The minute you read the email at 11 a.m., “We are sorry, you did not match to any position,” your whole life changes around you even if you try to avoid it. Immediately the sense of shock and disappointment sets in with an uncomfortable feeling of inadequacy. Even worse, you have no time to reflect on what happened or find out what you did wrong because SOAP starts the very next hour — also realizing that you can’t contact residency programs for answers until Thursday at noon because of the strict no-contact policy during SOAP week.
So you try your best to be optimistic and confident and find which 45 residency programs to send your applications. Keeping in mind some of the subspecialties you originally applied to are not even available on the SOAP list. All while you have flashbacks of the interviews and dinners you attended, wondering what you did wrong. Then getting interrupted with phone calls from family members hoping to congratulate you or your friends who are excited to share with you that they matched. The emotions and feelings are all so sudden that you don’t realize how much has changed until you hear everyone around you asking, “What’s your plan now?” That’s the moment, it hits, the feeling that everything has changed, everyone is moving on, and you don’t have an idea or plan for what to do next.
Perhaps the worst part is having to explain to those close to you who are not familiar with the residency process on why after four years of medical school and two licensing exams doesn’t guarantee a job. Hearing the frustrations through their questions, you realize the burden you have suddenly become for those close to you. Hoping to alleviate this burden, you try to share your optimism about possibly matching into a position through SOAP by Thursday but even that hope dwindles hour by hour without a response from any of the programs. And when you reach out to your friends to congratulate them, you can hear pity in their voices as they try to comfort you. All while realizing how much your friendship dynamics are going to change, not being to share the next step in your career path with them.
I was one of the ones who experienced this and I had my moments of self-pity, anger, and despair. Nothing teaches a medical student humility and empathy more than being knocked down at a point in our careers that we have sacrificed everything to get to. I didn’t want this experience to define me or anyone else who found themselves in a similar position. A few colleagues (both matched and unmatched) and I began discussing strategies for the next year. We wanted to stay clinically relevant, improve our applications and help our fellow unmatched medical grads so we created Unmatched MD. Our goal was to learn from our failures and successes and create a network of options for all unmatched medical graduates. The outpouring of support from the medical community as a whole has been overwhelming. That Monday I opened the email wasn’t the end of my journey, it was just the beginning of the rest of it.