Saturday, March 23, 2019

Match Week 2019: Part Two

So incredibly blessed to have this amazing woman in my life!
Now that I've explained the SOAP process and gotten all the negativity out the way in Part One , I will use this post to focus on the good that came out of Match Week :)

If you've been following me for a while, then you already know that my biggest inspiration and mentor in surgery is Dr. Velma Scantlebury, the first black female transplant surgeon in the United States. I am extremely blessed to have her as a friend, and last week she showed me the importance of having people in your corner who not only support, but encourage and uplift you.

Despite how open I appear on this blog, I'm actually pretty reserved emotionally and tend to not reach out to anyone when I'm upset or going through things. I've also been told that it's pretty hard for people to read me especially when I always appear to be happy and smiling. Last week was no different, as I continued to carry a smile, and didn't let people know that I was going through the SOAP process unless they specifically reached out and asked. Dr. Scantlebury was one of the very few people I reached out to regarding my lack of matching, and I was happy I did.

Not only did she offer words of encouragement from the very start, but while she was in town for a speaking engagement on Thursday of match week, she took time out of her very busy schedule , waited for me to get off work, and came to see me. She treated me to an awesome dinner (complete with an unexpected live band), and we prayed together, discussed strategies for continuing in surgery, and she was honest and straight up with me about the tough road ahead. It was comforting to talk with someone who had gone through the process (you can read more about her story in her new BOOK, which I will do a separate post on at a later time), and it was nice not being alone to deal with my sadness that evening. I left with a true smile and was even more inspired to accomplish my goals.

Best daughter ever!!!!
The absolute best part of last week was getting to see my daughter! I hadn't had a full two-day weekend off since I took my vacation week at the end of January, and I was missing her and my other loved ones. I had a late flight booked for Friday evening, but due to a delay, I had to pick an earlier flight. I wasn't upset about this at all though because I was able to leave work early, and the three hour delay in Atlanta before my connecting flight meant that I got to have dinner with my amazing guy! It was a great start to the weekend, indeed :)

Seeing my daughter's smiling face made all the stresses of that week go away, and even though we literally video chat every day, she had plenty to catch me up on. Spending time with her and my family was much needed, and as always, there were lots of laughs and good times. I even got to have brunch and celebrate St. Patrick's Day with my family since I booked a late flight back to Philly, and miraculously my flight made it back to Philly on time! I was pushing it with a flight that arrived at 1am, when I had to be at work for 530am, but I made it and was sooo happy I wasn't on call that day because I was super tired!

St. Patrick's Day 2019 - Finally got to celebrate a holiday with the little one
Okay, Back to the Match. What's the Plan??

While the weekend was great, I still had to come back to Philly and deal with the reality of not matching. To be honest, I'm not as upset about not matching at this point, because I'm blessed to be in a position where I have options. My current plan is to continue to look for and apply for preliminary general surgery positions as they become available AND network my butt off. If that doesn't work, then I plan to work, do research, and apply again for a spot next year. The crazy thing that they don't tell you in medical school is that after completing a PGY1 year and passing all three board licensing exams (check!), you are eligible for a full unrestricted medical license in most states. What this means is I could have a career as a general practitioner or I could essentially moonlight the entire year as a physician at different hospitals, urgent care centers, etc., and make quite a bit of money while doing research and other things to strengthen my application. Most places pay around $80-150/hour for a 12 hour shift, and while residents will typically moonlight during their non working hours, I could dedicate a regular work week to just moonlighting. I know a few people who have done this and pulled in six figures, so it's a huge relief to have this as an option. With a daughter who I send money to every month to cover her many expenses and student loan payments, this is a much needed back up plan. Unfortunately, it won't allow me to be in the OR, it would be rough going back to a resident's salary after making money, and I would still be limited at some hospitals due to not having board certification, so it's just that - a backup plan.

Outside of the above, I honestly don't have a full solid plan in place at this point, and it looks like I will be spending yet another year of my life in limbo. What I do know, is I still love surgery and I would hate myself if I didn't try again. And oddly enough, I continue to feel nothing but calmness and I still have the faith that everything will work out the way it should be. I also can't complain when there are thousands of medical students out there currently unmatched who don't have the same options as myself. Those are the people who my heart hurts for and who I hope are able to secure residency spots in the coming months. I'm already blessed to be working, getting the chance to operate almost every day, and living my dream as a physician, so I really can't complain. I'm just going to keep pushing and be mindful that if this road were easy, every one would be doing it.

