Mar 14, 2011

The Match, Part I

The Match. Not the match. It gets it's own capital letter, like God. It's that important.

I've been keeping busy all, farmer's market, baking cookies, a ten mile hike, trying not to mentally count down the seconds until finding out at 9 am Monday morning. I haven't pooped for five days. This last week has been like a sucktastic Advent season for residency, with excitement for Christmas replaced by anxious anticipation for the Match.

Today, I woke up with a surgery to do before the Match results posted. I was in the operating room at 7 am, doing a c-section with a kind preceptor who knew Match anxiety well, who told me at 9:01 just to leave and go find out the results, that he would finish the suturing and paperwork. I stopped in the operating room hallway, mask still on, feet stuffed into surgical booties, and opened my email on my phone.

From: NRMP (National Ranking Match Program)
Subject: Did I Match?
Message: "Congratulations! You have Matched."

And that was it. A short email that left me elated and tired. I didn't know how worried I was about not Matching until I actually Matched. I expected to Match, but this is the kind of thing you can't be sure about, and the intense physical letdown I felt let me know how much I had worried unconsciously about today. I didn't expect to feel exhausted or achy. It felt as if my body started to relax, as if months of tension were evaporating out of my muscles.

Today, I only found out whether or not I Matched. I don't find out which program I'm going to until this Thursday (Match Part II). This lapse in information gives time for those who have not Matched to enter the "Scramble." The Scramble is the only thing besides God and the Match to command it's own capital letter. This is where an unmatched student applies for an open residency position, a spot that went unfilled in the first draft. You scramble for 72 hours to find an available spot, and find out where you are going on Thursday along with everyone else. Trouble is, it might not be in the location or the specialty that you wanted. I wouldn't wish the Scramble on anybody. Truth is, this is all quite complex and you don't totally understand it until you have gone through it. And since you only go through it once, the information you learn is really of no use to anyone at the point that you have acquired it.

I still have a lot of anticipatory anxiety over where I'll be going, but knowing that I'm going somewhere, that some program out there liked me enough to want me to be their resident physician, makes me feel safer than I did this morning. Somewhere, very soon, I'll be a doctor. And this thought gives me a sense of quiet relief, enough to feel sleepy and relaxed.

56 hours and 41 min left...3401 minutes...204,060 seconds...204,059...58...57....56...zzzzzzz .

Mar 4, 2011

The Interview Experience

Now that I am done with my applications, interviews, and rank lists, I am just waiting for the Match results to post in twelve days, fifteem hours, and twelve minutes. I wanted to share a little of the interview experience, which I thought was special at first and subsequently realized is the same everywhere. It doesn't give me a lot of joy to recall this, but its probably worth remembering and will be funny at some point to look back on.

Optional dinner night before: A mid-priced restaurant that can accomodate a large party but not hot food. Drinks offered; applicants decline, residents eagerly accept. Applicants practice lines they will use following day, residents ask if you have any questions.


-Walk into nondescript door, wondering if in the right place.

-Find other lost people in suits, decide we are in right place.

-Program coordinator appears, "Good morning! Here are your packets! Sign here, and here."

-Applicants sit nervously.

-Program Coordinator: Help yourselves to some food.

*strawberries, grapes, and pineapple disappear. Water bottles taken. All donuts/wrapped pastries/candy/melon left on table.

-Female applicants: "blah blah blah your nails i like your purse blah blah omigod i love your necklace."

-Male applicants: silent.

-Paw through goody bag with the program materials in it, find hand sanitizer/lip balm/sunscreen/cheesy bag/bottle opener/flash drive/some combination of the above. Mentally compare to other programs' goody bags.

-Program director appears. Goody bags dropped, fake smiles and assertive handshakes all around.


-Technical difficulties with laptop/powerpoint. Applicants wonder if there are any more strawberries.

-Laptop finally works, powerpoint projected onto wall for program director's presentation.

-Program director: "this is why [insert program name here] is THE BEST program ever in like the entire world according to NIH/US News and World Report/Yahoo News/your mom."

-Program director: "this is why [insert your city here] is an awesome place to live." Show pictures of breathtaking scenery.

-Program director: "these are our healthy, happy residents" [insert group picture here].

-"Any questions?"

-Applicants ask pre-practiced questions. Student glares at other student who stole "their" question and frantically tries to think of another well thought-out, intelligent, enlightening question.


-Program coordinator: "time for interviews!" Splits group so three students go with three different faculty members/program coordinator/other important person, one "chats" with resident, and one is left sitting at the table staring at the now-blank powerpoint screen.

