What Nobody Tells You About Match Day

Alexa M. Mieses, MD, MPH


February 20, 2019

Many Factors Are Out of Your Hands

The Match experience depends on a lot of variables: the specialty you are interested in, the medical school you attend, and how well you performed in medical school. Your application for residency is similar to your medical school application—with more at stake.

In addition to your academic and clinical responsibilities as a medical student, many residency programs look for community service, clinical leadership, and research. This is in addition to the personal statement and interviews. As if that were not all-consuming, stressful, and expensive enough, you must also submit a rank list of all of the programs to which you hope you will match. And you can only match to one of them.

People have different strategies around this part of the process. Some think that creating a rank list is an art form, and often they will try to rank on the basis of the program's competitiveness. Some people only rank programs to which they would actually feel content matching. Others rank every single program with which they interviewed because they want to ensure that they will not have to reapply. A general rule of thumb is to genuinely rank the programs in the order in which you would prefer to match. In other words, do not try to game the NRMP algorithm. Once the rank list is submitted, the stakes feel so high. After submitting your rank list, all you can do is wait.

You're Expected to Act Happy, Even if You Aren't

Finally, Match Day arrives. All medical schools treat this day differently. Some do not have a formal Match ceremony at all; others take it so far as to broadcast their ceremony on the Internet. No matter your school's style, everyone has the option to get their Match results handed to them in an envelope to bring home or to take to a private area to read on their own or with loved ones. Many choose to completely forgo Match Day festivities and simply wait for an email telling them where they matched.

One resident told me about being on a rotation on Match Day. "I wish I had someone I loved with me, or at least that I would have had some alone time when I opened the results, in order to call the people that were important to me that I wanted to inform. I hated being around others, even though I got my top choice. It's like receiving news around people you may not want to celebrate with."

You may have started out nervous while riding this roller coaster, only to find yourself at the peak of excitement. For some, this feeling doesn't last; not matching at one's top-choice program may produce great feelings of shame. Often, these feelings are amplified by the very spirit of Match Day, which is meant to be celebratory. It's hard to celebrate if you are not truly happy with the results, and seeing others' Match Day joy broadcast all over social media may feel like a sting.


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