I have been keeping a secret for four years, and I’m going to open up publicly about it. I was inspired by a recent post in The DO by Nikitta Foston.
Back in 2015, I had an unsuccessful interview season after failing to pass my USMLE Step 2 CS on my first attempt. Even though I signed up for the exam again and did fine, too much time had passed, and programs told me they had no interview slots available.
I ended up with only one program on my rank list. I had a bad feeling, but I still wasn’t prepared for that dreaded email telling me that I didn’t match at the beginning of Match Week.
‘My worst nightmare’
I went unmatched. It was my worst nightmare. Meanwhile, all around me, classmates were happy and relieved.
There was a party on campus where students and their partners celebrated getting into their favorite programs (I didn’t go). All over social media, people were making happy posts. And there I was, sitting at home in deep secret despair.
I had to continue showing up to my clinical rotation and work just as hard with the same positive attitude when I was broken inside. I tried to dodge questions about where I matched to, and for the few people I opened up to, I spent most of the conversation trying to manage their discomfort with not knowing what to say.
I don’t know of a better system, but there will be people like me every year who will secretly deal with the crushing rejection of not matching, combined with the intense stress of trying to massively readjust life plans and scramble into programs/specialties/locations that you would have never considered.
From unmatched to chief resident
I landed in an internal medicine residency program and spent every day trying to prove my worth. I stayed late. I always volunteered for the extra case assignment. I created much of the educational content that became our regular didactic series. When I felt I was behind on a topic, I offered to teach others, which forced me to learn it better.
I was rewarded with the title of academic chief resident. Now in my first year out of residency, I am working as both a hospitalist and a medical director. I take students for clinical rotations and am also teaching at a medical school.
As I look back on how far I have come, I feel a sense of pride. Still, every year around Match Day my emotions become a little bit raw and I’m reminded of how hard it was.
If you don’t Match
I want you to know that if you do not Match, you will probably have to make life-changing sacrifices and compromises. And you will not have enough time to process your grief while it is going on. You have to keep charging forward. If you don’t have a mentor, you need to get one right now.
Work closely with your school, they will already know your secret and will likely be your biggest ally. Keep an open mind. I always suggest looking at the book The Successful Match.
Figure out what part of your future is negotiable and what part is not. You need to get through this.
Don’t give up. Unmatched student: You are still going to become an amazing physician, and the sick people of this world need you to keep going. I’m cheering you on. You’ve heard my story, now go make yours. Redemption awaits.
Michael Javid, DO, is the interim hospitalist medical director for Samaritan Health Services in Newport, Oregon, and an assistant clinical professor of internal medicine at Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific in Lebanon, Oregon. He is the former chief academic resident at Hemet Valley Medical Center in California.