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Gearing Up for the ‘Match’ Process

Prospective and current medical school students wonder what it takes to make it through a competitive medical school program. What is required, not only to survive, but to excel. The Med School Minutes podcast met with Dr. Aqsaa Chaudhry, an alum of Saint James School of Medicine (SJSM), and Joe Torres, the Assistant Manager of Clinical Services at SJSM. Both of these individuals lend incredible insight into the Match process—and specifically the “Pre-Match jitters” felt by countless medical graduates while awaiting their Match results.

Mr. Torres recalls working with Dr. Chaudhry when she was a student. He assisted Dr. Chaudhry and her peers as they navigated the process. He confides that the match undertaking is much less stressful from the administrative side, and it’s incredibly exciting for many faculty and staff. “I would go as far as to say this: in our office, I think the match day or the match week is one of the best weeks…in the sense that, you know, we’re not necessarily in that much stress, but we all have students who we’ve dealt with, and we are all rooting for them. And when we hear the positive news…those phone calls … it is honestly one of the best feelings in the world.”

Making the Most of the Interview Phase

Dr. Chaudhry discussed the importance of keeping in contact with residency programs following the initial interview. She explains how it pays to stay in communication with them during the late December early waiting period. In communications with her preferred residency programs, Dr. Chaudhry would relay the steps she was taking to continue her education in the interim, such as attending conferences. This served to cement her interest in the program and establish why she was a good fit.

When the final interview session rolls around in January, preparation is most critical. Dr. Chaudhry urges applicants to do their research, prepare for those residency match interview questions, and do their best. She emphasizes that the match process keeps applicants so busy that they don’t have much time to stress or rehash how well they did or didn’t perform.

Looking at the Caribbean medical school residency match rate—specifically, the Saint James School of Medicine residency match rate, Mr. Torres elaborates on the track record for SJSM students. “You know, I think overall, [in the] last three years, we’ve had outstanding match classes. You know—better and better every year. Eighty-three, last year, being the best ever. We all talk about that. How well we did last year. And overall, my experience is that every year things get better. We learn, every year, something new about this process, and it helps us perfect our(approach).”

The Need to Prioritize Self-Care

Students wonder how to deal with stress in the post-interview period prior to Match Day. Both Mr. Torres and Dr. Chaudhry agreed that, throughout the process, self-care, wellness, and mental health should remain a top priority. Applicants should consider stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, journaling, hands-on artistic projects—anything that alleviates the anxiety inherent in the matching process. Mr. Torres comments that residency applicants can rely on the best practices shared by students who have come before them. He also reminds them that the USMLE counselors are always available to lend an ear.

The time between residency interviews and Match Day often only allows for a small break before individuals are placed back into the grind. After Match Day, life for new doctors tends to become a lot more manageable. This is the time when many graduates tend to take a break, go on vacation, and give themselves a moment to reflect and regroup after the exertion of the past several years.

What Happens if You Don’t Match Into a Residency?

If a student did not match for residency—what’s next for them? Mr. Torres stated: “I would say, don’t give up. You made it this far in life. In medicine, you’ve gone through all the hurdles. There’s no reason to not keep going.  Like, give yourself the space to mentally cope. It is a very jarring situation to be in and it is absolutely ok to take the time to breathe and just step back and refocus.”

Mr. Torres recommends that students look at the options in front of them. “You became a Medical Doctor,  and you completed everything that was needed. Now would be the time to go back and think about some of the opportunities you had, but didn’t have time to focus on, such as doing a research fellowship.”

It pays to stay motivated and stay focused. Mr. Torres remarks, “I always tell students: the best thing you can do is just keep yourself busy. Stay active in a positive and productive way. Never forget that your school is there to help you prepare for next year’s MATCH.”

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