By Hala Mazin, MD
I grew up thinking the most memorable moment in my life might be the day I got married or when I saw my child for the first time. I never imagined it would come in an email from the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). It was an email I had worked years for, and one that would change my life forever.
The residency match is a unique and nerve-wracking process that is impossible for anyone outside of medicine to comprehend. Four years ago, in the weeks leading up to the match, I must have been asked a million questions by friends and family.
“I thought you were finally gonna be a doctor. What’s this match thing?”
“How do you not know where you will be for the next five years?”
“Wait … what’s Monday’s email about again?”
I tried to answer in a confident manner when, in reality, I was a bouncing ball of anxiety. I even came up with a cool analogy to help them understand: “It’s like the NFL Draft.” Except the lack of a million-dollar signing bonus took the whole cool aspect out of it.
Finally, the Monday came when residents-to-be receive the email letting them know whether they matched or have to scramble into a random spot. I had tossed and turned all Sunday night. I had my email notifications on the loudest setting and was startled by junk mail every hour, when finally, an email popped up at 6:23 a.m. that read: “YOU HAVE MATCHED!”
I was at my parents’ house in Dallas, and I remember running so fast downstairs to tell them the news that I skipped six steps and almost broke my legs. But who cares!? I wouldn’t be needing them because I MATCHED RADIOLOGY!
The next four days were pure agony. My rank list was so broad that I had no idea if I needed to buy sandals or winter gear (which, I later found, required a substantially bigger budget). I kept trying to remind myself how awful it must feel to need these few days to find a residency spot, but the thought was too painful to bear.
I flew back to Arizona that Thursday to celebrate with my medical school friends. I woke up at the crack of dawn the next day to my best friend blasting “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. Unfortunately, the only lyrics replaying in my head were “Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his sweater already … ” (Feel free to Google the rest of those very fitting Eminem lyrics.)
I will spare you the minute details of that morning and jump to judgment hour, when we were all handed our fates. I ripped open my envelope and a surge of adrenaline rushed through my body that made me forget how to read. Moments later, I realized I was moving to Chicago for my residency at Advocate Illinois Masonic. To my left was my best friend, who had tears of joy because she had just matched her No. 1 anesthesia program. People were jumping and weeping all around me. For some, they weren’t cheerful bawls. I just started running, dramatically like Forrest Gump, before quickly running out of breath and hiding behind a saguaro. I had anticipated moving closer to my family, and now I was faced with five years of five-hour round-trip flights home.
It’s easy to feel disappointed when you are surrounded by hundreds of students who have received the best news of their lives. I imagine this would be even harder for those with families and children who have to explain this random move to a strange city all determined by a computer. But realize you are not alone in your feelings of joy, sadness, or a combo of hundreds of other emotions you will feel that day. There were 44,959 match registrants in 2020. It was not statistically possible for all of them to match, let alone to their top program and specialty.
Perhaps the silver lining of a COVID Match Day will be celebrating with those who have supported you and having the space to process the news without outside pressures, whether it be your first choice or your last.
Looking back, I realize the five “long” years of residency in Chicago have felt a lot more like five days that blended together. I don’t think the opportunities I have had in my current program are any different from what I would’ve had at my No. 1 choice, minus my mom’s home-made falafels.
So, cherish the memorable day, be proud of yourself, and most important, get excited, Class of 2021!
Hala Mazin, MD, is a radiology resident at Advocate Illinois Masonic in Chicago and president of the Chicago Radiological Society Resident/Fellow Section. Her interests in radiology include breast imaging, diversity and inclusion, and mentorship. When she’s not in the reading room, you can find her eating her way through Chicago, then quickly regretting the decision. You can chat with Dr. Mazin on Twitter.