Blog | Friday, March 16, 2012

The Match: Lessons from the Board


Good news: the stories are true.

As students, most of us have heard about (or seen, as attendees in previous years) the raw emotions on display during Match Day. From sheer elation to disappointment, from intense displays to composed reactions, Match Day often showcases a wide spectrum of emotions.

This was absolutely true for me. In the minutes before envelopes were handed out, several leaders shared some remarks, words that felt muted against my intense anticipation. I couldn't take my eyes off of the "Match Board," the vehicle Baylor uses each year to notify students of their residency matches. Each student's name is printed on an enormous board with corresponding envelopes stapled beneath to create a neatly arranged grid of fates. The entire board is sealed underneath wrapping paper and secured until the appointed time. As the speeches continued, I glanced around at my classmates. I wasn't the only one fixated on the board.

When the paper was finally torn away, a sea of eager, nervous hands descended on the board, snatching away the envelopes in staccato bursts. Some tore away the seals and opened their envelopes immediately. Others scampered back to clusters of family and friends where they opened their envelopes together. I chose a variation of the latter, walking mine back carefully to my brother and a few trusted friends waiting in a corner of the courtyard. Behind me, shouts of joy mixed with names of cities all around the country. I took a long breath and pushed back the nervousness rising within my chest. I thanked each person in my small support group and reinforced how content I was with the entire process. Then in one swift motion, I tore my envelope open.

The seconds that followed were a blur. I remember clenching my fist in gratitude before looking up and being mobbed by hugs. I had matched to an amazing program, and inside, I was ecstatic. My swelling contentment seemed to retrospectively justify the way I'd ranked my programs. The months of critical assessment and personal reflection had paid off.

I spent the next 10 minutes moving through the courtyard, congratulating my classmates and exchanging our good news. As I did, the joy inside began blending with an overpowering sense of relief, and I paused for a moment to soak in that important feeling. In one sense, I was absolutely thrilled to match to a program that fit my personal and professional goals. There was much to be excited for. But in another sense, I knew in those first moments that there was far better news than even that. Outcome aside, I had arrived after a long journey with my values intact; that I knew the immense privilege it had been to even visit such outstanding programs; that the way I handled myself had mattered immensely; that in staying true to myself, I had finally found my match.

Joshua Liao, BA, BS, is an ACP Medical Student Member and current fourth-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. He will begin his internal medicine residency this July at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. His professional goals include care redesign and the promotion of patient safety across care settings.