My name is David Carrier, and I’m a fourth year student in the School of Medicine here at Penn. As someone applying to residency in Family Medicine (Family docs are as non-specialized and primary care oriented as you can get- they do everything from deliver babies to care for kids to care for adult and elderly patients), I’ve been asked to share a little bit about my experience of the process of residency placement called the Match, which I’ll explain more fully below. As to why I’ve been asked to write this, I’m not 100% sure- though I’m pretty positive that my decision to pursue the least specialized, 2nd lowest paying, and arguably least prestigious specialty, which is about as common a choice among medical students at Penn Med as a native Philadelphian choosing to become a Dallas Cowboys fan (I’m not, for the record), plays a reasonable part.* Regardless, it’s an honor to share my honest thoughts and experiences of this interesting process, and I’ll do my best as well to explain why, for me, I can’t wait to train and work as a family physician.
*[Editor's note: Perhaps surprisingly, in 2010, 45% of Penn's medical students are matching in primary care areas which include family medicine, pediatrics, medicine, and other areas where demand is high nationally, but financial incentives are lacking.]
How the Match Works
Here’s how the Match works. Unlike normal jobs (and residency, while being an integral part of the continued education of physicians, is still a job), where applicants apply for positions, are interviewed, receive job offers from however many companies want to hire them, and then choose between their options, applicants in the Match have somewhat less say in the final decision as to where they will end up and ultimately work. In the Match, applicants apply to residency programs, are offered interviews, fly around the country to learn about the programs and be interviewed, and subsequently rank, in descending order, their preference for where they would most like to work and train. Each program does the same thing, only they rank the applicants they would most like to train and have working for them. All of these rankings were due on February 24th this year. After everyone’s rank-lists are in, they all get plugged into some sort of massive computer system, and an algorithm that no one understands finds the best “match” between both the applicants and the programs- what it spits out is not a list of choices like you might get from Match.com or some other online dating service that functions similarly, but instead a single program name. So instead the applicant of choosing which program to ‘date’ from a list of potential matches, the system decides which program you will enter a long term relationship with. For me, that relationship will last 3 years, but for some of my classmates, up to 7.
Why I Chose Family Medicine
I chose Family Medicine not because it has a shorter residency, because I wanted to stick out, because I was academically unable to handle one of the more competitive specialties, or even because I knew our country needs more primary care providers, but because what I like about medicine- and the only part that makes it really rewarding and meaningful to me- is the relationships with patients. This is why I wanted to become a doctor- to make a difference in people’s lives, to support and care for people through some of the most intense and difficult experiences human beings can have, and to get to know, love, and care for a group of people while having the privilege of helping them to experience life without the profound limitations imposed by disease. This is what I will get to do every day as a family medicine physician, and I couldn’t be more excited to get started. What’s more, the broad training of family physicians makes them uniquely prepared to care for the underserved populations in this country, something to which I want to devote my career. I can’t think of any better way to apply my energy and talents.
Because of this, I applied to residency programs with strong reputations that I felt would nurture and develop me into the best family physician I can be. I ranked at the top those programs where I felt I would fit in, be able to have fun working, and be supported. With the match day coming up tomorrow, I’m feeling mostly at peace, though that’s because I’m managing not to think about it most of the time. When I do think about it, I get a little nervous, though anxious anticipation is probably a better description. It’s sort of like I remember feeling as a kid on Christmas Eve- really eager for Christmas to come, but completely unable to make the time go any faster. I think the hardest part is trying to avoid imagining being at any particular program, because I always start imagining myself working and fitting in at my top choice. I’m worried if I do this too much I’ll be too attached to that particular outcome, and thus will be disappointed if I match somewhere else. I’m a person who believes that God will use the process to place me where he wants me to be, and want to be open to trusting in that and celebrating wherever it is that he decides to place me, whether that be my first choice or my last. Here’s to finding out tomorrow…