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A Metaphor For Medicine: How I Matched My Life to My Shifted Medical Career

For those looking for direction in unprecedented times, allow for space to challenge the need to stay on one path.

It is a sign of what is ahead for newly minted doctors, and for me, a second chance to get my medical career in line with my purpose. For medical students across the country, the most special and anticipated day of their medical career to date, Match Day, was recently moved online.

Due to the global pandemic that is COVID-19, medical schools across the country from University of Florida to Harvard Medical School  cancelled  the celebration, shifting #MatchDay2020 to virtual announcements. This is the day when fourth year medical students find out from the National Resident Matching Program where they will be starting their residency training program and begin their doctoring journey come July.

Not every medical student gets what they want; some match into programs low on their list, some are geographically displaced, and some students, like me, get their top choice only to later realize they may have wanted something different all along.

For me, it was my day to find out where my second residency in medicine would lead me.

In the 2019 Main Residency Match, there were 38,736 active applicants for 35,185 total positions. Still, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the US will have a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032.  This year I am one of them again.

Four years ago, on my own first Match Day, I chose pediatrics as my subspecialty. I like working with children, appreciate their innocence, and enjoy educating parents. I thought it was what I was supposed to do.

But post-Match Day, two experiences significantly changed my world view as a physician. My father had what doctors initially thought was a stroke while on a business trip. Following weeks of seizures, psychosis, specialist consultations, and fear, he had a diagnosis: autoimmune encephalitis, or what some call “brain on fire.”

During my first night shift as a first-year physician, my father was post- op in the Intensive Care Unit, recovering from a brain biopsy. I was a brand-new doctor, not only to my patients, but also to my family’s nightmare.

During my final year of pediatrics residency, I became a mother. Caring for vulnerable patients for years at this point, I learned witnessing vulnerability and experiencing it are different.

Although I had counseled new mothers on postpartum depression during my training, I experienced it myself. Becoming a mother in residency was overwhelming and isolating. But for the first time in a long time, I had no choice but to allow myself to be vulnerable if I wanted to get better.

My own experiences shaped the doctor I would become.

Seeing how a family copes with an oncologic diagnosis, understanding the socioeconomic factors behind a type I diabetic’s medical management, or witnessing how challenging home environments impact a child’s outcomes informed my shift into psychiatry.

Becoming a psychiatrist made more sense to me than being a pediatrician. But the road map to completing medical training is strict in route; there are no detours, no time to change paths or forge your own. Changing my path would mean that I may have failed to make the right decision the first time. And admitting failure as a doctor is hard.

Although atypical for a physician to apply for a second residency after a first, I realized that by not forging my own path, the only person I fail is myself.

This week, I am matching into psychiatry and hope to pursue a career in maternal and caregiver mental health. To me, there was never any wasted time, mistakes, or failures – all of which are torturous in a physician’s vocabulary.

Matching to a different subspecialty this time around, I know I do not have all the answers and that life will continue to teach and challenge me in ways that I cannot expect.

For the medical students looking to Match Day for direction, this global pandemic was not a consideration at the start of their medical school education. It is possibly the first disruption of many in a long career of medicine.

Allowing for the space to grow and challenge the perception that it is necessary to stay on one path, with no detours or stops, can offer redirection and possibly, peace.

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