On Saint Patrick’s Day, my classmates and I will file into a room. Each of us will pick up a small white envelope, and we’ll open them together. Inside those envelopes will be the answer to a question we have wondered for months: Where did I match? Where will I begin my career as an MD, and what kind of doctor will I be? After years of endless studying, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and months of flying around the country interviewing, we finally get the answer.
We will all open our envelopes at once, while lists are passed around revealing where everyone ended up. Some people will find out that they got their first choice: Harvard dermatology, Hopkins neurosurgery, and CHOP pediatrics. Others will find out darker news. They will have spent their entire lives wanting to be surgeons, only to find out that no surgery programs wanted them. They will enter their second choice specialty in a city they were praying to avoid. And they will find out in front of all of their classmates, professors, and their family.
I still remember the faces from Match Day last year. One friend opened his envelope to see his fourth choice. He held back tears and thanked people for their congratulations. Forcing words through choking tears, he told his academic advisor, his dean of students, and countless classmates that he was excited. All he wanted to do was run home and mourn in peace. I saw another friend with tears of joy to have matched into an internal medicine program. It wasn’t until months later that I found out they were actually tears of disappointment that he was trying to cover up. The program wasn’t his first choice.
At no other stage of our careers do we go through this strange ceremony. For college, we found out in our own homes, surrounded by loved ones while we checked online. Medical school admissions were much the same. Those of us who were disappointed were able to take a walk, breathe, and have some alone time. Later we would break the news to friends and family. Could we not do the same for residency? Would finding out on our laptops in the comfort of our own homes not be more humane?
Soon, I will open an envelope. There’s a chance the contents will not be what I had hoped. I’ll wonder to myself: How will I live in this city nowhere near my support network? Can I afford to live there? Will I be happy? Can everyone around me tell my fake tears of joy are tears of loss?
Or I may open my envelope and cheer.
For now, at least, we will continue with the tradition. Here at Yale, we will all open our envelopes together. Some will cheer, and some will cry. At other schools, students will march on stage, one-by-one, open their envelopes, and read their contents into a microphone to the listening ears of their entire class. I hope we all enjoy what we read.
Jack Turban is a medical student.
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