Friday, March 28, 2014

"You've matched to a Preliminary position."

by Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, M.D, M.Sc.

Every medical student looks forward to "Match Day." Even non-medical people know what this "match day" is . . . . they hear about it from us, read it on our Facebook posts, and see our blogs about it. We're obsessed with it. What happens, though, when "match day" isn't all you hoped and dreamed it would be?

As I've written before, my husband and I tried to couple's match our fourth year in medical school and were unsuccessful. He obtained a residency position outside the match, and I matched to a preliminary position.

To any hopeful medical student, matching a preliminary position is bittersweet. It's devastating that no one "wanted" you long term. It's frustrating because you will, quite literally, be starting the match all over again in a few months time. And mostly, for me, you will go for another year of your life in a large amount of debt, after thousands of hours of very hard work, with an insane amount of knowledge... and no career to show for it. None. Nothing. Just a degree that says "M.D." but that you could never actually DO anything with. I, too, was devastated.

But instead of drowning in my devastation, I chose joy: Joy that I matched at all. Thousands of hopeful medical students don't match each year and are forced into non-clinical jobs that they did not really aspire to. I also found joy in matching to a preliminary position in my field of choice; I was very happy to be a surgical preliminary resident.

I chose to use my preliminary year as a gift to see if surgery was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. What an amazing thing! How many of our colleagues actually get to "try out" their chosen profession for a year, with no strings attached, to see if it is something that they really like? As a medical student, you have 6-12 weeks of watching residents do what you THINK you want to do, and deciding to make a career of it. I was able to walk the walk and talk the talk (and work the work :) ) to decide if this was really what I wanted to do.

When I matched to a preliminary position I communicated to my new chief residents that I wanted to be thrown into the very most difficult rotations (busiest, hardest, longest hours, however they wanted to take that request) at the beginning of my year- in July and August. This would give me an up front, real time, on the front lines view of General Surgery, as well as expose me to the most intense months that I would be encountering. For me, these months were very busy and very overwhelming at first, but I was absolutely positive at the end of it that I was supposed to be here, and I was supposed to be doing surgery.

Letters of recommendation are very important in your preliminary year, they are basically the only thing that will have changed between last year and this year's application. You should have the maturity and the responsibility to seek these early and form relationships with faculty that allow them to easily communicate how dedicated and just how good you actually are at what you do. I love my job, and that was evident to my attendings. Also important: having an answer to "So what happened last year?" I was asked this on almost every interview I went on. Be prepared for being offered about half the number of interviews you were intially offered your fourth year of medical school. Save up money on your small resident's salary for interviews. Talk to your program director early about expectations for vacation time to be able to travel for interviews. Be nice to your co-interns because they will have to cover your call now while you travel. You are no longer enjoying a lax 4th year as you travel, you are in the thick of intern year and you will be tired. I can almost guarantee that at one point during interview season, you will walk off a night call and walk straight on to a plane. The next day you will need to look as fresh and excited as those chilled out fourth years who are interviewing around you.

The absolute best part about interviewing for a categorical position as a preliminary intern: I knew my stuff.  I know what to do, and am not frazzled, when a trauma comes in to the Emergency Department and starts decompensating right in front of me... because I've done it. I walked into every interview with complete confidence that this was going to be my career, 100%, and I was going to be VERY good at it... because it's been my job for a year now. I discussed the parts of being a surgical resident that I love that medical students don't have a clue about yet... because I'm here when everyone else goes home.

Match Day 2014 was a success for me. I matched to a categorical position. I've got a career. I'm so, so happy.

If you matched to a preliminary position this year, keep your head up. Keep your eyes on the prize. View it as an opportunity to try out a field in medicine or surgery for a year. Take the high road. Work your butt off.

You'll have a career soon, too. And it will be everything you'd hoped it would be.


Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, M.D, M.Sc. is a PGY1 preliminary general surgery resident at Methodist Dallas Medical Center in Dallas, Texas and will be a categorical resident at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Michigan this summer. 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.

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