It’s Match day. You’ve finished your interviews, submitted your rank order list and you’re ready to find out where life will take you next. You’ve been trying to stay calm as you wait for this news.
But instead of discovering which program you’ll be entering in July, you learn that you didn’t match.
This is the fate of many DO and MD students every year. While it can be an unsettling experience, not matching doesn’t mean you won’t be placed into a residency program and go on to have a successful career. There are several steps students can take—before, on and after Match day—to make the experience of not matching less painful.
Prepare a game plan
Most students who don’t match will participate in the AOA Post Match process, also known as the scramble, in which they contact and interview with residency programs that have unfilled positions, or, if they participate in the National Resident Matching Program, the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP).
Having a plan in place for participating in these programs is a wise idea, says Sonbol Shahid-Salles, DO, MPH, a member of the AOA’s Bureau of Emerging Leaders. “Hopefully you are going to match, but if you don’t, you’ll have a game plan,” she says.
Dr. Shahid-Salles and Shaun Notman, DO, suggest students take the following steps to prepare for Match day:
- Make sure you have time set aside on Match day for sending emails, making phone calls and meeting with a student advisor.
- Make a list of your contacts: Interns, residents and faculty you’ve encountered in your clinical rotations. They may be able to provide guidance as you search for programs.
- If you’re participating in the AOA Match, set up draft emails to potential programs that can be personalized and sent if you learn that you didn’t match and the program has an open slot.
Keep calm and focus on the next step
“On Match day, there’s no time for grieving or wondering if there’s anything you could have done differently,” says Dr. Notman.
As a fourth-year student in 2013, Dr. Notman reacted quickly upon learning he didn’t match in orthopedic surgery. He lined up a traditional rotating internship within hours of receiving the news. Now, he’s finishing up a family medicine residency and getting ready to enter a sports medicine fellowship in South Miami, Florida, which will allow him to fulfill his dream of working with athletes.
Meet with your student affairs department
The first thing to do after learning you didn’t match is to meet with your school’s student affairs department as soon as possible, says Angela Bacon, the director of student services for the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa.
“On Match day, we meet with unmatched students at the earliest hour we possibly can, and we start putting a plan together for each student,” she says.
Consider positions nationwide
“When students come in and they don’t match, we tell them to keep their options open,” says Bacon. “Geographically speaking, this is especially important. They need to open up their window of possibilities.”
Go for clinical experience
After not matching, some DOs take time off to do research or pursue other training, such as an MBA. Bacon advises against this approach.
“For residency placement, graduating medical students are often given first priority over second-season physicians,” she says. “I advise students to make sure they have exhausted every single option before they start thinking about an MBA or a research year.”
Family medicine programs usually have more open slots, Bacon notes. Some students may not be very interested in pursuing family medicine, but gaining the clinical experience is a better choice than taking the year off, she says.