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A “sadistic” practice, as my brother describes it, Match Day was to be the culmination of my medical school experience. After years of late nights turned early mornings, accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan debt, and the infamous Step One board-exam, the day had finally come. Match Day was a ceremony where medical students, in front of their family members, friends, and classmates, would find out where they would be going for the next 3-7 years of their lives for their first jobs as physicians. For some, this day would determine whether or not they would be in the same city with their boo for the next few years. For others, it would let them know whether their interview skills had been enough to land them the job of their dreams (Did I offend the program director with my blue blazer? Should I have smiled more? Crap, should I have smiled LESS??!).
Whatever the motivation, everyone wanted to GET THIS OVER WITH, especially after the long and stressful interview season. The stress had been due to financial strain (buying flights to multiple cities, hotel rooms, food and Ubers), the physically taxing nature of flying (sometimes to and from upwards of 3 cities per week), and all the daily decisions you had to make (So about the wine at this event… do I look like a prude if I don’t drink it? Do I look like an alcoholic if I do?!). Moreover, there was the ever-present self doubt: Am I likable enough? Am I impressive enough? Am I good enough?
The Match is actually a complicated process, so I’ll try to break it down in a few sentences. Towards the end of medical school, students pick a specialty (or two) that they are interested in, apply to programs, and go on interviews. By a predetermined date, they must rank the places they interviewed at from most to least desirable, while the various programs rank their interviewees the same way. These ranking are entered into a computer system, which generates applicant to program matches that favor the applicant’s preferences. In the end, everyone only comes out with ONE program, and some unfortunately with none. On the Monday of match week, applicants find out IF they matched at all. On the Friday of match week (MATCH DAY), those who matched on Monday come together to find out at exactly the same time (12 noon EST) WHERE they matched in front of everyone. Oh and by the way, entering the match is a BINDING CONTRACT, meaning you HAVE TO GO to whichever program you’re matched to.
My guests had flown from all over the world to support me: my parents had flown from Nigeria, one of my brothers from London, the other brother from San Francisco, and my best friend from Tennessee. They had all borne witness to the decision-making crisis I had undergone over the last few months, trying to figure out which place to rank first. IT WAS TOUGH! I was trying to balance going to a program where I felt I would get an excellent training, interact with underserved patient populations, live in a city I liked or where I would have community (and maybe meet a BAE), and where I could feel valued and work well with the other residents. I had narrowed my top two down early, but spent weeks in agony, switching back and forth between my choices. One of those two was the Harvard Dermatology program, which was of course the number one choice of all my family members (*Nigerian accent* Ah ah! But hovcouurrseee, it’s Hahvaad, naahh!). By the time I finally decided where I wanted to go, I then became nervous that THEY wouldn’t want ME, and maybe I wouldn’t match to my top choice anyway.
My school hosted Match Day in a large auditorium, set up banquet-style, with multiple breakfast buffets and wine bars in different corners of the room. Everyone was dressed to impress, sitting at tables with their families, waiting anxiously for the moment of truth. At 5 minutes to noon, a school official called all of the medical students to the front of the room to pick an envelope with their name on it, and then walk back to their respective tables. At one minute left, time started moving in slow motion for me. The medical students stood, grinning nervously. A timer was projected onto a screen in front of the room. My brother winked at me. My best friend squeezed my hand. My mom silently mouthed a prayer. At 10 seconds left, everyone in the room started counting down. “… FIVE! FOUR! THREE! TWO! ONE!” With that, I ripped open my envelope (this takes a RIDICULOUSLY long time when you’re nervous).
It only took me a split second to see the last few letters of my number one choice listed on the page and… my knees buckled. I LITERALLY fell to the floor with giddiness, and thank GOODNESS my friend was there to catch me (see the video here)! Just as I was falling, my mom snatched the paper out of my hand (clearly didn’t care that I was falling to the ground HAHAHA) and read the name over and over, confused. It said “Dermatology, Massachusetts General Hospital” which, unbeknownst to my family at the time, was the name of the main hospital affiliated with the Harvard Dermatology program. When I got back up from the ground a few seconds later, I was grinning, jumping up and down, crying, and yelling “I’m going to my number one, I’m going to Harvard!!!” before they figured it out and joined in.
Just like that, dozens and dozens of medical students were running around the room, crying, laughing, praying thanks, taking pictures, screaming. There were a few somber ones too, people that didn’t get their first, second, or even third choice. Some couples had matched to programs in different states and were just realizing they would have to live apart. The emotions were so loud and raw and varied and unedited, that the atmosphere in the room seemed all but palpable.
In that moment, I remembered the counselor in college who had told me I wasn’t yet “ready” or a “good fit” for medical school. I remembered the mentor who, when informed that I was applying to Harvard, had responded “Oh! Yeah well, it’s nice to apply to some ‘reach’ programs, but make sure to apply to some realistic ones too.” Mostly, though, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness to God, and support from my family and friends who had believed in me all along. I felt resolution then, that after the emotions wore off, I would do everything I could to help others experience similar success for themselves too.