by Jordan D. Frey (@JordanFreyMD) and Sammy Sinno (@sammysinnoMD)
Every March, thousands of medical students across the country gather together for what may be considered one of the seminal moments in their lives: Match Day! For the uninitiated, Match Day is the day where medical students receive a sealed envelope that, upon opening, will reveal the residency program into which they have “matched” and will spend the foreseeable future learning how to be doctors. In 2016, a record 42,370 candidates participated in the match for 30,750 positions1. Moreover, as excellently discussed in a separate blog by Dr. Sue and Dr. Sawh-Martinez, plastic surgery ranks as one of the most competitive and difficult specialties into which to match2 (https://prsresidentchronicles.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/how-to-become-a-plastic-surgeon-a-review-of-data-and-recommendations/). To say the least, Match Day can be an extremely anxiety-provoking, but exhilarating experience that will be remembered for the rest of one’s life. While the previous year’s matched candidates celebrate their first weeks as plastic surgery interns, we look forward to future matches and provide some advice about how to prepare for and deal with Match Day.
After the interview trail winds down, you will be faced with the daunting task of deciding where would be the best place for you to train as a plastic surgery resident. (For tips on how to ace your plastic surgery residency interviews, check out this excellent blog by Drs. Sinno, Silva, and Sawh-Martinez: https://prsresidentchronicles.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/insider-tips-for-plastic-surgery-residency-interviews/)3 In the immediate aftermath of the busy interview season, it is important to wind down and take some time to relax before setting out on making your Rank List. The Rank List is extremely important as it is the tool with which you control your residency fate as much as possible. In the rank system, each residency program will rank its top candidates as your similarly list your top programs. In this system, you will match into the highest listed program on your list that also lists you highest. For instance, if multiple programs rank you as their top candidate, you will match into the program that you listed highest on your Rank List. For these reasons, its is imperative that you truly rank programs on your list in the order of where you believe is your best fit, rather than guessing which programs you feel like you best or will rank you most highly.
Next, you have to actually decide which programs are your best fits and rank them accordingly. This seemingly simple undertaking can become maddeningly complex. There are a myriad of factors, including program training style, program size, location, family considerations, as well as the all-important feel of the program, that need to be considered and will be weighed differently by each candidate. There will likely be multiple programs at which you could visualize yourself happily and successfully training. So how do you actually go about making this list? Ultimately, you want to find the program that is your best fit and represents the best chance for you to excel in your training. My advice is to sit down with your immediate support group (family, significant other, friends, etc.) and determine what factors are most important to you in your “ideal” residency program (remember, you will spend at minimum six years of your life in your residency program, so do not take these decisions lightly!). Meeting with your mentors in the field of plastic surgery can also be extremely helpful as they will have valuable insights to aid in your decision-making process.
Next, go through each program at which you interviewed and determine how closely each fits with your “ideal” factors (Notes that you took during your residency interviews will be invaluable during this step.) From here, start developing “draft” Rank Lists where you place each program in descending order. You should spend as much time scrutinizing the 17th and 18th spots on your Rank List as the 1st and 2nd. You never know where in your list you will rank and should make sure that you have thoughtfully graded each program. Sleep on your decisions and work towards constructing a final Rank List. While some rank decisions will be clear-cut and easy, others will be murky and may come down to a simple feeling or gut-decision. Listen to your heart; sometimes you will know what decision is the right one without being able to fully express why, this is okay! I recommend establishing your final list at least a few days before the official Rank List must be submitted online. This will avoid any last minute second-guessing that may later be regretted. And finally, once you submit your list, trust yourself! You have thought this through and made the decisions that were best for you.
The days leading up to Match Day after submitting your Rank List will likely be some of the most nerve-wracking of your life. Though disconcerting, things are then out of your hands and there is no way to change that. As hard as it may be, try to relax and find activities that take your mind off of that sealed envelope. Spend time with friends and family, surrounding yourself with supportive people.
A few days before the match, you will receive notification informing you of you did or did not match to a program (without telling you which program into which you matched). If you receive notification that you did not match, this is not the end of the world or your quest towards becoming a plastic surgeon. Each year, there are residents who match into plastic surgery programs from the independent match after working extremely hard in their residencies. Work to place yourself in the best position to excel in an alternative residency and to match into a plastic surgery program in the future. Never give up!
If you discover that you did match, congratulations! Try to decide how you would like to spend Match Day itself. Your medical school will likely have arranged a large area to gather with some events where the envelopes with match results will be distributed. Some will like to bring a large group of people with them to the festivities while others will prefer having only a few significant people there to share the moment.
Once Match Day finally does arrive, enjoy gathering with your fellow medical students with whom you have spent the last four or more years learning and growing. When the moment finally comes to open that envelope, take a deep breath and unseal it to find out what lucky program will have you to train! While everyone may not match into their top choice, remember that by matching, you have been admitted into an impressive club: those that are fortunate enough to learn and practice plastic surgery. Lastly, and perhaps the most important step, celebrate with your family, friends, medical school professors, and anyone else because you are going to be a plastic surgery resident! Now, take the coming months to rest, relax, have fun, and prepare for the next chapter in your journey to become a plastic surgeon come July 1st.
1. “Press Release: Results of 2016 NRMP Main Residency Match Largest on Record as Match Continues to Grow |.” The Match National Resident Matching Program Press Release Results of 2016 NRMP Main Residency Match Largest on Record as Match Continues to Grow Comments. Web. 12 July 2016.
2. Sue, Gloria R., and Raj Sawh-Martinez. “How to Become a Plastic Surgeon: A Review of Data and Recommendations.” PRS Resident Chronicles. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal, 14 June 2016. Web. 12 July 2016.
3. Sinno, Sammy, Amanda Silva, and Raj Sawh-Martinez. “Insider Tips for Plastic Surgery Residency Interviews.” PRS Resident Chronicles. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal, 01 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 July 2016.