• Match Day: Inside Ophthalmologists’ Unique, Often Wee Hours Experience

    Mid-January might hold little calendar importance for most physicians, but for ophthalmologists, it will forever be remembered for the Ophthalmology Residency Match Day and the countless hours of hard work, sacrifice and dedication it represents. Unlike the majority of medical students, who find out where they will train in a singular dramatic celebration surrounded by classmates, friends and family, our match experience is a much different affair — but one with an equal measure of anticipation, nervousness and drama.

    To capture future ophthalmologists’ unique Match Day experiences and help future residents have some idea of what to expect, I surveyed 10 residents about how they learned of their match results. The group’s current and future residency programs are as varied as the medical schools from which they graduated.

    A Little Background

    In ophthalmology, Match Day begins at 4 a.m. PST. That morning, applicants and medical school deans’ offices get an email informing them of applicants’ matched or not-matched status. A few hours later, medical school administrators can view applicants’ match locations online. Program directors or chairs will often contact their new class members via phone or email. The following day, applicants can log onto the SF Match website to see the official written notification of their match location. By this time, these future ophthalmologists are already well into their celebrations.

    All 10 of the residents who completed my survey got a phone call from their future programs between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. PST. Nine out of 10 were called personally by their future program director. A majority also received phone calls, emails and/or text messages from current residents in the two to three days following Match Day.

    The following accounts reflect the most entertaining, interesting and unique aspect of Match Day.

    Ryan — In the Midst of Surgery

    Ryan was assisting in the operating room on the morning of Match Day. Knowing that he would be “scrubbed in” for surgery and unable to answer his phone, he preemptively memorized the area codes of the 12 programs he had ranked. He then gave his phone to one of the operating room nurses with careful instructions to check for incoming calls.

    “The call came in around 11 a.m.,” he wrote in an email. “The operating room nurse had only to say the area code of the incoming call, and I had my answer. Everyone took pause to congratulate me, and I was quickly replaced by another resident and given the remainder of the day off to share the exciting news with my family and friends and, of course, to return the call to my future residency program director.”

    Emily — During an Internship Interview

    “At about 4 a.m. PST, my husband received a call on our home phone from an unidentified number. The caller asked if I was home — which I wasn’t — so my husband gave him my cell phone number. Suspicious that this could be related to my match, he Googled the area code to find out which of my potential programs it might be. He hurriedly called me with the information.

    “As expected, about 15 minutes later, I received a phone call from that same area code from my future program director. He congratulated me for matching with his program and wished me well. Bear in mind, this whole conversation occurred at the hospital where I was interviewing. Because of this, calls to family and friends had to be postponed until my interview day was over.

    “I was probably asked by every interviewer that day where I had matched and what that meant regarding my choice of internship program!”

    Stephanie — Up All Night

    “The night before Match Day was more anxiety ridden than the night before Christmas as a kid. I remember waking up at 5:55 a.m. without an alarm, as if my body instinctively knew what would be happening. I had my phone in my hands, and in the darkness of the room, I heard the “zoom” sound on my iPhone, indicating that I had a new email. It was from the San Francisco Match, informing me that I indeed would be an ophthalmologist. I was so excited I could barely sleep, thinking about all the potentials.”

    Soon after, however, she learned that she had not matched at her top program. “To be honest, I was slightly disappointed initially. I realized I would be moving far away and going to a program I didn’t know much about. “I also didn’t have an automatic PGY-1 spot at the ophtho program where I matched, so immediately I had to scramble to apply to a few programs in the town where I was heading.”

    Her outlook improved after an on-site visit, however. “During match week, I flew out and interviewed at four programs in the area. My program was extremely supportive and helpful at communicating with the PGY-1 prelim/transitional programs in town and helped me through that stressful process. Now, I couldn’t be happier!”

    My Own Experience

    Like Stephanie, I didn’t sleep well the night before Match Day. Here’s a clip from my wife’s journal: “4:00 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 15, and I roll over to find Steve, phone in hand, wide awake playing Words with Friends. Apparently, he had been that way for about three hours, unable to sleep with the anticipation of three and a half years of medical school all culminating in this very morning. 4:58 a.m. … 4:59 a.m. … 5:00 a.m. Steve grabbed his computer and opened up his email: ‘We are pleased to announce that you have matched in the 2013 Ophthalmology Residency Match.’ Every ounce of Steve let out a sense of relief. We had matched. We had no idea where we were going, but for a few brief moments, that fact paled in comparison to the reassurance that we had matched. We still had an hour or more to kill though before the programs would receive their list of residents. We had done all we could think of to distract ourselves. So, we watched the phone in waiting. It was only after we had decided to watch an episode of Modern Family that the cell phone finally began to buzz — displaying the area code and city we would soon call home.”

    As we can all see from these recollections, Ophthalmology Residency Match Day is one of the most memorable days in the life of every ophthalmologist and their friends and family. Next time you see an ophthalmology resident, be sure to ask what they remember about their Match Day experience. And remember to sit down and get comfortable, because you are in for a good story.

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    About the author: This story has been adapted from the original post that appeared on the blog of Steven M. Christiansen, MD. Dr. Christiansen is currently a PGY-1 transitional resident at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind. Later this year, he will begin residency at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.