By Hannah McKay
Moving on from medical school to residency can be an exciting time, but the numerous interviews, anxiety about whether or not your spouse will match, and all the endless decisions you have to make together can also make it a very stressful time. For my husband and I, one of the biggest challenges of his last year of medical school was trying to figure out how to rank all the options for where to match for residency. Like many others who have gone before us, we spent many long nights asking each other questions and trying to figure out our true feelings. Should we rank our list based purely on where we both want to live or should we try to match to the best program, regardless of the location? Is living close to family or friends more important or does the reputation of the program take priority? And how can we guarantee that the place we match will have good Mexican food??
With all these factors to consider, creating our rank list was tricky, but there were a few things that helped us feel more confident in the order of our rank list and allowed us to make sure both of our opinions were being considered. Here are a few tips you may find useful to help you and your spouse create your match rank list.
1. Ask your spouse to write down details about their interviews
After going on so many interviews, facts and details can start to blend together, so it can be helpful for your spouse to start a pro con list about everything they can remember about their visit to a program. Some important things to consider are how organized they felt the program was, whether or not they felt they fit in with the other residents in their chosen specialty, and the overall vibe they felt from the hospital and the city. If you were able to accompany your spouse on any of the interviews, it can be helpful for you to write down your impressions as well. That way, when it comes to time to sit down and create the rank list, you can both use these notes to compare and contrast residency options without struggling to remember each interview.
My husband also found it helpful to use the app The Match PRISM that was created by the official resident matching program. The app allowed him to quickly give numerical scores of certain aspects of each program right after each of his interviews.
2. Make a spreadsheet
This may seem like a lot of work, but creating a numeric system to rank your priorities can actually help you to take a step back and figure out what is most important to you. By using a spreadsheet you can rank each program within different categories and assign that category a numeric value so that all the categories can add up to a final list. You can choose categories such as program reputation, how your spouse liked the program, location, proximity to family, etc. Having everything in categories can help you figure out which things you might have to sacrifice and help you discover what elements are most important to you.
This is a quick look of a spreadsheet I created while my husband was applying for residency. As you can see, we had a little bit of fun making it and specifically tailored it according to our priorities. Having everything laid out numerically was more helpful than I anticipated because both my husband and I would find ourselves changing some of the scores to make a program get higher on the list…which helped us realize that we cared more about that program than we thought. Additionally, having the programs ranked based on a combined score of the things we cared about helped us feel more confident about the order of our final list — numbers don’t lie! If you’d like to make your own version of this spreadsheet to create your own categories and make your rank list, you can click here to download a template of the Excel spreadsheet.
3. Don’t worry about how programs may rank you
A lot of programs your spouse may be interviewing with will be doing their best to make their program seem as alluring as possible, which can be a good thing, but also a dangerous thing if you aren’t careful. Some programs may try to give your spouse the impression that they are their top choice, when they are actually telling the same thing to all their applicants in order to help the reputation of their program. While it’s true that some programs really may favor your spouse above other applicants, it’s impossible to know for sure, so the best way to make sure you get the best match is to rank based on your true preference, not based on which program you think will rank your spouse the highest. The match process is a mathematical formula that is designed to provide the best fit, so if everyone simply trusts in the process and creates their rank list based on their true preferences, the system can help everyone to find their best fit for training.
4. Reach out to other people in A location or specialty
If you or your spouse are feeling torn between several different programs, sometimes it can help to reach out to people who are already in the program, and if possible, their spouses. Even though your spouse may have already met some residents, most residents don’t mind getting asked follow up questions about how they like the program and where they live. Getting an insider’s perspective can sometimes help you learn things you otherwise wouldn’t have known and can help you feel more confident in your ranking decisions. You can also find many AMA Alliance groups across the country that can help you find someone to speak to.
5. Remember that you will be ok, no matter where you match
Probably the most important part of preparing a match rank list is to prepare yourself to be ok with going wherever you match. The match process is a really great way to help ensure that a lot of medical students get into a residency program, but it’s also not very flexible. Especially if you are giving up a job or sacrificing your dream school in order to support your spouse or significant other, try to remember that it’s not your spouse that is demanding those sacrifices, but the nature of having a job in the medical field. By preparing yourself to go anywhere on your list and keeping focused on the positive aspects about each area, you and your spouse can have a better match experience and be better prepared for the challenges of residency. Even though you may end up somewhere you may not have expected, you never know what possibilities or opportunities may be in store for you.