It’s been a long road — years of academic trials and tribulations, countless study hours and unforeseen changes along the way. Medical students around the world are rounding the corner in the final stretch to becoming a physician. Welcome to the Match Day 2021 journey.
“They are going to match exactly where they’re meant to be,” reassures Monica Garcia, associate director in the Office of Career Attainment for Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM), who works with students enrolled in the Match program. “When they enter their third year, so many of them are unsure where this journey will take them. They need to remember that their experiences will lead them to where they’ll be the happiest.”
Like taking prerequisites in undergraduate studies, third-year clinical students enroll in various specialties to determine the best fit. The six core competencies or clerkships include internal medicine, family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, surgery and psychiatry. Students work alongside attendings and residents in real time, learning the ins and outs of the profession.
At the start of fourth year, students are ready to enroll in the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), known as The Match, which provides a uniform time for both applicants (students) and residency programs to complete training selections without pressure. Through the process, students are ‘matched’ to a program using their certified rank-order list.
The Match program, established in 1952, usually begins in September and is finalized during mid-March of the following year. But, like everything this year, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the process — delayed timelines, paused rotations, closed testing centers and postponed exam dates. The upside to the chaos — like current physicians, clinical students are learning firsthand how to adjust and bounce back when the unforeseen occurs.
“It’s been challenging but the students have been resilient,” Garcia said. In October, match students submitted their residency applications to their chosen hospitals. Next, students began conducting interviews with interested hospital affiliates, which will continue through February 2021. Unlike other years, students are completing virtual interviews — a cost savings, but distant alternative to ‘experiencing’ the environment.
Once interviews are complete, students eagerly await Match Week, which starts March 15, 2021. On that Monday, applicants will find out if they matched with a teaching hospital program. But they won’t know which hospital until Friday, March 19.
Preparing for SOAP
If students didn’t match or only partially matched (preliminary or advanced specialty but not both), they will immediately enter the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP) and have until Thursday, March 18, to match into an unfilled position. They can apply for up to 45 programs as a last-ditch effort to secure a residency. “It’s extremely stressful because there isn’t a guarantee it will work,” Garcia said. “There are a lot of applicants gunning for the vacant positions and a lot of rules to maintain the integrity of the program. NRMP does not allow us to reach out to programs until the SOAP process concludes; anxiety starts to build on all fronts.” SOAP results and match specifics are released to all match participants on Friday, March 19.
For students who did not match through SOAP, Garcia and her team will assist with next steps including an analysis of what may have happened and guidance in securing a position before residencies begin on July 1. If students remain unmatched by July, they can partake in a variety of options to better prepare for the next match cycle that begins in Fall 2021.
More than 430 RUSM students are now enrolled in Match. Over the next few months, we will share first-hand accounts of those currently in the match program and talk with recent alumni who remember the agony as well as the relief and celebration during Match Week.
“It’s a nerve-racking process,” Garcia said. “But it’s also exciting because students realize they’re starting a new chapter in their lives.”
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