The days surrounding January 15th are of little calendar importance to the majority of physicians, but for ophthalmologists, mid-January will forever be remembered for the Ophthalmology Residency Match Day and the countless hours of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication represented by acceptance into an ophthalmology residency training program. Unlike the majority of medical students who find out where they will train in the middle of March surrounded by classmates, friends, and family in a dramatic and ceremonial celebration, medical students hoping to become ophthalmologists find out their match results in a much different fashion, but with an equal measure of anticipation, nervousness, and drama. In reality, the ophthalmology match day is a two-day event. On the morning before the official Match Day, applicants receive an email informing them they have matched and a few hours later medical school administrators are able to see the match results online. The following day applicants receive an official email with the match results, though that is mostly a formality, as these future ophthalmologists are already well-into their celebrations.
In an effort to describe the unique ophthalmology match day experiences of future ophthalmologists and to help future residents have some idea of what to expect, I recently sent a survey to ten residents, whose current and future residency programs are as varied as the medical schools from which they graduated. The survey simply asked how they learned of their match results and asked if they would be willing to share their experience here on eyesteve.com. The response to the survey was outstanding, and I hope you will enjoy some of the highlights as we remember our own Ophthalmology Residency Match Day.
All of the residents who completed the survey learned of their match results on the day before the official residency match day. Interestingly, all ten applicants received a phone call from their future program between the hours of 6 AM and 11 AM PST. Nine out of ten residents surveyed were called personally by the program director of their future residency program, and one was called initially by the program director at their #1 ranked program informing them that they “didn’t match there, but he told me he found out I had matched, though he wasn’t sure exactly where, but that he was really happy for me.” Fortunately, this future resident was welcomed to her future program a few hours later via a phone call from the ophthalmology director of her program’s VA Hospital. The majority of applicants surveyed received phone calls, emails, and/or text messages from current residents in the 2-3 days following Match Day.
The events surrounding the anticipatory phone call from their future residency program reflect the most entertaining, interesting, and unique aspect of Ophthalmology Residency Match Day. Before I go on, however, we must understand that the official NRMP Match Day used by 90% of medical specialties to announce match results is a nearly day-long event and is equally if not more important to medical students than graduation from medical school. Students are generally excused from all clinic and hospital duties for the entire day, and an announcement celebration occurs with the unveiling of match results either individually or as one moment of excitement when hundreds of students open their match day results simultaneously. Inasmuch as students know exactly what time they will find out their match results, the anticipation builds for that one moment. As the ophthalmology match (and a select few other specialties) occurs in mid-January, the Match Day’s activities are much like any other day. Beyond the anticipation of hopefully receiving a phone call at some point during the day, medical students don’t have any idea exactly when that phone call may arrive. Some students are at home in bed when their phone rings, others are seeing patients, and others still are interviewing for future internship positions, the results of which they will find out during the main NRMP Residency Match Day in March.
The events leading up to “the phone call” are unique, entertaining, and best said in the words of the residents themselves. Let’s highlight just a few. Please note that names have been changed to preserve survey anonymity.
Ryan knew he would be assisting in the operating room on the morning of the Ophthalmology Residency Match Day. Knowing that he would be “scrubbed in” for the surgical case and would be unable to answer his phone, he preemptively memorized the area codes of the twelve programs that he had ranked and “had given my phone to one of the operating room nurses with careful instructions to frequently check for incoming calls in anticipation of a congratulatory phone call from my future residency program. The call came in around 11 am and all the operating room nurse had to say was 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, friends, and of course, to return the call to my future residency program director.”
Two residents surveyed had scheduled internship interviews for Match Day.
Emily describes, “At about 4 AM 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 and hung up. Suspicious this could be related to the match, he Googled the area code to find out which of my potential programs it might be from. He hurriedly called me with the information and we talked about what this might mean for our future four years. As expected, about 15 minutes later, I received a phone call from that same area code who was in fact the program director at my future program. He congratulated me for matching with his program and wished me well. Bear in mind, that this whole conversation occurred at the hospital where I was interviewing and about 30 minutes before my interviews were scheduled to begin. Because of this, calls to family and friends had to be postponed until my interview day was over. I was also probably asked by every single interviewer that day where I had matched, and what that meant regarding my choice of internship program.” Another applicant, Jack, was also interviewing for an internship position on Match Day, coincidentally just minutes away from his future residency program. After receiving the phone call, he remembers, “After I matched I drove around the Eye Center again and spent some extra time around town. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve been happy at about my top 5-7 programs, and they were so varied in terms of geographic location, city size, weather, etc… I knew I was going to match at a program where I would be happy. A lot of the excitement for me was figuring out what city/town I would soon be calling home.”
