For about 24,000 fourth year medical school students, today is an important day. Today is Match Day, the day where fourth year medical students find out where and in what specialty they will be doing their residency training. I am not yet in medical school, but I couldn't help but feel anxious and excited for all those fourth year students across the country. Let's just say today was not one of my most productive days at the office.
What's Match Day like? Most medical school students will be at least 25 years old on Match Day and in an innocuous looking white envelope will be a decision--a decision on where you will spend the next two to seven years of your training and how you will be spending that time. Several medical schools host ceremonies for this important day that allow all fourth year students to open their envelopes together with family and friends. A colleague of mine traveled to be with her boyfriend on this important day. So, while this may just be any ordinary Thursday to you, Match Day is kind of a big deal in the world of medicine.
The number one question on my mind is not the results of Match Day, but what the experience of Match Day must feel like. I don't have too many experiences to draw upon, but I do have some guesses.
Perhaps, Match Day is like waiting to receive college or medical school admissions letters. Thinking back to the spring semester of my senior year of high school, that wasn't all that bad. Life went on as usual, classes, band rehearsal, homework, International Culture Club after school activities, etc.--except for those two weeks just around Spring Break. Those two weeks were extremely stressful. At the time, I had to share a computer with my sister and I distinctly remember hogging time in front of it, compulsively checking my e-mail. But, those two weeks passed by fast.
Medical school admissions was an entirely different story. All of those feelings of anxiety, excitement, worry, frustration, anger, happiness, and surprise were dragged out over a course of months! You can submit your application as early as mid-June and depending on how quickly schools get back to you, the process could be drawn out all the way up until your first day of class as a medical school student. That's nearly a year of stress! Match Day is just one day, so it's got to feel better than waiting for medical school admissions letters, right?
There is one important distinction between Match Day and college and medical school admissions. In that white envelope is just one specialty and one location. There is no room for personal choice. To avoid any misconceptions, fourth year medical school students do have the opportunity to turn in a rank list, but after that list is handed in, all control is forfeited to a computer algorithm.
Youtube video showing Harvard Housing Day celebrations. Though here, mistaken for anti-war protests
Coincidentally, today is also an important day for about 1600 Harvard freshmen. Today, is Housing Day! This morning, each Harvard freshman was given a white envelope and in it contained the name of the upperclassmen house they would spend the next three years of their undergraduate careers. Now, though not as life-altering as Match Day, Housing Day does have several parallels to Match Day. About two weeks before Housing Day, each Harvard freshman must turn in a list of up to eight fellow freshmen that they would like to "block" with. To "block" with someone means that you and your "blockmates" would be guaranteed to be placed in the same house. In addition to a "blocking group," a maximum of three "blocking groups" can "link" with each other to ensure that these groups would be placed in neighboring houses. But, outside of these decisions, a fancy computer decides where you will be spending the next three years of college. Some students will run around to all of the houses the night before Housing Day "praying" to the Housing gods for a favorable placement, but realistically, a computer determines your fate.
The Sorting Hat Song from Harry Potter
Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can top them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a steady mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!
Or perhaps Match Day is similar to the Harry Potter Sorting Hat experience. Individual wizards and witches have no control over the Sorting Hat. You put on the Hat and in a few seconds he announces to all of Hogwarts your House. And in the Harry Potter world, a House is not just where you will be living for the next seven years, but shapes your training and career as a future wizard or witch. So, as we gather from Harry Potter's own experience under the Sorting Hat, this process is also kind of a big deal.
Well, because I still have a few years before my own Match Day, the best I can do is imagine what Match Day is like or try to experience Match Day vicariously through others. Congratulations to all fourth year medical school students and congratulations to all Harvard freshmen (especially those placed in Pforzheimer House!)! I'm sure just making it through this day is enough cause to celebrate!