Why I am grateful for Match Day

In the past 84 days, I have traveled to eleven different cities, been left stranded in two unfamiliar airports by cancelled flights, met approximately 124 new people and briefly recited the more interesting parts of my life story far too many times to count — all for the purpose of matching to a residency program in March. Exhausting doesn’t come close to summing it up.

And yet, this process has also been extremely eye opening. In those same past 84 days, I visited seven cities I had never been to. I met other people as excited about my chosen career path as I am. I learned the tools each individual program has developed to ensure it trains the finest physicians and witnessed the great lengths to which they go to guarantee the highest standards of patient care.

The prospect of matching is both an extremely frightening and exciting idea. For better or worse, the Match forces you to relinquish a bit of control. It forces you to spend four years in medical school, wondering where you will be for the next significant chapter in your life. Reconciling this process with my somewhat neurotic personality had been an ongoing challenge, filled with growing pains. On some occasions I find myself grateful for the lack of control I have in this process. Other days, I am totally overwhelmed and angered by it.

In talking to my peers and others along the interview trail, I know I am not alone in this sentiment. The Match seems better suited for the light hearted, free spirits of the world, those who are empowered rather than intimidated by the lack of knowledge they have regarding their own future. I admire those people because I am far from one of them. I have always had trouble living moment to moment, allowing life to take me where it pleases. Perhaps I have a hint too much of that type A blood running through my veins.

Having just finished my last interview, I’ve watched as my rank list has changed over the past four months. Residency programs are like the flavor of the week; last month I was convinced I was meant to be surrounded by the mountains of Colorado and the following week I found myself wishing I could spend the next four years of my life along the beaches of South Carolina. My preferences have been about as predictable as my interview schedule turned out to be.

With less than one month till Match Day, I am suddenly beginning to find comfort in the lack of control the Match affords. Not only does my rank list fluctuate like the weather, but there are so many lingering questions I haven’t found answers for; will I be a better doctor for leaving my current institution and challenging myself by meeting new teachers, patients and peers? Does it matter if I go to a top ranked research center if I want to end up in a community based general practice?

Despite all the interviews, campus tours, details about call schedules and resident life, I’ve come to believe there isn’t necessarily a correct answer for most of the questions I still have. Which is why today, I am grateful for the Match. Anywhere I end up for the next four years will be filled with unexpected opportunities, life changing experiences that I couldn’t have anticipated no matter how informed my questions on interview days might have been. For the next several weeks until Match Day, I am attempting to let go, to be one of those free spirits I have always admired.

Or at least long enough to make it till March 21, 2014.

Catherine Spaulding is a medical student.

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