Ben, on the other hand, was thousands of miles from home on Match Day and received his match results while taking Step 2 CK of the USMLE board exams! He recalls, “During my first break I saw that I had missed a call and had a voicemail from the program director welcoming me to the program. I called my wife, told her, and then ran back in to finish 6 or so hours of testing. Somehow I passed. I celebrated by taking an Excedrin and preparing for an internship interview the next day. I’m still surprised I passed Step 2!”
When Jake’s phone vibrated in his pocket with his future residency program director on the other line, he was in an emergency room simulation lab, and was “in the process of intubating a coding infant mannequin, so I had to wait a few minutes before I called back and got the official news– although the area code gave it away anyway. It was a little odd since I was there with several other med students from other campuses that I didn’t really know, but I shared the news with them and they were all appropriately congratulatory although it wasn’t really the raucous atmosphere of the main match day. We did have a planned ophtho interest group lunch event that day with a speaker scheduled. It was a good way to bring the other applicants together as well as share our program matches and interview experiences with other ophtho-bound students.”
All of the other residents surveyed were at home on the morning of Ophthalmology Residency Match Day, though only a few had more than a few minutes of sleep the night before the match.
Stephanie writes, “The night before Match Day was more anxiety-ridden than the night before Christmas as a kid. I could not sleep at all. Butterflies were flying in my stomach all night. I remember waking up (before my 6am alarm) at 5:55am completely on my own; it was as if my body instinctively knew what would be happening. I had my phone in my hands, in the darkness in my room, and 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. Would I be living on the East Coast or the West coast? The Midwest or the South? It was so stressful and exciting.” After hearing from her #1 program that she had NOT matched there, and then hearing a few hours later from her future residency program, she goes on to recount, “To be honest, I was slightly disappointed initially, which I think lasted about a week or so. I realized I would be moving very far away and going to a program I didn’t know that much about. I didn’t have an automatic PGY-1 spot at the ophtho program where I matched, so immediately I had to “pseudo-scramble” to apply to a few prelim and transitional programs in the town where I had matched. On Thursday of match week I flew out to the town where I would be doing my ophthalmology residency training 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 semi-stressful process. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be in the community where I’ll be living for the next 4 years. It is great to only have to move once and I’m making friends and building connections in this community of which I now consider home. I couldn’t be happier and things worked out great, despite being disappointed initially.”
Like Stephanie, I (Steve) didn’t sleep well the night before Match Day. From the journal of my wonderful wife and life biographer, “4:00 am, Tuesday January 15th, 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 coming to this very morning. 4:58… 4:59… 5:00 am, 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. The ophthalmology powers that be had said, ‘ok.. you’re in! No need to scramble after an unmatched spot with other frantic non-matchers, no need to try and figure out what to do for another year as we waited another attempt at applying’…we were in…somewhere. We had an hour or more to kill before the programs would receive their list of residents. Time moves so slowly when you are watching it. We had done all we could think of to distract ourselves. I had taken to pulling up news stories and videos to distract Steve and to waste a few more minutes. It was brutal. We knew that we would both know within seconds of the call coming in where we would be going, seeing how the iPhone caller ID always shows the location of the call underneath the number. So we watched the phone in waiting. It was only after we had decided to watch a Modern Family episode while we waited, that the phone finally began to buzz with the area code and the name of the city we would soon call home.”
Hannah and Jared, on the other hand, slept just fine the night before the match.
Hannah writes, “Even though I slept well, I was too nervous to check the SFmatch website myself so I gave the password to my dad the night before the match, and was told by my mother that he stayed up all night checking the site to see if I had matched. After receiving the email, I found out via a phone call at 7 am in the morning! Which means the PD and chief resident were awake at 6 AM and at the office to give us a ring. I was really touched at how they didn’t make us wait around to find out!”
Jared also slept well the night before the match. He writes, “I was really surprised at how confident I was with the match. For some reason I slept all night, didn’t really think I wasn’t going to match, and when my program director called I was already under the impression that I would be going to his institution. In retrospect, my confidence was probably misplaced. I read the match data published my SF Match after it happened and found that I am actually pretty lucky. I remember talking to some residents while I interviewed about their interviews, some told me that they were at their 9th or 10th choice. I got my 2nd choice and I have no idea how that happened!”
As you can see, Ophthalmology Residency Match Day is one of the most memorable days in the life of every ophthalmologist and their supportive friends and devoted family. Next time you see your ophthalmologist, be sure to ask what they remember about their Ophthalmology Residency Match Day experience. As you can see from the experiences of the ophthalmologists above, sit down, and get comfortable, because you are in for a good story.
If you feel comfortable sharing your Match Day experience with the rest of us, please leave a comment!