Match Day: Pushing the Envelope

by Ryan Emhoff

The countdown begins. Every fourth-year medical student at Johns Hopkins is waiting nervously for the timer to reach zero, envelopes in hand. The next three to ten years of their lives, their future city and specialty are all printed on one sheet of paper within that envelope. “ZERO!” The tearing of hundreds of envelopes can be heard and in the span of a few moments there is an uproar of cheers. Not all of these cries are joyful ones as some students have discovered that their lives are not headed in the direction they desired. This hodgepodge of emotion and tension is part of a culmination of all the years that medical students have put into their career paths: Match Day.

Josh Lewis is a current Internal Medicine resident at Cedar’s Sinai Hospital. Lewis said, “Match day is when you find out where you matched into a residency or fellowship program.”

To get placed into a residency program one must fill out an online application and later be interviewed by interested hospitals.

“An algorithm matches you to programs based on your ranking of those programs, and the ranking that those programs placed you in,” Lewis said.

The use of technology to match applicants to programs makes the system as streamlined as possible. According to the National Resident Matching Program, the match process fills 99.4% of available residency spots.

Match Day can be nerve-wracking for applicants as their entire futures are decided by what comes in that envelope.

“Everyone is a little terrified, and it’s definitely an anxious experience for everybody because you are never assured a spot,” said Lewis.

Lewis got his first choice, but not everyone is so lucky. If an applicant does not match anywhere, then they have to go through the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, which places that applicant in the remaining residency spots at hospitals that have not filled their programs.

“I knew one guy who wanted to go into emergency medicine, but he did not match anywhere, so he had to apply to family physician programs at the last minute. His career plans completely changed,” said Lewis.

Match Day is a milestone, so many schools put on a ceremony. For example, at Vanderbilt University every student goes on stage to open their envelope and read where they matched in front of everyone.

Match Day is one of many similar cycles of applying for spots in this career path, albeit a petrifying cycle for some, but in the end it is a necessary step in the process.

Lewis said, “It’s a frustrating system, but everyone has to go through it, and in the end it works out for most people.”

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