That pretty much sums up my Match Week 2019, and I am ending this post with a huge thank you to all those who reached out to me over the past two weeks. I really appreciate the social media DMs and emails from friends and even complete strangers reaching out just to say that they were thinking of me and hoping the match went well. I honestly didn't even think anyone would remember that I was still going through the process, so it really meant a lot to me. Hopefully I'll be able to share great news with everyone soon, but for now just know that I'm going to continue to keep grinding and pushing for my goals, and this smile isn't going anywhere :)

Match Week 2019: Part One

Last year's email since I didn't receive one this year

If you've been following my blog for a while, then you already know I did not initially match into a categorical residency position last year. Instead after a day spent going through the AOA Scramble (click HERE for the original post), I ended up signing a one-year contract for a general surgery based Traditional Rotating Internship with the intent to re-apply for a categorical surgery position and hopefully match this year. Welp, the 2019 Match is officially over, and even after going through the NRMP SOAP process, I remain unmatched. This post is not meant to be a sympathy or sob story though, but rather a recap of my Match Week experience. Afterwards, I will follow up with a post on why I continue to feel blessed and remain positive despite any odds that appear to be stacked against me.

The Start of Match Week

Going into that Monday, I actually knew that I would not be matching this year. The interviews I received were from programs not participating in the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) match, and the final program I interviewed at called me three days before the match to let me know that they would not be offering me a position. While I was initially upset at the news, I was also extremely thankful to have been given a heads up so I could prepare for a rough week ahead.

Unfortunately, since I am a resident, I could not take off work during match week to go through the process. I came to work Monday morning around 530am, rounded, wrote notes, and while I let my senior resident know that I would need time to make calls, I was still tasked with covering a case in the OR that morning. Fortunately, it was an enjoyable case that only took two hours (I love a good mastectomy), and I was back in my call room in time to log into the NRMP system and obtain the list of unfilled programs so that I could submit my applications before the programs could start reviewing them.

The SOAP Process

I was definitely not prepared for how different the entire SOAP process was from the DO match! For one, I NEVER received the "You did not match" email, which I thought was completely odd. Fortunately, I knew which website to log into because I received the email last year when I unranked all my ACGME programs after signing my TRI contract, but I thought it was extremely weird that it never came. Also, during the DO scramble, the list of unfilled programs is released at 10am, and you can directly start calling programs at 12pm. In the NRMP match, you are not allowed to have any contact with programs outside of submitting your application through Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) and then waiting on them to contact you. You simply are given an allotment of 45 programs to apply to and you go on to submit your application the same way you would when applying normally. Afterwards, programs are allowed to call and do phone interviews and the first round of offers occur at 12pm the next day, followed by a second round 2 hours later and a third round the following day. The SOAP then ends on Thursday at 12pm, and applicants can contact programs directly in a similar fashion as the DO scramble, or if you're one of the lucky ones, you have a known spot secured just in time for Friday Match Day celebrations.


The entire SOAP process this year did not follow the typical schedule at all! Even worse, there were absolutely no categorical general surgery positions listed, which meant that the best case scenario for anyone interested in surgery going through the SOAP this year would be matching into a one-year preliminary general surgery position. Starting from the beginning, when submitting applications on Monday, it took what seemed like forever just to submit one application. Apparently, this was the case for many people, and ERAS ended up extending the time for applicants to submit materials before program directors could access the applications. Unfortunately, the system still continued to experience issues and was shut down completely later that evening. The next day, there were even more issues especially with programs not being able to access applications, so ERAS was shut down once again. It was completely nerve-wrecking waiting for phone calls (especially while being scrubbed into cases) only to find out at the end of the day that none would be coming. The technical difficulties also caused ERAS to take away one of the SOAP rounds and gave programs less time than usual to review applications before submitting offers. It was a pain for everyone involved.

When the final round concluded on Thursday, I had not received any interviews or offers, and all I could do was wait for 3pm to occur (that's when they released the list of unfilled programs) so I could start cold-calling programs around the country. Unfortunately, many of the places I called either did not pick up the phone, had a busy signal, or had already filled their empty spots. I also sent emails to many programs, and did not receive responses. I think this is when the reality set in that I was officially unmatched. I can't quite describe what my feelings were at this point, but if I had to put words to it, I would say it was a mix of feeling rejected, sad, angry, numb, and relieved all at once. I was sad being at work around the surgery residents and attendings who don't have to worry about their surgery dreams disappearing, angry at what I felt at the moment had been a waste of a year, numb to the pain because I was at work and needed to focus on my patients instead of my own feelings, and I was relieved that the SOAP process was over.

Fortunately, the negative feelings didn't last long, and I ended the week with plenty of reasons to feel happy and blessed. I figured it would be better to separate the negative from the positive, so part two of this post will highlight some of the reasons for my positivity, and I'll also be sure to give further insight into the next steps on my journey...

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