For a medical student, failing to match may be one of the most difficult challenges to face and overcome. But there is help.
The DO spoke with Scott Glassman, PsyD, clinical assistant professor and associate director of the master of science program in Mental Health Counseling at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), about overcoming the blues if you don’t match.
According to Dr. Glassman, although physicians and medical students are generally considered compassionate toward patients, they often find it difficult to extend compassion to themselves or accept a difficult outcome, like not matching. He recommends the online resource, self-compassion.org, to help medical students build their self-compassion muscle in order to be kinder to themselves.
“It’s OK to feel deeply sad or angry or frustrated,” Dr. Glassman says. “Self-compassion is often hard for medical students. But don’t try to push those unwanted feelings away immediately. They are learning opportunities to see things differently.”
In addition to learning self-compassion, Dr. Glassman shared additional survival tips if a student fails to match. This is an edited transcript. For advice on how to best move forward in your career after failing to match, read The DO’s 2016 article on the topic.
If a student doesn’t match, what’s a good first step toward managing the disappointment?
Being aware of the catastrophic voice. The, ‘I haven’t matched so my life is over’ voice. It’s that all-or-nothing, globalized thinking that drives depression and anxiety and interferes with problem-solving and a “what are my steps now” approach. That sort of thinking is based on not having a balanced perspective.
In addition, it’s a great idea to schedule an appointment with a therapist. It’s important to get help soon to begin to sort out your emotions.
How can a student shift their focus from only sensing the pain to seeing the positive?
If a student looks at their efforts overall and not just one part of the process, it helps. Rather than obsessing over details, such as ‘Did I answer that interview question right? Did I do this? Did I do that?,’ having a birds-eye view of the process as a whole can reduce the stress about how the interviews, or any part of the process, went.
You run a self-care workshop at PCOM for third-year medical students. How does that help?
Self-care is not one particular thing. But it’s exercise, a positive mindset, social nurturing, spending time with loved ones, healthy eating, leisure, sleep, resilience, self-acceptance, humor, reframing negative events, bouncing back, and so much more. All of these areas contribute to positive emotion and quality of life, and they can be coping techniques to lean on when the unexpected happens.
Why is it so easy to focus on the negative?
People have a negative information bias. We are drawn to that in our environment because it’s helped us in our fight for survival, but it’s become dysfunctional within an environment where this is not do-or-die.
Why is it so difficult to accept disappointment?
Often, people have a high need for control and that need has often helped them in their careers. But there are situations in life where you will not have control. And if you need control for a sense of well-being, not having it can be extremely emotionally distressing. Be mindful of uncertainty and unpredictability.
If you feel less confident after not matching, how can you get your confidence back?
Think about your past accomplishments and how you’ve dealt with things that have come out of left field. You can also make a list of what you have control over. Look for a sense of mastery in other areas, such as relationships.
To manage stress and anxiety, consider relaxation exercises, including controlled breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing your muscle groups and then releasing, and envisioning relaxing imagery when you close your eyes.