By: Mariana Tumminello, MD
As the time to finalize rank lists quickly approaches, I can’t help but think back to the time when we were, as they say, “in the trenches.” To that time when the anxiety and nervousness had taken over both our lives. Compound this with the uncertainty of the first ever virtual interview season, and my Type A personality was hitting its limit. Would two programs really take us if they couldn’t get to know us in person? Would we both be making compromises, or would it just be one of us? As these thoughts flew through my head, I realized there was only so much I could control. Both myself and my partner had done the hard work of learning all we could and dedicating ourselves to this career we had chosen. Now, it was time to truly think about what we wanted for our future and what was important to us.
The year was 2020. We had (foolishly) thought that COVID19 pandemic would quickly be over. No way would it affect our interview season in the fall! But alas, here we were, nine months into this thing, starting a virtual interview season. My husband, then fiancée, Brad was applying to Internal Medicine, and I was applying to General Surgery. We were trying to rack up as many interviews as possible to give ourselves the best chance of matching. We spoke to our medical school leadership and spoke to a few couples who had gone through couples matching, but no one could tell us what to expect this year. How could they? We were all in unchartered waters, trying our best to figure out what would come next.
After going through this daunting process and coming out the other side, I realized a few things about myself and my partner that I didn’t know before. Yes, it was a hard and stressful time, but it was also a time where we were forced to communicate what was important to us as individuals and also learn to compromise to ensure fulfillment in both our careers going forward. Below are a few tips that we found helpful as we went through the virtual interview season. Hopefully, our experience can help a few others going through this spiderweb of a process to be successful.
- Apply broadly, yes, but think about what is important to you both.
We applied to a lot of programs—I’m not going to lie. Initially, we took every interview we were offered. We were just excited to be getting offers! As programs started rolling out their dates, we became pickier. Did we really see ourselves living in that city? Did we really want to be in a program that small? These were just a few of the questions we had to start answering early on. With these clear ideas in your head, it is easier to start making those early decisions about where you see yourselves living over the next 3-7+ years.
- Email programs you are interested in and stay in touch.
As we started making our interview schedules, we started really utilizing email as a tool to show our interest. Many times, Brad would get an interview at a program, and I had not, or vice versa. Programs are getting so many applications. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to choose one applicant over another. For programs we were really interested in, we started emailing. Brad would say how much he looked forward to interviewing and would ask if it was possible for the Medicine department to reach out to the Surgery department to give me an interview. From my side, I would email the Surgery Department, tell them how interested I was and why. While sometimes we may have not gotten a response, more often than not, programs would help us out by talking to each other on their end and making it work. We both got our fair share of interviews this way which allowed us to interview at some pretty great programs.
- On interview days, mention your partner. They are a strength in this process.
When I told people that Brad and I were couples matching, I got a range of responses. From “ooh that’s tough” to “ehh I would never do that, good luck..” Most people were under the impression that couple’s matching would make everything in this process harder. While it requires more thought and compromise, I realized that having a partner was my true strength. When I interviewed at my current program, I told my now PD that Brad had not gotten an interview with the Medicine Program. We talked about our upcoming wedding and how important it was for me to have him at a program in the same city. By the time my interview day had ended, Brad had an email inviting him for an interview. My PD reached out to the Medicine PD and got him an interview. That simple. He was my strength and I was his.
- Keep an individual list as you go through. Update it in real time.
As the interview season continued on, the monotony of Zoom took a toll. Which happy hour is tonight? What program is next? Anyone who has gone through this process knows the feeling I’m talking about. We found that the best way to keep our heads straight was to keep a dynamic list. After each interview, it would change. One program up—I liked their wellness initiatives. This program is down—not enough robotic experience. Each one of us had a list and changed it to suit our needs and what felt right to us.
- Rank time! Make your own list based on what is important to you.
The time has come for ranking! This is stressful, but exciting. It will also give you an opportunity for self-reflection. As you interviewed, what stood out to you at certain programs? What made you excited? What made you hesitant? We found that this time of self-reflection was necessary to really understand what we wanted and what programs felt the most right to us as individuals. I knew I wanted a program in a bigger city with strong robotics exposure and a county/community experience. Brad knew he wanted an “X+Y” program with good exposure to Cardiology. We ranked our lists accordingly.
- Making “The List:” a good lesson in communication and compromise
This was the part we were most worried about. So many thoughts were flying through both of our heads. What if my least favorite program was one of his favorites? What if I have to completely compromise what I want? We decided that we would open a bottle of wine for this part. Might as well enjoy it! We then dug in. Luckily, our top 5 programs were similar. We knew we both liked certain cities and certain types of programs. Now for the nitty gritty. What was it about one program or another that was better for him or I? This one has a better county experience and more flexibility with research. Ok this one up, this one down. No matches that were in different cities. That’s how we did it. It may have been painstakingly slow, but 2 hours and one bottle of pinot noir later, we finished. Compromises were made, but we were honest about what we wanted and what would make us both happy. We looked over our list one more time in the morning (without any wine in our systems this time), and submitted it. No looking back, no more doubt. It was out of our hands at this point!
While this process is long and at times incredibly stressful, I look back on it as a time of growth. Our communication skills were put to the test. We learned to make compromises for one that we loved. And ultimately, it was the beginning of an exciting journey for which we had prepared for years. While the “Match Gods” will do what they may come in March, just remember, your partner is your strength. No matter if you match your 1st rank or 50th, you will be together pursuing what you’ve worked so many years to accomplish. Take a deep breath and enjoy it.
Mariana Tumminello is originally from New Orleans, LA. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in Anthropology and Pre-Health Studies. She then returned home to attend LSUHSC School of Medicine in New Orleans. After couples matching with her husband, Brad, she moved to Washington DC to start her General Surgery residency at Medstar Georgetown/Washington Hospital Center, where she is now a PGY-2. She plans on pursuing a career in Colon and Rectal Surgery.