Match Day 2012 was supposed to be the best day of our lives. Or one of them, at least. But it was so, so not. Monday morning my husband and I left our respective rotations around 11:45am and hopped into our SUV in the hospital parking lot in anticipation of the noon email saying we had matched. We wanted to celebrate that together. My email came: "Congratulations! You have matched to a one year preliminary position." I was devastated. But it got worse. My husband's email came: "We're sorry, you have not matched to any positions."
Can that happen? Did that just happen? I didn't think that was possible. Our numbers were right. We had plenty of interviews. We were matching Emergency Medicine (him) and Surgery (me). A difficult match, but not an impossible one. Right?
He was the better candidate, but we thought Surgery was the harder match. So at match choice #18, after all of our same city match choices, we listed a match-no match option. The thought was that in this certain city we chose, surely he could find something to do for a year. A big city, close to my family, lots of options. We assumed he would at the very least be able to find a preliminary surgery spot at one of the four hospitals in the area. Prelim surgery spots aren't hard to find, right?
We drove straight from the hospital parking lot to a McDonalds and hooked up the laptop and filled out his SOAP application. He applied to all the Surgery Prelim spots in my city (the NRMP will tell a couple, in a match-no match situation, the city of your match). Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday came; no interviews, no offers. Match Day came and went, we "celebrated" at home with our baby boy and my parents, and occasional tears.
Then we looked for research positions for the year for him. And... Nothing. We tried, we weren't even picky. But he was over or under qualified for anything we found.
Then one day, out of the blue, he got an email inviting him to interview across the country for a position in Emergency Medicine. He got the position. And yet we struggled with it. Was this a temptation that he should pass on? Was this a blessing? Was it great for his career at the expense of our family? Would we be able to survive without each other? Could I be a surgery intern, with our BABY, without him?
Ultimately, he took the position. We're tough. Yes, he and I are tough. But what I also mean is that we women physicians are tough. We're a different breed, I think. No one can tell us no. No one can put anything in our path too great to achieve our goals. No one can tell us we can't love our job and love our child. No one can tell us we can't do it without certain features of our home life lined up. We can do it.
It's hard every day. That I won't deny. It's hard being away from my best friend and confidante; the person I want to vent to and hug and go on dates with and share in our son's new milestones and that he finally says "Mama." It's hard being a "single" parent. It's hard knowing my son is not with his mom or his dad 24-7. It's hard when your child reaches for their grandmother for comfort when they fall and you are both standing there. And oh yeah- it's hard being a surgical intern, period.
But I'm blessed. We're blessed. Training looks different for everyone (we went to a school where our basic sciences were in the Caribbean; more on that another day). Life looks different for everyone. Just because it's different doesn't make it wrong or weird or not doable. We've learned a lot along the way, and talk about it a lot (when our shifts don't overlap, that is). I'll sum it up for you, in case it would help anyone else along the way . . .
1. Don't be too proud to apply to different locations if you're couple's matching. You'd rather be a doctor in a different geographical location than not-a-doctor in the same location.
2. Surgical preliminary spots aren't as easy to get into as you might think. I think that's the going rate for almost any residency these days.
3. There's lots of spots outside the match that you don't hear about unless you look for them in the right places. Look on your specialty's program director website (a good place to start) to see if there are open positions outside the match.
4. Don't panic if things don't go how you saw them. Where there's a will, there's a way. Don't let anyone tell you something isn't possible.
5. Family comes first, but deciding to be apart doesn't mean they don't still come first. Don't feel bad for choosing it. It doesn't mean you ranked them of less importance. It just means your story looks different.
6. Speaking of stories: Life looks different for everyone. You can use yucky situations for learning and growing, or for being miserable. It's a choice.
7. When you rank programs, go where you love. The rest will fall into place.
Of note- at the time of publication of this blog, my husband has an interview for an open PGY1 EM position that came available in late July right down the street at a phenomenal academic center.
Either way, we know what we've learned through all this.
Either way, we're good.
What obstacles have you overcome to achieve success? Do you have any words of advice for surgeons or aspiring surgeons who are going through a difficult time? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, M.D, M.Sc. is a PGY1 general surgery resident at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. She obtained her M.D. from Ross University School of Medicine, M.Sc. from Barry University in Biomedical Science, and studied Biomedical Science and Spanish at Texas A&M University. She enjoys being a surgical intern and mentoring medical students. In her personal time she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, interior design, international travel, and Texas Aggie football.