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Match day

When I started medical school, I used to claim, quite frequently, that this or the other aspect of med school or of being a doctor was entirely unique.

“Medicine is the only profession,” I’d say, “where you are forced to keep learning for your whole career because the rules of the game change at such a rapid pace.”

“ That’s ridiculous,” my then-girlfriend-now-fiancée would say, “there are new laws and court decisions all the time.”

“ OK, “ I’d counter, “medicine is the only profession where you can never leave work until you’ve tied up all the loose ends.”

“Wrong,” Rebecca would say, “Walmart cashiers have to balance their registers before clocking out.”

My lawyer-fiancée’s unsurprising ability to demolish me in debating notwithstanding, I can confidently assert that nothing in the world compares to Match Day— possibly because she said it first.

Match Day is the day that graduating medical students all over the country (and the world) find out where they will begin their internships and/or residencies in July.

A brief overview of the Match, for some background: In September, graduating medical students all over the United States (and the world) filled out a general residency application. With the help of advisers, we chose residency programs and sent our applications (along with copies of our transcripts and test scores) to those programs. In September, October and November, our chosen programs invited us to visit their hospitals for job interviews. In November, December and January, we flew all over the country for these job interviews, during each of which approximately 25 of us sat through information sessions about the structure of each program and the high points of each city before two half-hour sit-downs with members of the intern selection committee.

In February, with a lot of thought and the occasional fit of tears, we ranked the programs at which we interviewed from favorite to least favorite. The programs, in turn, ranked us the same way. All of our preferences are entered into a supercomputer which spends three weeks churning through the data before filling each program’s internship slots with the appropriate number of graduating medical students, giving preference to the students’ rankings over the programs’. Finally, shortly after noon on some Thursday in the middle of March (the 17th this year), nearly every graduating med student receives an envelope enclosing a sheet of paper with his or her internship assignment.

Duke’s tradition is for all of the students to simultaneously open up their envelopes (with fancy letter openers given to us gratis and/or paid for a thousand times over by our tuition dollars and future donations). Afterwards, there is pandemonium as everyone celebrates. Two of my friends, after finding out they had matched at the same place, executed an impressive pairs figure skating maneuver—I think it was an axel lift. Everyone else asks everyone else where they matched, trying to avoid excessive congratulations until they know how the other person feels about where he’s going.

Making matters still more complicated, various faculty members and department chairs come to the Match Day ceremony, so it’s possible that immediately after finding out that you matched at your eighth choice, you have to look happy about it when you talk to your boss for the next several years. Then you have to spend an entire day partying, which was easy enough four years ago, but now presents more of a challenge. (Just kidding. Anyone can party all day.)

For me, Match Day had considerably less drama. After traveling the country looking for an internal medicine program I liked more than Duke’s, I decided there wasn’t a program like that out there, and I ranked Duke first. I was fairly confident that Duke felt the same way about me, and it would’ve been a shock to match at any other program.

But for me, and for everyone else, Match Day feels like the day where we officially become doctors (even though we won’t earn the title until graduation day). I have a job for the next year and a real plan for my life. I’m even starting to get mail addressed to Dr. Fanaroff. On June 30, I’ll actually be someone’s doctor. And for the first time, I can feel that way without simultaneously feeling ridiculous.

Somewhere in the midst of the letter-opening, friend-spinning, chairman-schmoozing and all-day-partying, Match Day managed to convince me I was actually going to be a physician in a way that four years of medical training never could.

Alex Fanaroff is a fourth-year medical student. His column runs every Wednesday.

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