March’s Match Day

Opinion2.jpgFor many of us, March is associated with the madness and craze of NCAA Division I basketball. If you know anybody in medical school, then you know March is the month of Match Day for senior medical students. The National Residency Matching Program matches senior medical students to their residencies of choice based on a “matching” of candidates to hospital programs. Candidates rank their top choices and residency programs rank their top candidates – this data is run through a computer program that “matches” candidates to programs.

On one day in March, the famous “Match Day Ceremony” is held. At this ceremony, the fate of seniors will be determined by opening an envelope in front of their classmates, family, and friends that tells them where they will be spending their residency for the next 3 to 7 years. I held off on writing about match since until it was over. But now that the 2007 match has occurred, I don’t think I will jinx anybody by mentioning it.

The reason this day is so important is that it is one filled with anxiety, fear, and hope. For those entering competitive specialties where candidate to position ratios can be as high as 10 to 1, the fear of not matching is real. Horror stories abound of the candidate from the previous year who did not match in Plastic Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery or Dermatology. Perhaps my opinion of match day is colored by personal experience when my friend who did not match was deeply depressed for several months. It was a painfully awkward time as everybody at school and in the hospital was aware of it and he had difficulty coping with it. Unfortunately, he will always be remembered by many as the one in our class who did not match.

In my opinion, it is perhaps the most poorly planned exercise in mental health conceived of by the health profession. I say this because for most medical school seniors, their hopes and dreams hinge on match day and the information they will learn by opening their envelopes. Sharing this personal success or failure in front of everyone is not a kind thing. During match day it is painfully obvious who is happy or sad with their match – there is no hiding the success or failure. It is a “tradition” that the medical profession can do without.


Dr. JC is a medical doctor who has a passion for health promotion and education.
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