Ready to Meet Your Match?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Match Day: a meaningless phrase to most people, but one that brings up a whirlwind of emotions in any medical student who hears them.

Match Day is the culmination of the long residency application process that fourth year medical students (MS4s) began last September. This year, it falls on this Friday, March 18, so beware the packs of MS4s that are sure to be celebrating throughout the city.

For those unfamiliar with what Match Day means for medical students, here is a brief overview: The National Resident Match Program, commonly shortened to “The Match,” began in 1952. During the last year of medical school, students apply to residency programs, where they will undergo specialty-specific training for a variable amount of years.

The Match is a fairly unique process whereby medical students and residency programs rank each other based on preferences gleaned over the course of the application period. Students and residency programs are then matched together by an algorithm based on their ranked preferences. Theoretically, the algorithm optimizes the student-residency program matches such that student and program preferences are weighted fairly equally. Match Day is the day that MS4s find out to what residency program they were matched.

Each medical school celebrates Match Day differently. At UCSF, MS4s gather at the basketball court in Millberry Union at 8:30 AM to pick up envelopes with their Match results inside. At 9 a.m., everyone opens his or her letter at the same time, an event that can be either exhilarating or anxiety-inducing depending on how high up a student believes they will match on their rank list. Photos from last year’s Match Day indicate that there will be ample amounts of champagne for attendees regardless of which camp they fall into.

An e-mail is also sent out at 10 a.m. to let students know where they were matched in the event that they can’t (or don’t want to) attend the live event.

Anyone who did not match to a program will be informed via e-mail before Friday and will need to complete a secondary matching process for unfilled program spots if they still hope to begin residency in 2017.

UCSF students have varied feelings about Match Day and the tradition of opening match results in front of their peers. Synapse spoke with three MS4s to get a sampling of the Match Day thoughts that are currently circulating through the minds of waiting fourth years:

• Joy Chan, MS4: “I’m very excited for Match Day! I get to find out where I’m going for the next four years of my life. It’s a big day! It’ll be fun to celebrate with my classmates and find out where everyone is going. I like that at UCSF it’s more informal than at other schools. Some schools have you go on stage, open it, and read where you’re going and what if you don’t like what you got? The way UCSF does it, we’re all too busy staring at our own envelopes initially to be noticing each other’s first reactions. I’m not too concerned because most people match within their top 4."

• Daniel Hausrath, MS4: “I’m planning to go. I’m too impatient to wait that extra hour to find out… There may be a stigma surrounding not going to Match Day, although there shouldn’t be. There’s sort of a social pressure where, if you’re not going, well, you must have a reason – what is that reason? Should I even ask you about it because does it mean you’re expecting to have a poor result? Again, if I were patient enough I wouldn’t feel too attached to going. I just really want to know. The computer already matched you and knows where you’re going. The Match Day envelope opening event seems like it’s just a way to create artificial suspense. But it’s tradition, so I guess it’ll continue.”

• Rafael Wabl, MS4: “I’d say it’s not particularly important to me to open my envelope in front of everybody. I also don’t really like the aspect of large-scale emotional venture. It seems to reinforce the competitiveness that is already a part of medicine with people asking each other, ‘Well, what was your first choice?’ That’s the part I don’t like. I think it’s fine that everyone gets together and celebrates the culmination of things. That could be done after everyone has gotten their results at home with a big party at 2 PM though. I’m going to be in Ecuador for it. Not because I went to Ecuador to avoid Match Day but because I was going to Ecuador and it happens to fall on Match Day and I didn’t mind that.”