Recently, I entered an essay contest on advice you would give to future medical students. I sincerely believe that the best person to write an article offering advice to younger medical students should come from a person who didn’t match. Also known as me. Why, you say? Well, for everyone else, Match Day is a culmination of four years of mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing work. They might even forget how many times they cursed the resident that wouldn’t let them go home because, well, they got to where they wanted- their dream specialties.
What about me? My work didn’t end on Match Day. It only got worse. Life didn’t give me a chance to breathe. I had to scramble to figure out what I would be doing after my preliminary medicine year. Emails, applications, interviews, the SOAP. It all continued, and no one really talks about those unmatched students and their struggles. The point is, I kept on going because even though I didn’t match into the specialty of my choice, I learned something more valuable about myself. I learned that somewhere along the way, I had lost myself.
The week following Match Monday was bad. Just bad. I would put on a good front for people. I continued laughing and joking. I would brush it off saying, “It happens.”
However, when left alone, my façade broke down. I didn’t know why I was crying. I was a mess. But seriously. No one had died. I wasn’t robbed. I wasn’t murdered. Should I have been such a mess just from … not getting a job? I could try again next year. I still matched into a preliminary medicine year. I still get the privilege and honor of taking care of people and making a significant impact on their lives (albeit for a shorter time than expected if nothing else works out). I am sure all the medical professionals reading this would think my response was appropriate. Sure, it was a passion of mine and no one could deny the time, effort, and dedication that all medical students put in. But at the end of the day, it’s only a … job. So why was I crying as if I had lost a part of myself. Well, I had lost a part of myself because I had let medical school redefine who I was and not in a good way. Even though I would have my MD, I didn’t feel like a doctor anymore.
So, how does medical school do this? It makes you forget who you were prior to meeting it. It makes you forget why you came into medical school in the first place. It makes you live for those honors grades, AOA, and those insanely high board scores. It makes you think that your career and specialty are your whole life, and your self-worth is completely defined by it. It makes you think that what people write about you in evaluations is the complete truth. There isn’t any room for discussion. Let’s be honest here. There is certainly stigma and shame when you have to say you didn’t match. I am still a doctor, right? Hence, why medical schools are shifting to emphasize “wellness.”
So, the only advice that a person needs to make medical school much easier is this. Drumroll please. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t become defined by your grades, or your board scores, or where you match. You are more than that. You are a son or daughter, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, mother, or father. You are a musician, artist, or underwater basket weaver. I know this may come as a shock, so brace yourselves-there is more to life than getting into the best orthopedic residency or the most prestigious dermatology residency. It might not seem like it during your four years in medical school, but there really is. I promise. On Match Day, you want to be able to look back and say, wow, I have become such a cool person, not man, I don’t even know who I am anymore.
As soon as I realized that I am not only defined by my career and matching, I started on a journey to rediscover myself. I was better at figuring out the next steps I needed to take to pursue my career goals. I wanted to go back to the person that didn’t have such a serious look on her face constantly. You’ll find a way to achieve your goals, and sometimes those will need to change, but make sure it’s on your own terms. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do something. Don’t let anyone tell you aren’t good enough. You do what you want to do until you don’t want to do it anymore. In short, I will be applying to my specialty again. And again after that. Do whatever makes you who you are.
I could have matched if I had chosen a less competitive specialty, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to have a backup specialty and I “accepted” I might not match. Somethings are out of your control no matter how hard you try. Don’t let them define you. Whether that be clerkship grades, AOA, or where you match (or don’t match). Ask yourself every day, who am I? If you don’t like the answer, change yourself so that tomorrow you can be happy with who you are.
Remember that smile on your face when you stepped foot into your medical school on the first day? Don’t let it wander away while getting to Match Day.
The author is an anonymous physician.
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