By Alyssa Brown
I remember very clearly the first time I heard about Match Day. We were sitting in the lecture hall, and we stopped lecture to watch the live stream of Match Day. This was almost four years ago now, and from that day forward, I started an anxious countdown to when I would experience it myself. I would be surrounded by my friends that I had met the first weeks of medical school, and we would all find out where we would be heading for residency. The type of residency and location of the residency on the card changed over the course of medical school, but the day-dreaming feeling never really stopped. As the years passed, I knew more and more people who were matching. There were ups and downs through this. I watched close friends above me struggle through not matching, and I watched some come to terms with not being where they wanted to be. Match Day became more real by the passing months with the looming applications to residency. Not to be cliché, but this is where I stopped and turned down the road less travelled.
During my third year, I decided to apply to graduate school to train for a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Physiology—a large departure from the wards and operating rooms that I was haunting during third year. I talked to my trusted advisor, a pediatric surgeon at my home institution, about this choice, and she encouraged it. I had always enjoyed research, and I thought a Ph.D. would be a wonderful choice, so that I could learn how to be a physician and scientist. I took the position in Rochester, Minnesota, very far away from my Louisville, Kentucky home. I left in July 2018, two days after taking my Step2 CK exam, and two days after finishing my pediatrics rotation. I was sad to leave, and the reality that I would be away from my friends during the last year of medical school set in. This year has been a hard transition for me. I am not an engineer by training, and I have struggled through the coursework and I miss the operating room. Most of all, I have struggled with missing my friends, the ones I spent the last three years of medical school with sharing all the highs and lows. I spent innumerable hours on the phone with them through the interview trail, and late nights helping to keep them awake on long drives back from interviews. I felt like I was at a least a small part of their journey. As match day inched closer though, I started to feel the familiar feelings of nervousness. I knew match day would come, but the day-dream now included me on the sideline, instead of opening an envelope alongside them.
March 14, I arrived back in Louisville for my friend’s Match Day. We hunkered down in our favorite neighborhood bar to catch up before the big day. They were excited and nervous matching into pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, pathology, and radiology. I had been on the phone with most of them on Monday for the moment that they knew they had matched, but not where yet. We woke up Friday nervous but excited. While I was glad to see them, I also started to get pangs of sadness that this was not my year. It stirred up questions about why I took the path that I am on. It stirred up guilt from thinking about myself on their day. As the hours drew closer to noon, I waited with them to open their envelope. Surrounded by my friends, it almost felt like watching a movie. I was there, but I was not participating in the day I had been thinking about for four years. They were all happy where they matched, and I was happy for them! It is amazing to see the envelopes open and the variety of reactions from the students matching. Even as the days have passed since then, I still have had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that my match day will not be the same as theirs. I will return for fourth year, to no friends that I have spent all my years of medical school with. It will just be me on that day in March hopefully opening an envelope that says I matched. I won’t have those friends that I love so dearly there. It seems arbitrary, but it has made me question whether I am on the appropriate path. Was it the right decision to move towards getting a Ph.D.? Was it right to put my life on hold for three years before returning? Should I have just matched with my friends? I will admit I do not have the answer to this. For others out there though, feeling this same way, your feelings are valid. My friend from home always likes to tell me to remember that my feet are on the ground, and that helps me to remember that I am here, and I am living my own journey. While the journey may not look the same, my goal of becoming a pediatric surgeon has not changed. Where I am going is just as important as the steps I am taking to get there. It is brave to take the road less traveled, but it can also get lonely.
For those of you who did not match this year, I am truly sorry. This process is not easy or fair sometimes, and your heartbreak is real. I hope you know that you are not alone in this journey, and Match Day brings the best and the worst on the same day. Also know that taking care of yourself and your mental health is important during normal life and during stressful changes like this. You are not less of a person for needing help. To those who matched and to those who are graduating in the coming week, CONGRATULATIONS! Your late night, blood, sweat, and tears have gotten you to this point. I am sure you are nervous to start residency soon, but try to remember that we are rooting for you. Take care of yourselves, and cut yourself some slack sometimes. We couldn’t get through this process without each other.
Alyssa Brown grew up in Chattanooga, TN. She went to Centre College for a B.S. in Biology and minor in History. She fell in love with surgery after seeing her mentor perform an anoplasty during the first year of medical school. In July, she finished her third year of medical school and wandered off the beaten path to get a PhD, before finishing her MD. She is receiving her MD degree from University of Louisville School of Medicine, and her PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Physiology at Mayo Clinic School of Biomedical Sciences. She is currently working on research projects involving pediatric ulcer disease, diaphragm sarcopenia, and benign breast disease. She currently works as part of the AWS Blog Subcommittee and AWS Instagram Subcommittee. Whe she is not buried in lab work, you will probably find her in the pediatric surgery OR, baking sweets and pastries that she saw on “Great British Bake-Off”, or off on an adventure. You can find her on Instagram @alyssabrown1013 and Twitter @Alyssa_B_MDPhD
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