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. 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

24 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.

  12. I didn’t match in the 2018-2019 match. I have had many struggles through medical school but remained hopeful. I have re-applied with this 2019-2020 residency application. No residency interviews. Perhaps I just wasted my life on this endeavor. I had my school send in the alternative attestation pathway for the COMLEX 3 but no response if I am approved to take the test or not. America cries out the warning of a shortage of doctors but every year we have rejected applicants, US trained and those trained abroad. Shrugs.

  13. It’s astonishing in an “era “ of yet again physician “shortage “ that excellent future doctors are being left out by system failure . I ask those out there , who know , why this happening and how it is being addressed ?

  14. Hi Michael

    My Husband didn’t match and now he is in the SOAP phase, but let me tell you why this is too hard for him to even think about it, my husband came to the states as an international grad, he used to be a successful cardiologist, he tried for 3 years to match. Didn’t succeed, he decided to take the long journey and join a school of mid here to be an american grad,that must ease his chances, we got married the first year, no honeymoon as he went to school after two days of our wedding, a lot of sacrifices during those 4 years from both of us praying and waiting for the match day, to start a family and to continue with more known life lines, waiting for the match day, the end of our suffering days,but, he didn’t match… I can’t explain how he feels, I have nothing to do to help by support and may be help him entering the codes on SOAP to ease his pain…. now we are waiting.. years and years and now that one extra day feels like another year… I don’t know if he didn’t match in the soap what would he feel or do!!very devastating :( !

  15. Hello Michael,

    My husband also hasn’t matched, this is his third year out of medical school. He is a US Citizen, but went to medical school abroad, and has finished his clinical rotations in Ohio. We now live in Portland, Oregon, and every year he does not match is harder and harder for him to handle. He has 200k + in medical school loans, and no way to pay for it. He has passed all 3 step exams, 2 and 3 were 2 attempts. They all all completed though! It breaks my heart that after 8 years of devoting his life to becoming a doctor, and will make an excellent one, he is not even given the chance of an interview. This system is severely flawed, and the public should know about it. Any advice on how to proceed would be wonderful. Thank you for this conversation.

  16. I’m at 5 years since I graduated. I tested poorly on the USMLE exams without ever having testing issues before in my entire life. Now I’m coming up on my 7-yr deadline to pass USMLE 3 (or what…take them all over again? Idk what happens next) in June. I was 5 points away from a passing score in January. I was gearing up to try again; I paid for the exam and picked my 3-month window (March-May), and now COVID 19 has shut everything down for the most part. My friends from school checked in with each other tonight, and everyone is doing so well. Even my friend who was having the same testing issues as me is now chief resident of her program. I feel so despondent and self-pitying right now. It feels like everyone’s life has moved forward except mine. There are babies, marriages, career moves…meanwhile I’m scraping by at a tech company feeling so helpless in all the virus updates that I could scream…eternally engaged, childless, and program-less. I’m still living like a (an irresponsible one) 22-yr old in my 30s. This isn’t what I wanted and I’ve been trying so hard to fight for this…to prove I’m worthy. I’m shy and had trouble speaking up for myself/insecure in my knowledge, and some med school hazing left me intimidated. I didn’t know at 24 my shyness would help ruin my life. I’m a good doctor, or I would’ve been. The patients I’ve seen have even offered to write letters on my behalf but that wouldn’t count towards my rec letters. And now I’m out of time I guess.

  17. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m grateful to know that this is an issue and to better understand the difficulties of not matching. I wish there was a community so that no one had to go through these challenges alone, that there was more open dialogue about why this happens and what needs to be done about it. I’m cheering for you all, wishing you the very best

  18. Hello Dr. Javid,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It really gives me encouragement that perhaps there still is hope. My husband graduated from a US medical school in 2019 but did not get a match this cycle. The only explanation we have is due to multiple attempts on COMLEX step 2. He’s always been an optimistic person, and I have never seen him get beat so hard like this. I saw the pains, sweats, and tears put into all these years of education, and yet no match is devastating. Everything in life is put on hold because of this, kids, wedding, etc. I have been with him for almost ten years, and I have witnessed his path to becoming a physician every step of the way, and I have so much respect for every single doctor. I wonder if you would be able to speak to him and maybe provide him some insights into what he can do at this point.

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