After the Match: 5 Big Mistakes to Avoid

Jillian Horton, MD, FRCPC


March 03, 2020

I remember Match Day like it was yesterday: counting down the minutes before opening the email with a mix of excitement and dread. When I learned my match, the immediate relief was soon followed by a sinking uncertainty and grief for the alternate paths I was leaving behind. I wouldn't be moving closer to my family, and because I'd matched to a highly competitive program, I suddenly wondered if I could handle it all.

Medical schools traditionally emphasize what students do before the match, helping them avoid the classic mistakes that can put them at risk for not matching. That's helpful, but I've seen many students repeatedly make missteps after the match. Here are five of the biggest mistakes to watch out for and steps you can take to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Ghosting a Mentor Whose Specialty You Didn't Choose

I entered medical school certain I was going to be a pediatric neurologist. I was lucky enough to connect with an incredible mentor in that field who took an interest in me from day one. However, somewhere along the way, I fell in love with internal medicine. On Match Day, I thought my mentor would be disappointed in me and feel rejected. I was tempted to avoid telling him my results.

One thing I've learned over the years is that good mentors are far more invested in you as a person than as a future peer in their specialty. In my experience, mentors aren't hurt when students choose other specialties; they are hurt by being abandoned.

Don't be avoidant. If your plans change, let that mentor know that you appreciate all they did but that you ultimately chose another path. Although an email is acceptable, if you valued the relationship, dropping by their office or clinic is even better.

Furthermore, don't assume your relationship has to end because you're going in a different direction. "It's important to have a broad array of mentors and role models," says Jonathan Ripp, MD, Senior Associate Dean for Well-Being and Resilience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Please don't ghost your mentors when your plans change. Remember: We're human, too.

Mistake 2: Trash-Talking

You didn't get your first choice. Worse yet, maybe you didn't even match. To add insult to injury, your arch-nemesis snatched a spot in the program you had your sights on for the past 4 years. As hard as it may be, you need to keep your cool and your mouth shut.

If you suspect bias, asking questions about gender and diversity is completely legitimate. However, voicing frustration about individuals, such as the "stupid program director" who didn't take you, never makes you look good.

"If word did get out that a student was talking unprofessionally about others, it could have negative implications postresidency when they are looking for a job, or if they want to come back to do an elective rotation in their last year of training," says Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, MD, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and GME Director at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii. "Try to talk through and channel emotions more productively."

We all know we shouldn't trash-talk. Yet, in the heat of the moment, we often do it anyway. The key is to plan ahead. Commit to what you won't say when emotions run high, so you avoid the unintended consequences.

Another problem with trash-talk: The results are often the opposite of what you want. As an associate dean, my team and I were always motivated to go the extra mile for those students who handled negative results with grace. Humility makes people like you. It rallies the troops in a way that no angry tirade ever will.


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