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Learning to Accept my Position as an Unmatched Physician

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It doesn’t matter how many times I prepared myself for the moment. It doesn’t matter that I told all my friends and family to understand that there is a real possibility I might not receive the email that we were all hoping for. There was still a part of me, probably bigger than I realized at the time, that thought this would never happen to me. And then it did. I can’t find the words to describe what I felt when I opened my email to learn I did not match into dermatology residency. Partially because I went into shock, and partially because I think the feeling is beyond words. What I can describe, however, is how I felt and what I did in the months following finding out I was unmatched.

I’ve always been mostly an introvert. Whenever I faced stress or hardship, I preferred to do it alone. Not matching changed that for me. I’m writing this post today because the number one thing that got me through not matching was talking to other people who went through the same thing and reading their stories. So, if this helps even one person know that they’re not alone, it’s worth it.

After the initial shock and denial wore off, I went through periods where I wanted to talk to everyone, and periods where I needed to be alone. I deleted Instagram, TikTok, really any sort of social media where I could see others celebrating what I so wished I was celebrating. I ignored texts of people who had the best intentions asking me where I was heading. Simultaneously, I dove into reaching out to people who went through this too. I talked to SO many new people because everyone I spoke to gave me other contacts to connect with. I slowly realized I was far from alone - that this was unfortunately common and there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

By the time match day came around, I had to battle a different sort of feeling. On one hand, the day sounded absolutely dreadful to me and I wished I could skip March 17th entirely. On the other hand, however, I was so happy for my friends that were matching, and I wanted to celebrate them. I contemplated going to match day (for about one second), and then I decided I wouldn’t be able to handle it and frankly I didn’t want to go. And that was okay. Whatever you decide to do, it’s okay. Your friends understand, and you not participating in the day does not negate how excited and proud you are of them. Match day looks different for everyone, even the ones who matched. For me, I spent the time that I was supposed to be out celebrating match day watching livestreams of the Taylor Swift concert with one of my best friends. Looking back, it was exactly what I needed.

The final battle, which I’m still working through, is learning how to confidently tell people what happened and be proud of where I am. I started my final medical school rotation in April where every week I dreaded meeting a new team of residents and attendings who would ask where everyone matched. It didn’t help being surrounded by all students who were so excited to share where they were going. I practiced what I was going to answer and said the same thing to everyone who asked me. I quickly realized, that in the nicest way possible, no one really cared. It was like they had heard the same story before and it didn’t matter. I had fears that my seniors would think I wasn’t as knowledgeable or competent as my peers, but that was far from the case. They helped me realized that what happened to me does not negate all my accomplishments up to this point, and in no way comments on the kind if physician I will be. I used to think admitting I didn’t match was admitting failure. Now, I know view talking about it as showing resilience, confidence, and maturity. Talking about it not only helped me heal and move on, but it also helped me grow my network of connections and obtain advice. Not matching is a step in my journey, not the final destination. Match day isn’t the end goal that we’re conditioned to believe it is, it’s just one piece of a bigger picture.

I wound up matching to a preliminary medicine year, and plan to reapply this cycle. As I prepare to start intern year and dive back into the application cycle, I’m working through how to turn this into something positive. Whether it’s being a relatable mentor to medical students, or being a more compassionate physician, I’m ready to see where this journey takes me. Not matching happens more often than we’re told, and maybe the more we talk about it, the less painful it will be if it does happen. But whatever you do, be patient with yourself, and remember that however you choose to deal with what happened is the correct way.

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