Finding out you haven’t matched is awful. It really is. You probably weren’t expecting it. You probably didn’t see it coming. And now you have to figure out how to deal with it.
AND THEY DON’T GIVE YOU TIME TO DO THIS. Last year we had a week after match day before the file review opened for second iteration. One week.
All I wanted to do was lie in bed and feel awful for the next month. But instead I had some big scary decisions to make about my future and whether or not I was willing to sacrifice my dreams. I say sacrifice my dreams because that was how it felt. Was matching somewhere, anywhere, to something, anything, worth it?
Most of the spots that are left over feel like exactly that: the leftovers. They’re programs that maybe didn’t have the strongest reputations, they’re in parts of the country that are almost comically stereotypically Canadian (read: minus 40 winters, risk of polar bears wandering around, and super isolated. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!), or they’re in specialities you hadn’t actually heard of before.
It is a ton to sort through. And everyone’s going to work through this differently. Here’s how I did it.
First, I took a day. I stayed in bed for most of Match Day last year. Only taking a trip down to my medical school to talk with the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) and start to gather information about what was coming next. I was given a pamphlet that essentially amounted to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Unmatched”, a lot of kleenexes, some chocolate, and a hug before I headed back to my car. At home, I laid back down in bed and napped. That was the extent of my Match Day last year.
The next day I tried to shake it off. I didn’t know yet if I was going to enter the second round, but that deadline was already coming up so I had to start moving. I started first reaching out to references. I contacted docs I knew well (this was important, because I called them, and I definitely cried on the phone with at least one) and got them to write me new letters. I started looking at what programs were available. None of them were in the two specialties I had applied for, so that made the decision to enter the second iteration or not a lot harder. I started working on new personal letters, talking about how much I wanted family medicine and how it had been my dream all along, and not at all a backup plan.
The most important thing I did was reach out. OSA gave me the contact info of an unmatched student from the year before and he agreed to meet with me and tell me about his experiences. This meeting was amazing. Here was a guy who had actually been through this and come out the other side! He knew what I was feeling and had honest advice and tips on what to do. It felt like everyone I talked to, my mentors, my friends, my family, and OSA, had an opinion on what was the one right choice here, whether they outright said it or not. Finally, I was getting to talk to someone who knew first hand how hard and confusing this is, and that THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO DO THIS.
Of this whole year being unmatched, that first week was by far the hardest. Not only were there all these emotions and all this confusion to sort through, but I had to somehow be functional enough to get my applications together all over again.
I did end up entering the second iteration. I applied to family medicine because I figured that it’s so broad that I might someday find something I enjoyed in it, maybe (I think that’s an accurate summary of how enthusiastic I was at that time). With no letters from family doctors and no electives in it, I knew I was not a strong candidate. And yet I somehow managed to get two interviews: one was in-person and one on the phone. They did not go well. In fact, I’d say they went terribly. But I did them, and I am proud of that.
The next choice was whether to rank them or not. I really struggled with this decision. It wasn’t a specialty I was passionate about, they weren’t programs I was excited about, and they were places I didn’t want to live. But I ranked them anyways. Because at the time I thought something must be better than nothing. It wasn’t until a couple of nights before the second match day that I truly realized how I felt. I did not want to match and I did not want to have to move across the country for a program I didn’t want. That match day I was so relieved to see that I was still unmatched.
After learning more about those programs this year, my opinion of them has changed, and they are actually pretty high on my rank list this time around. So I don’t think I would have actually been miserable had I matched there last year. But I am glad I had this year. I have grown a lot through this experience and my goals have actually shifted substantially. I am now excited about family medicine and rather than feeling that maybe I might find something okay in it, I know that family will let me build the type of career I want.
There are a lot of different things that go into making the decision to enter the second iteration. Are there spots in your original specialty left? Are there openings in a similar one that you can see yourself in? Can you financially afford a year off? (This one is smaller because I bet you can. I ended up living in a separate city from my husband meaning double the rent and a lot of travel and entering a masters program and having to pay for that tuition. So our finances were tight this year, but we made it work)
In the end, though, it’s your decision and try to let yourself make it. Everyone has opinions and everyone wants to help you. But this is your career and your life and an extra year will mean nothing in the long run.
Image credit: geralt