Getting Ready to Get Ready

Match Week – it’s right up there with graduation as the most exciting rite of medical school. There are many milestones along the way: white coat ceremony is always a tear-jerker, we celebrate being accepted into our program and receive the first totem of our future career; passing boards, placing at our clinical site, and finishing interview season are spectacles to behold if you catch a group of us celebrating together. But above all else, it’s the week we are matched with our future residency program that is singular in its ability to provoke both terror and delight.

For the candidates this means a chance to work with faculty they have always revered or move to their dream town to start a life. Many of us begin the paperwork to finance homes and begin pouring over Zillow with hearts in our eyes. We can move home to be close to the friends and  family we’ve been ignoring for the last 4+ years, or to the big city we’ve always seen ourselves in. It is a period of excitement and hope; all things are possible.

It works like this. In the beginning of our 4th year of medical school we begin applying to residencies. They can then decide if they want to invite us to interview, that all sounds normal, right? Well that’s where it all goes terribly awry. Candidates and hospitals court each other for months in what we lovingly refer to as the interview trail; criss-crossing the country in a horribly protracted ballet of who can impress who more without actually seeming overly interested in the other. Programs try to impress candidates with their fitness centers and catered lunches, and candidates flaunt their research credentials like birds of paradise.

You start to recognize candidates from other schools whose interview trail keeps intersecting with yours and greet them as a fellow salty dog. At a certain point you’ve given your elevator speech to so many people and logged so many miles, you wind up reciting the same answers verbatim and have to look at their business card to remember what hospital you’re at. Did I even iron this shirt last night? My tie covers this stain, right?

The months of preening and boasting come down to 5 days in March: Match Week. It can be revelatory, or it can be soul-crushing, for some (like me) it can be both. The stress, worry, and self-doubt are without parallel. As if that weren’t enough, I am one of those attempting to buy my first home - oh yeah, and I’m about to leave for Africa!

Right now, I am sitting in my niece’s Manhattan apartment awaiting my departure. I’ve just accepted the seller’s counter-offer on my dream home (let’s see how the bank feels about all this) and am proud to say I have matched into Internal Medicine at Western Reserve Hospital! I’m going to get to practice medicine in my hometown! …well, after this medical mission to Angola, of course!

First stop: Namibia