Match Week: A Nerve-Wracking Affair

It’s Match Week across the nation – a time when thousands of fourth-year medical students eagerly await the news of which residency program they will spend the next three to seven years of their lives, training in their chosen specialty.

Duke Anesthesiology’s residency program director, Dr. Annemarie Thompson says, “It’s one of the strangest experiences for students who have invested so much and worked so hard. Their fate is in an envelope, in someone else’s hands, and won’t be released until a certain moment by their medical school. I don’t think there’s anything like it. You never forget what that feeling is like the moment you find out your Match.”

This week is monumental for not only medical students but also residency programs. On the first day of Match Week, institutions find out whether they have filled their residency positions and applicants find out whether they have matched in the initial round, providing a big sigh of relief for many students. Then “the scramble” begins, the period of Match Week when applicants who did not initially match can apply for open residency positions across the country (available through the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP)).

While many institutions’ anesthesia departments may offer around 25 residency positions each year, Duke Anesthesiology is offering 14 residency positions this year, all of which have been matched after interviewing about 1,000 applicants, according to Dr. Thompson. Compared to other top programs, Dr. Thompson says Duke Anesthesiology is probably the smallest of residency programs which uniquely has more medical cases than residents; an advantage in Duke’s recruiting process, according to Dr. Thompson, because applicants see that Duke’s faculty are heavily invested and they want to get to know the residents, mentor them and advise them.

“Anesthesiology is one of those specialties that require a lot of trust, and our attendings really make the effort to get to know us and do a great job of tailoring their teaching to different skill levels,” says Duke Anesthesiology co-chief resident, Dr. Eun Eoh. “There is a lot of collegiality among the residents and the faculty invest a lot of time in helping us grow. They really support us as residents.”

Many residency applicants will interview with up to 20 institutions. So, who is a perfect Match for the Duke Anesthesiology residency program? Dr. Thompson says she looks for a breadth of experience and diversity while selecting applicants. Her goal is to create a team of 14 physicians who can spend the next four years working closely with each other, bringing different strengths to the team and the specialty of anesthesiology. During the interview season, she says it’s important that she doesn’t think of them as residents coming to Duke for training; she thinks of them as potentially future colleagues, if not on Duke’s faculty, then elsewhere.

When describing what the Match process feels like for medical students, Dr. Thompson says it’s similar to a pregnancy. “You’re excited, looking forward to the future, but you do it with a little bit of nervousness because there is a bit of uncertainty. There are few times in our lives where there are no guarantees and we can’t completely control the outcome. You do everything you can and then you wait.”

And the wait will be over this Friday on Match Day as medical schools across the country hold ceremonies and hand out Match envelopes. It’s one of the biggest moments of a medical student’s life; a moment that Dr. Thompson still remembers like it was yesterday. “They called my name, handed me the envelope, and I remember I could see my Match through the envelope as I was walking. I matched my first choice and I was really excited. It’s those little details that stick with you. Those memories are so crisp, even years later.”

Duke Anesthesiology’s co-chief resident, Dr. Stephen Gregory, remembers his long walk to the podium to receive his envelope and the long walk back to his seat where his wife and family were waiting for the big reveal. Dr. Gregory opened the envelope to find he matched with his first choice, Duke Anesthesiology. “It was the most exciting day of medical school. It was really nerve-wracking but I remember it pretty fondly. It literally shaped the direction of my career.”

Dr. Eoh also matched with her first choice at Duke Anesthesiology; she remembers opening the envelope, celebrating with her mom, and then running outside to call her dad in Korea to share the good news. “He was probably not awake at that time but he picked up the phone and it was a great moment. It’s a special day for everybody.”

There is currently a 93 percent match rate in the United States for M.D. students. Last year marked the largest Main Residency Match in the history of the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) with 41,334 total registrants and more than 30,000 positions offered. The number of matched seniors reached an all-time high last year with 51 percent of them matching to their first choice. So, for the thousands of medical students across the nation about to experience this life-changing moment, Dr. Thompson has this advice, “As hard as it is to have a loss of control, try to take a deep breath, remember how much you’ve accomplished, how far you’ve come, and know you’ve done everything you can. The odds are overwhelmingly in your favor that things will turn out well.”

This year, the NRMP has partnered with the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges to create an online community forum to encourage interactions and photo sharing during Match Week festivities! Join the celebration by using #Match2016 on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram or Google+. And, tweet your Match Week photos using #MatchThrowback.