Should I Disclose My Marital Status at Residency Interviews?

Thomas E. Robey, MD, PhD

Disclosures

December 03, 2009

Question

My fiancée and I have decided to apply for the couple's match, but we are unsure about whether to disclose that information as we interview. What are our options?

Thomas E. Robey, MD, PhD
Resident, Emergency Medicine, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut

As if you need any more stress than is already involved in the residency match process! You are about to do it with the most important person in your life. Make sure your harness is securely fastened; you are about to depart on a 6-month roller-coaster ride. At least, that is what last year felt like for my wife and me.

There is a lot to say about the couple's match process. First, go to the National Resident Matching Program Website for some couple's basics. That site gives a good idea of how to rank your programs. How to talk about being a couple is a harder task; like the rest of your interview, it cannot hurt to practice.

In general, I recommend disclosing that you are couple's matching. There are a few good reasons to keep mum on the match, but in most cases, the reasons to disclose overshadow these. You do not have to tell anyone, but be warned: programs often talk to each other. If your better half brings it up, it may get back to your program director that you are also couple's matching.

You have an option of checking a box on your application and writing your partner's name. If you do that, some programs may ask you about your significant other. Other questioners hesitate to bring up the issue in the interview, fearing they are walking a fine line regarding illegal interview questions. If you do want to bring it up, the interview is the safest place to do so. You can gauge the conversation, and do not have to mention it with all of your interviewers at each hospital. In the end, I am pretty sure it helped me to talk about my wife.

Here are some reasons to bring up the couple's match:

  • Couples come together and are usually happier residents.

  • Program directors may lobby others in the same institution or city to invite your partner to interview.

  • Your department may communicate with your partner's program after making the rank list, encouraging the second program to bump him or her up on the list.

If there is talking between programs, I have heard that the stronger applicant usually carries the weaker one. In the end, rank list movement only happens if the programs communicate with each other (this is variable); they know to communicate only if you have told them.

Almost every interviewer asked me about one of the hobbies I listed on my application. It is likely that your significant other is more important in shaping you than your favorite sport or craft. So why not bring up that you are part of a couple? Here are some things to consider before telling all:

  • Matching in the same department, especially if it is a small class, is tough if you are from the same school as your partner.

  • Same-sex partners may be wary of announcing their orientation to strangers, even if they are future colleagues.

It is unfortunate that each of these cases still exists, but revealing yourself as a couple could still yield long-term benefit. Who would want to work at a place where there is discrimination? Programs may also make exceptions to a general policy of 1 matched student per school.

In the end, this is a decision you and your partner must make together. Whatever you decide, going through the match together is a way to grow closer. Come match day, at least you can count on being in the same city as your best friend!

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