Interview #1: The Faculty Member

-Faculty: "tell me what interested you in our program."
-Student: recite information gleaned from website, say why they are perfect fit for program and program perfect fit for them. Bonus points if specifically mention interest in the concentration in which said faculty member specialized.
-Faculty: any questions?
-Student: asks pre-meditated questions
-Assertively shake hand, exit

Interview #2: "The Associate Program Director/Faculty Member/Important Person

-Important Person: "tell me what interested you in our program"
-Student: recite information gleaned from website, say why they are perfect fit for program and program perfect fit for them. Now mention former research/extra talents/skills/bilingual ability/other personal selling points
-Important Person: any questions?
-Student: asks pre-meditated questions
-Assertively shake hand, exit

Interview #3: "The Resident"

-Male resident: "It's nice to meet you"
-Female resident: "omigod i love your boots/necklace/toenail polish/insert personal item of choice here"

-Chat about leisure activities in the area (like they would know...I saw the call schedule), pets, families, etc while stealthily working in my baking prowess/why I would be the best coworker ever

Interview #4" "The Break"

-Sit and stare at table during "off" interview. Wonder if I have enough time to eat protein bar in my purse before next interview. Glare at melon/lack of strawberries.

Interview #5: "The Program Director" aka Big Cheese/Big Guns/Top Dog/God

-Director: "tell me what interested you in our program"
-Student: recite information gleaned from website, say why they are perfect fit for program and program perfect fit for them. Now mention former research/extra talents/skills/bilingual ability/other personal selling points. Just with more enthusiasm than prior interviews.
-Director: any questions?
-Student: realizes I've already asked all my questions. Shit.
-Assertively shake hand, exit


The program thinks that combining resident noon conference and interview lunch is a splendid idea of efficiency and example of the program. The student thinks it is a horrifying opportunity to have to ask intelligent questions and make smart comments. The residents eat and sleep, as per usual.

I make my way to the lunch table. Salad? No. Might stick in my teeth. Chips? Too loud to eat. Must not draw attention to self. Spaghetti? Too messy. Danger to suit. Soda? Don't want to burp. I end up eating a pickle slice.


-Resident: These are our amazing patient rooms
*note: they look like every other hospital

-Resident: These are our amazing call rooms
*note: they are tiny with bunk beds and no pillows

-Resident: We are so lucky to have a workout room!
*note: it looks like a dungeon and is in the basement

-Resident: It takes awhile to find your way around
*note: my toes are now bleeding from the approximately eighteen flights of stairs we have climbed and I have no idea which way points north. If I were to be left alone I would just have to live in the stairwell and accept that there is no way out.


Program Director: Thank you for joining us. You don't need to send thank you notes. Please let us know if you would like a second look at our program.

*All students write down name/address to mail thank you notes.

Program Coordinator: Please sign here, and here, and here....

Firm handshakes and thank yous all around.


Get in car. Exhale.

Take 800 mg ibuprofen.

Get home, eat entire contents of refrigerator.


Shake the headache within 48 hours, just in time for the next interview.


I love yoga. I was twenty years old when I first tried it, and it was joy. I loved how strong I felt, how my muscles looked long and lean in the poses, and mostly I loved the self-acceptance that it brought. The lesson that you accept your body for what it can do that day, you acknowledge your distractions and then let them go, the requirement of accepting and thanking the body for the work it does for you, and honoring those who have practiced with you. Each practice was closed with a bow and a repeat of "Namaste", which means "the spirit in me recognizes and honors the spirit in you."

"Namaste" is a phrase that I felt applied to the study of human anatomy. I spent hundreds of hours in the anatomy lab, looking at cadavers, memorizing each bony prominence and tiny vessel and nerve. It was arduous, and even though a lot of times I would rather not have been there, I felt a connection with the cadavers. Their bodies gave me clues to their life and possibly their death, and I felt like I knew them and a little of their story even though we had never met. I could recognize how my own body worked by viewing theirs. I could profoundly accept that human anatomy is essentially universal, that we are much the same.

I saw "Body Worlds" recently, which is an exhibit of human anatomy with preserved specimens. Many bodies were placed in positions of movement, like dance, running, or hitting a baseball. While it is a controversial exhibit for some, I loved the celebration of movement in the bodies. It reminded me of yoga, how much joy could come out of one's anatomy and movement. And I loved how it brought the amazement that I was privileged to have in the anatomy lab to millions of people who otherwise wouldn't experience human anatomy. It shows the universality of the human condition, how we recognize and honor others through the study of anatomy.

So as I cover my cadaver gently with formaldehyde-soaked towels, zip up the body bag, and return him to the refrigerator, I almost want to bow to him, saying "Namaste." The spirit in me recognizes and honors the spirit in you.

In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.
-Philosopher Johann van Goethe