Oct 8, 2010


I thought you became a doctor after graduating from medical school.

Whoops. My bad.

I think a lot of people have this misconception. It turns out that while you graduate with a medical doctorate after four years, it's actually a sham. You can't practice anything. You have to go through a residency and become trained in a specific specialty, which can take anywhere from 3-7 additional years.

I just hit "submit" on my residency applications. It is a process akin to, but worse than, applying to medical school, with complicated essays, letters of recommendation, resume information, letters from the dean of your medical school, and lots of fees. Most people apply to between 15 and 50 programs. You put your applications in, hope for interviews, and then submit a list of your "rank" preferences of programs. The programs do the same for applicants, and a computer forms a "match" between students and programs. The Match results post the third thursday of March. If you don't match, you go into "The Scramble", which is the process of finding an open residency position and applying for that spot, and is as stressful and disorganized as it sounds.

I had a few programs that I was really interested in, and one in particular, but ended up submitting extra applications at the last minute, petrified that I would end up as an unwanted egg in the student scramble. Better to send more applications and get into less than my first choice than to end up thousands of miles from my husband in a specialty and program I didn't want to go to in the first place, is what I figured. So I made a list, checked it twice (thrice? Ten times?), made sure my information was not wrong but right...for each of the eighteen programs I selected. And finally hit the "submit" button with a relieved sigh.

And a happy smile crept into my heart and onto my face. It's really happening. I will be a doctor, a resident physician somewhere. A program will rank me because they want to train me, to have me to be one of their graduates. I will have a long white coat, instead of the short student coat I have now (which I thought was cool when I got it but now realize it only denotes me as an underling wanna-be doctor who doesn't actually know anything). This time next year, I will already be a few months into my residency. YAY! I'll be a resident!


Oh God. Self-doubt creeps in. The life of the medical student is wrought with emotional lability and doubt, and residency hunting season is the pinnacle of it. You compare yourself to others (how many interviews has she gotten already? Should I have submitted my application earlier? What is his class rank? Will my nice personality outrank that guy's jerk demeanor and high board score? Am I as helpful as she is? Do they care if I'm pretty?). You compare yourself to the expectation you have for yourself (Did I do as well as I thought I would? Will I match to one of my top choices? Did I do the application as well as possible? Am I as competitive as I hoped to be?). You worry about letting your friends and family down with a poor test score, low evaluation, or unmatched residency status, because they're the ones that believed in you all along, who thought you could be a good doctor even before you did.

Would anyone do it if they really knew? If they knew that the application to medical school, the acceptance to doctorhood was only the beginning? If they knew there wasn't one board exam but six, if they knew that medical school is only the first part in the process of becoming a doctor?

Would I do it again? Yeah. As stupid as that feels at the moment. It's probably a good thing that I didn't realize all of this at the time of my application and acceptance to medical school, because that only would have given me more to worry about. But ultimately it's a good thing, the path I want to be on. I love medicine. I just hope a program loves me back.

1 comment: