VIDEO: School of Medicine Match Day 2010

Tears, hugs, screams, cheers – it’s Match Day again. On March 18, fourth year medical students and their families packed the 4th Floor Clinic Auditorium to the gills for the event.

Match Day takes place on the third Thursday of March every year – and next to graduation, it is probably the most anticipated day in a medical student’s career. It’s no wonder why – each student is given an envelope that holds a single sheet of paper telling them where they’ll be spending the next several years completing their residency training.

“I don’t know any other profession that does anything like this,” said Georgette Dent, M.D., Associate Dean for Student Affairs. “Students start working towards Match Day on day one. Medical school is their educational foundation, but they learn how to be physicians as interns and residents.”

The matching process is the same for every medical student in the United States. After three years of classes and clinical rotations, the students begin to realize which specialty interests them most. In September of their fourth year, they begin to apply for residency programs in that specialty. Most residency programs conduct interviews in December and January.

Dent suggests that students apply to between 15 and 30 programs, because ideally they should interview with seven to 12 of those programs. Each program where a student interviews is a program where he/she could potentially match. So, the more interviews, the better.

In February, both the programs and the students make ranked lists of their choices – from most to least desired. These Rank Order Lists (ROLs) are compiled by an organization called the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).

A computerized algorithm, designed to produce a best result by aligning the preferences of applicants with the preferences of residency programs, fills the thousands of training positions available at U.S. teaching hospitals.

When the match list is determined, it is all but set in stone. Both the students and the programs are bound by contract to fulfill their obligations – no matter what – which is why Match Day can be so dramatic.

Dent says that she tries to tell students not to get their heart set on one program or location, because it may not be where they end up. “I know that doesn’t happen. It’s a very personal thing and I know usually they want one place more than the others,” she said.

“My legs were pretty shaky as I was walking up there,” said Ali Chhotani, who is a fourth-year medical student and the co-president of the Whitehead Medical Society. Chhotani will be doing a pediatric residency at University of Texas Medical School. He was pleased – the program was in his top three.

Match Day is especially emotional for a certain group of people – couples. Decisions about programs, location and specialty are harder for students who have another half. Dent says it’s important for couples to interview with more programs in locations that they like so that they have the best chance of matching somewhere together.

Stacy Greeter and her husband, Lam Nguyen, took this advice to heart. “I interviewed at 21 programs, and he interviewed at 18,” Stacy said. “If I had been on my own, I probably would have done about four interviews. It was stressful, but you do what you have to do so that you can end up together.”

While couples aren’t given preference, the NRMP does allow students to match as a part of a couple. They can form pairs of choices on their primary rank order lists, which then are considered in rank order in the Match. The couple will match to the most preferred pair of programs on the rank order lists where each partner has been offered a position.

Greeter and Nguyen were surprised when they got matched to programs in Chicago – she will be doing a Psychiatry residency at Northwestern and he will be doing an Orthopaedic Surgery residency at Loyola – because it was pretty far down on their list. “That just shows it was worth the hard work,” Greeter said. “The most important thing is that we’re together.”

The Potiseks (Nicholas and Melissa) felt the same way. They even had a third person to think about – their baby Finnegan, who was born in December. The Potiseks ranked eight programs – less than they were told to, Nicholas admits – but they were happy to find out that they will be here at UNC for their residencies. It was their first choice.

“It’s great because we have family and friends around here who can help us with the baby, Nicholas said. “We really wanted to be able to stay in the area so we are really happy.”

Dent says there are 142 students in UNC’s senior class – and that everyone looking for a match found one. The most popular specialty this year was pediatrics – 22 students will be entering that field. Other popular specialties this year are family medicine, with 15 students matched, and internal medicine and obstetrics-gynecology, with 13 students matched in each.

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