What happened? SOAP 2019 was probably the most memorable end to a match season since SOAP was introduced in 2011. And to this day no one knows what the “technical issues” were that caused the epic failures during SOAP 2019. One thing that struck everyone was why is this the ONLY way to apply for residency and ONLY offered ONE time a year?
For months before Match Monday, you are bombarded with constant emails about scheduled maintenance periods before Match Week in preparation for SOAP. You are reminded with multiple emails and webinars to prepare “in the event that you learn on Monday of Match Week you are unmatched.” In addition, the strict rules pertaining to “no communication” with programs are repeated over and over again. With all this preparation they expect applicants to go through, surely the system would reciprocate the effort on their end. After all, it is the only service that is available to applicants to apply for residency specifically at the same time every year in March.
Match Monday 2019 arrived and you continually refreshed your inbox. Punctuality is of the utmost importance on Match Monday. If you don’t match every minute after reading that email is valuable because residency programs are basically squeezing the 7-month vetting process into 3 days. Finally, 30 minutes of hitting refresh later you received the soul-crushing email saying you did not match into a residency program and are “SOAP-eligible.”
As you tried to find your lucky 45 programs to apply to, you noticed some of your documents couldn’t be assigned to programs. Trying to remain calm, you called the HelpDesk to see if you were doing something wrong or forgetting a key step from the webinars. You were put on hold and you waited patiently, fully assured they must have prepared for anything because they understand how high the stakes are for applicants. After all, they had all year to be proactive. This was the one week they are needed the most. There were no changes or differences in the process as compared to the previous year – so it wasn’t their rookie season.
You started to feel what can only be described as a mixture of panic and anger. The whole purpose of the system was to be ready for Match Week. What was all the scheduled maintenance for? Why were applicants expected to prepare themselves through all the emails and webinars if the system didn’t function? They were unreachable by phone, the service was non-functional and the email updates stopped. What exactly was the technical issue? Why was the email 30 minutes late? Why did the system crash for roughly 10,000 unmatched applicants when it was able to handle over 50,000 applicants in September? The system has been slow in previous years but there have been no reports of a total system crash.
Match Monday 2019 passed and frustration mounted. In a 24 hour period you found out you didn’t match, you prepared for SOAP and the service that programs and applicants trust to fill residency positions was still down with NO EXPLANATION. Remembering that your original email was late, you begin to question when exactly this mysterious “technical glitch” affected the system. Could this have also affected the Match algorithm itself? You blindly trusted the system to handle SOAP. The most peculiar part of this whole situation was how none of the entities that run the service provided any explanation or took any accountability. In addition, they punished applicants and residency programs by rushing the already “speedy” vetting process down to 2 rounds compared to the usual 3.
The situation could not have been handled any worst by the organizations as they both decided to only use Twitter and Facebook to notify and update unmatched applicants. Unmatched applicants had to create accounts on Facebook or Twitter just to have access to the updates on when the system would be up and running again. It was through Twitter, unmatched applicants and residency programs were also able to express their frustrations in real time. Both unmatched applicants and residency programs agreed that SOAP 2019 revealed serious flaws in the execution and transparency of the entire process. It was on Twitter that programs and unmatched applicants began asking for answers. Both parties who govern the service, instead, went into defense mode trying to separate their organization’s name from the “technical issues” that caused the system to crash.
The excuses applicants and program directors received revealed one bit of truth: we blindly allow this system to monopolize our placement and our hope after years of education and training.
The parties who govern the system praise themselves for being fair and transparent and attempt to back it up by advertising “record-breaking statistics.” In any other setting, a business that failed to provide services it collected millions of dollars for would be met with “record-breaking” outrage.
What exactly was fair and transparent about this process? Why, to this day, has there been no explanation as to what caused the technical issues, or at what point in the match process did they first notice the issues?
More importantly, how are we supposed to trust the process this coming year? It’s not like the email tells you why you didn’t match or how you were ranked. Is it fair to trust the Nobel Prize-winning algorithm and assume it’s error proof? How can you prevent this from happening again when you can’t even admit it happened?