It’s an anomaly but one that was certainly welcome for Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) student Kayla Blanchard who was fortunate to withdraw from the National Resident Matching Program® (The MATCH ℠) process late last year when she pre-matched at her dream location — Sinai Health System in Chicago.
“This was the perfect storm,” said the former registered nurse turned upcoming internal-medicine resident who plans to vacation during what would have been a taxing MATCH week. “They were looking for someone who was self-motivated, trustworthy, reliable and eager to learn. I just happened to be that student. My personality just happened to fit in with their culture. I just happened to attract mentors who opened doors for me that I could not have opened on my own. And the hospital just happened to be in a city that I love. I’m not saying it’s impossible to pre-match, but sometimes you can do everything right — rotate in-person, make a great impression and truly be an excellent student — and still not receive a pre-match offer.”
Though elated with her outcome, she’s just as quick to offer advice to her classmates. “Please don’t be discouraged if you do not receive a pre-match offer. It does not mean that you aren’t a great student or a great person. Instead, it likely means that you would be a better fit elsewhere, and that is to your advantage!”
Finding the Right Fit
Kayla applied to more than 100 internal medicine programs that valued resident wellness, served the underprivileged community and welcomed international medical graduates. She also considered programs that offered solid health insurance for her own medical needs and locations that afforded her husband great career opportunities. The stars aligned after the fourth interview, receiving a personal call from the program director 15 minutes later; she immediately accepted. “To realize all my hard work had paid off was surreal,” Kayla recalled, adding that she had hoped to stay at Sinai after a successful internal medicine rotation. “The outpouring of congratulations was so heartwarming! I truly felt like I was joining a family — one that was ready and willing to guide and support me through my training.”
To her fellow comrades, the former Student Government and Student Ambassador leader reiterates that the journey to get to MATCH, though unconventional — hurricane, studying at sea and the pandemic — is worth it. “My class had not yet had the opportunity to build a strong support system,” Kayla described, recounting the challenges of being displaced during first semester. “We had to learn to navigate that difficult situation while also making new friends and learning the most efficient way to study. I strongly believe that this experience prepared me well to confront any challenge that followed during my medical education, as each ensuing challenge paled in comparison.”
Kayla also had to confront test anxiety, a condition she discovered while studying for the United States Medical Licensing Examination® Step 1 exam. Working with private and peer tutors, she found success and eventually paid it forward with younger peers. “I wouldn’t be here today without the guidance of those who came before me, so I advocate for students who follow behind me, for more humanism in medical education.”
A co-founder of Chicago COVIDSitters, a nationally recognized nonprofit which offers front-line workers free household services, Kayla aims to develop her skills as a physician as well as an educator and leader who inspires others to view patients as people rather than complex puzzles. She strives to provide exceptional patient care that includes critical thinking, quality improvement and safety initiatives. The Georgia native who fancied tennis and science camp encourages RUSM students to thank preceptors and continue reading clinical context that can be integrated into their knowledge toolbox.
“From the very beginning, we’re told to make ourselves stand out as applicants. Pursue meaningful connections with people who can help you stand out; it is worth your time and makes all the difference. It often isn’t enough to just be a great student — there are plenty of those. You have to also be a student who people want to mentor and open doors for. Learn how to foster these relationships effectively now to help you later on.”
To all 2021 MATCH students, we support your journey and look forward to celebrating your achievement.
Hear directly from Kayla during a 2021 MATCH Experience Livestream, hosted by Monica Garcia, associate director of RUSM’s Office of Career Attainment. Tune in to RUSM’s Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels at 5 pm CT on Thursday, March 11. Kayla will share stories about her academic journey, the MATCH process and landing a pre-match position at Sinai Health System in Chicago.
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