Yesterday was the official Match Day for Medical Students across the country. Every year on the third Friday of March at a pre-determined time, Med students receive a hand-delivered envelope and simultaneously learn where they will be spending the next few years of their life. Will their Residency be in Atlanta? New York? Los Angeles? Their future lies in that envelope. (Residency is the next step after Medical School and can take 3-6 years depending on your area of practice, e.g. Plastic Surgery, Pediatrics, Anesthesia, etc). On the Monday before Match Day students receive a letter just letting them know whether or not they’ve matched to a residency program, but it doesn’t say which one they’ve matched to (they have to wait until Friday for that – so four days of nerves and excitement).
Students who are informed on Monday that they have NOT matched have to participate in what’s called The Scramble. Since some residency programs will still have a few spaces open, unmatched students have to immediately call & apply to try to get those spots. Unfortunately the spot that they get may be in a different area of practice than they originally wanted. And for unmatched students who are also unsuccessful in the scramble – well, they will just have to try the whole process again next year. They can use the year to join medical research programs or earn a Masters degree – anything that will make them look more attractive when they apply again.
So how do students get matched to residency programs in the first place? It’s all based on Mathematical Algorithms. An Algorithm is defined by Merriam-Webster as a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation.
Per the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) website:
“The process begins with an attempt to match an applicant to the program most preferred on that applicant’s rank order list (ROL). If the applicant cannot be matched to that first choice program, an attempt is made to place the applicant into the second choice program, and so on, until the applicant obtains a tentative match or all the applicant's choices on the ROL have been exhausted.”
Also, did you know that you can participate in the resident matching program as a couple?: “Partners listed as a couple are treated by the matching algorithm solely as a couple. If they do not obtain a match as a couple, the algorithm will not process their lists separately to find a possible match for each individual.” If you would like more details on how the matching process & algorithm work, check out this pdf from the NRMP website. Interesting stuff!