Tamara, Fourth Year Medical StudentThe blank page stared at me, mocking me.  ‘To apply for residency, you much write a personal statement describing why you are pursuing your specialty of choice.’  A personal statement, a statement of a person, person’s state, hmmmmmmm….

The page was still blank a few hours later, and I started to get frustrated.  How was this so difficult?  I have devoted the last 3 years of my life to the equivalent of nerdy boot camp.  I’ve studied through holidays, missed time with my family, turned down dates, worked through all previously known limits of exhaustion, sustained chronic sleep deprivation, all for this goal of ‘becoming a doctor.’  Despite my utter confidence that I have chosen the right career, and have found the perfect specialty, writing my personal statement was a gut-cringing, nail-pulling experience.  Thank God, it is finally done.  Although the personal statement was difficult, it confirmed one large, glorious fact – I am a fourth year medical student.

I am a fourth year medical student.  I have survived the academic fires of first year.  I have conquered Step 1.  I have navigated the clinical year of screaming children, raging alcoholics, angry attendings, and hours upon hours of retracting in the OR.

I am a fourth year medical student, hardened by battle, and I have one final challenge to overcome.  My nemesis? ERAS.

ERAS stands for Electronic Residency Application Service.  RESIDENCY. INTERVIEW SEASON. THE MATCH. All words guaranteed to strike a chord of dissonance, excitement, and occasional stab of fear in my peers and myself.  Why is ‘the match’ such a big deal? Well, my dear reader, all newly-minted physicians must go through at least one year of training in residency in order to practice medicine.  Despite four years of effort for the title of Doctor, if you are not ‘matched’ to a residency, you’ll never work as a doctor.

What is ‘the match?’  The match is order imposed on chaos.  Every year around this time, fourth year medical students begin submitting applications to residencies.  These applications include our academic achievements, our extracurricular activities, and an essay describing why we long to be a specialist in __________ (Ortho, Psych, Emergency, etc.).  After reviewing this brief synopsis of our past 3.5 years, residency programs extend interview invitations.  Interview season is approximately from November to January.  In February, medical students and residency programs submit a ‘rank list’ of their choices in order of desirability.  A computer program matches up medical students and programs that made each other’s lists.  In the third week of March, every fourth year med student, who successfully matched, receives a letter telling them where they will be spending their next phase of training.  There is no negotiating, there is no changing, do not pass GO or collect $200.  You get the letter, and that is it.

No pressure, right?

Despite all of this, my primary emotion about this process is excitement.  It is immensely satisfying to be on the brink of residency.  I suppose my innate optimism is at work, but I think getting the chance to travel the country, meet new people, and check out different training sites will make for a super fun year.  And, I have a FANTASTIC interview suit ;).

Match season? Bring it on!!!