train me to be a great pediatrician, and I'm sure that I will be able to accomplish my goals with that training. At the end of the day, that's all I can really ask for.

So congratulations to the class of 2018. We're going to be doctors, you guys!


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