Graduate medical education

I didn’t Match. Here’s how I survived and created my best life yet.

Not matching may seem like the end, but for me it was a new beginning. I went on to become a chief resident and a medical director.

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from a LinkedIn post shared by Dr. Javid; it has been reposted here with his permission.

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.

Michael Javid, DO

‘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. If you have no one else you feel safe with, you can message me. But 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.

Related reading:

Beating the blues if you don’t match

Waiting for Match Day: How to keep it together

15 comments

  1. I didn’t match either. It was a crushing week, emotional and depressing. My school blamed me and told me it was my fault for not matching (“you must have done something wrong”) and demanded to know what I was going to do about it. My mentor was even less help. Then scramble week came and I still didn’t match. It was the most gut-wrenching, emotional time in my entire life. After that week I emailed every program on the list with a remaining spot. I checked the various residency openings websites several times a day, I pulled every string I had and asked anyone I knew. The net result was zero. I reapplied this match season; emailed everyone I knew, got new letters, pulled strings, but got zero interviews. So the last hope I have at this point is scramble week in March. I’m at the point where I have to figure out what to do with my life; I’m over-educated and deeply in debt. This is the rough side of medicine very few talk about because we all love the success stories, but there’s many who are unsuccessful.

    1. Have you called program directors in NYC ? Many uner urban hospitals there are short on help in the past.
      Could a medical mission society use you and at least pay you something while you continue to search ?
      Best hope for you

      1. I applied to most of the NYC programs but drew a blank. I emailed them a couple of times and never heard back.

  2. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story!
    Many DO students take the Step 2 CK but most residencies consider the CS and the PE to be equivalent, even when they choose not to correlate the CK and CE.
    Can you explain your decision to take the CS and offer advice in that regard to current and future DO students?

  3. I urge anyone unmatched & agonizing to consider a TRI (traditional rotating internship) year. It buys you time, gives you a job, and gives you training while you try to match again! That hospital might even see your hard work & select you for a slot there. But at the very least, completing a TRI makes you legally able to get your State medical license in many states. That opens some doors.

    I know because I’ve done it myself.

    This year the DO Match/Scramble was really weird, with the Merger and this being the last year of AOA Match. (This is my THIRD year in the Scramble – Ugh!!). Programs this year seemed way less desperate, far more reserved/patient/smug, almost as though they felt no need to scramble any DO candidates at all. They mostly seemed to be waiting for the MD Scramble (“SOAP”) and then pick up people there. Weird vibes.

    Overall I’d say to anyone reading this: I *know* how it feels. You might feel shattered, after working your entire life for this moment, only to feel the bitter sting of rejection. If you (dangerously) attached your sense of self-worth to a successful result in this process — which is what I can admit I did — then you might feel pretty damn worthless. But:

    You matter! You’re so smart! This process totally sucks and I’ve had brilliant hardworking friends who had programs salivating over them, somehow not match anywhere!!

    Don’t let this process make you feel like you’ll have no place in this society.

  4. In 1974 grad from Kansas City. Unmatched but toying with idea of joining the army. Spent three months at Walter reed army hospital as med student and loved it. Army would only guarantee internship and then maybe Korea or Viet nam before residency. It took me to middle of summer to decide. Best decision of my life to join. Fabulous training and experience. Stayed in close to 7 yrs. loved it.

  5. While I matched my top choice in every civilian match, I remember distinctly my intense despair during two sequential military “matches” when I was told I hadn’t matched military anesthesia programs and wasn’t permitted to participate in the AOA and NRMP match processes.

    It is intensely upsetting to not participate in the party while your classmates are all seeing the fruits of their immense labor and sacrifice. It has forever burned a traumatic hole into my emotional matrix.

    But, the good news is that you’re not alone. The better news is that either am I. I have worked with and known many EXCELLENT doctors that have endured difficulty during their medical training. I have also known a few that were poor clinicians and, more importantly, were poorly adaptive and failed to rectify their knowledge gaps and shortcomings.

    If you find yourself facing a challenge or even a failure, the best thing you can do is follow your medical and scientific training.

    Step 1: Collect data. (Ask PDs and advisors for FRANK advice.). Take notes.

    Step 2: Make a plan.

    Try to scramble and accept any position with the mindset that this is an opportunity that must be MAXIMIZED.

    Plan a gap year filled with research or industry experience. Make this PROFESSIONALLY MEANINGFUL! This will be your hook. This will be part of your story and you need to buy into it.

  6. In 1987 there was no such thing as a match. Due to a very vindictive physcian at Detriot Osteopathic hosptal, I did not get accepted into internships in Michigan. This forced me to look elsewhere and I ended up inthe South Bronx and had the best training ever. DONOT GIVE UP AND BE OPEN !!

  7. Nice, positive article.
    I didn’t match, but that’s because I didn’t enter the match. However, as a 4th year student on match day, I was asked where I would be going. When I said I was taking some time off, I was offered a spot at the hospital where I was rotating. Much to my own surprise, I agreed and spent the next 4 years there. I was also honored to be chief resident my last year and feel I couldn’t have found a better training program. Sometime lack of planning works out even better than you could imagine!

  8. Please contact me when you get a chance. I have a medical school graduate I wanted to pick you brain about for a minute.

  9. After applyling to an immense number of programs this year, I did not match at all. I feel extremely defeated. I am not sure what I need to do moving forward but this is the worst feeling in the world.

  10. Dr Javid, thank you for sharing your story as it gives me courage to open up about my own. I struggled with test-taking and experienced an unexpected life event that almost caused me to leave medical school. After repeating M1 & M2 years due to exam failures, I took six years to complete my medical curriculum. Around year five, things started “clicking,” and now, not only do I know how to study effectively, I am consistently passing all my exams on the first attempt. Persistence will get a person through the challenge, but faith & hope will get a person through the emotional and mental stress of the process. My school has cleared me to graduate this year, and I will be starting residency this summer.

  11. This is very encouraging!
    I had a long gap after graduation. 10yrs gap!!! But I had no financial support so I had to work in a non medical field this whole time. Just took my steps and applying this yr. It will be a miracle if i get even 1 interview but I’m going to try and not just give up and not apply at all. After all…. I did spend several yrs of my life studying and sacrificing a lot to be in this profession eventually.

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