Saturday, March 21, 2009

Match Day!

Now that the whirlwind of celebration has started to die down, I can sit down to write about this pivotal day... and the events that brought me to this place.

Since I was about 15 years old, I knew I was going to be an OB/GYN. Growing up in a traditional household of an immigrant family, nobody talked about the body below the belt, let alone all the trouble it could get you into. By the time I reached the hormonal sea of adolescence, I had many more questions than I had answers. Suffice it to say, my teenage friends and I learned about our bodies and our sexuality the hard way, through trial and error. While, by the grace of god, we never got ourselves into too much trouble, I loathed this feeling of unfamiliarity with the most intimate aspects of my body. It was like I had been carrying around this mysterious set of equipment for which I had no instruction manual (unless you count Seventeen magazine) . By the time I reached a place where my vagina and I were friends, I knew two things: I wanted to work with young women my age and I wanted to make sure they were educated about their bodies in a way I never was.

Fast forward to the present: I am in the tail end of medical school (3.5 months until graduation!). I've got a masters in public health under my belt. I've spent countless hours working with homeless and at-risk youth. I'm proud of my work thus far. But until now, all of it has been just another step in getting me closer to my goal of being the grassroots, pro-active physician and reproductive health advocate I've always dreamed of. And I'm not quite there. Yet.

Fast forward to Match Week: So, Match Week is the most important day in every medical student's career and for me this was no exception. This is the day in which the student learns (a) if s/he was accepted into a training program in the field of his/her choice and (b) where she will be pursuing this training. Now any program in the United States will give you the same set of skills to be good doctor. But some programs go above and beyond to train their physicians to both provide good patient care and become real leaders in the health care field. Within OB/GYN residency programs, this can be manifested by a program's emphasis on research, availability of mentors, opportunities to practice abroad, or inclusion of family planning training. As I am sure is glaringly obvious from what you've read so far, this was important to me.

Of course, nothing in life is easy, and getting the residency program of your choice is no exception. For me, this process complicated by the fact I am going through the match as part of a couple. The "Couple's Match", as it is commonly referred to, is when two people link their applications together in the hopes of matching into a program in the same place. To make this even more difficult, my handsome fiancé decided to pursue one of the most competitive specialties in medicine: Orthopaedic Surgery. Every year, about 900 medical students apply for about 700 spots. That leaves 200 medical students unmatched each year, without any residency to go to after graduation. So to make the couple's match work for us, he had to secure one of those coveted spots in the same place that I did. No pressure, right?

Finally Match Day had come. And man, were we nervous. As I usually do when I'm nervous, I put on my best dress, did my hair, and slapped on some make-up. I reason that if I look good, I will feel good, and all this goodness will somehow translate into good news when I open that envelope. (Makes no sense, but desperate times call for desperate measures!) The boy and I drive up to campus. When we enter the ballroom, the room is permeated with nervous energy. Classmates are chatting incessantly, as if the more they socialize, the longer this moment will be postponed. The dean calls everyone to their seats. He speaks for about 10 minutes but I don't hear a single word. I breathe deeply in and out to calm my rapidly beating heart. Finally, he releases us outside to the wall of envelopes. My fiancé and I make our way to the beginning of the alphabet and take down the envelopes bearing our name. Our futures lie inside these little packages. Not knowing if the news they contain will be good or bad, we find a tiny little corner away from all the commotion. The cheers of relief, joy, and congratulations have already started behind us. I begin to tear at my envelope and realize I can't do it. I don't know if I can bear seeing our 10th or 12th choice on the page. "You go first." I say to him. He rips open the envelope. As he unfolds the paper inside, I meticulously monitor his face for any sign of emotion. He reads the letter.

"We did it! We got our number one!" He screams. The next thing I know, he is jumping up and down hugging me in happiness. I open my own envelope to confirm that my letter says the same. It does. Now I am jumping up and down as well, half laughing, half crying, part screaming. We run to join the rest of our class in celebration. He's right. We really did it.

I'm a happy girl right now. I am going to train at a place that will allow me to be the kind of physician I've always dreamed of. And I am taking the love of my life with me. Of course, as any Type A personality will tell you, now that we know where we are going, I'm already thinking about the next step. Cross-country moving plans, possible home-buying, wedding planning, pre-residency vacation planning...

I say bring it on.

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