How Medical School Graduates Can Deal with the Stress of Waiting for a Residency Match

Taking care of your mental health is an important part of the residency matching process

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Medical residency match season is almost upon us. The applications are in, the interviews are done and all that’s left for thousands of medical graduates is the wait to hear whether they will begin the next step in their careers, or start the matching process all over again. In the weeks leading up to Match Day in March, applicants can experience everything from hope to panic. After years of sacrifice and hard work, waiting for the life changing announcement of Match Day is an incredibly stressful time. 

While weeks of waiting can seem unbearable, there are plenty of opportunities for applicants to deal with the stress and plan for what comes next.

Keep Your Composure

During the weeks leading up to Match Day, take specific steps to manage your anxiety. This means everything from positive thinking to speaking with a counselor.

If your stress is manageable from home, make sure to focus on taking care of yourself with meditation, exercise and indulging in hobbies you enjoy, like books and movies. Reach out and connect with people if you’re feeling alone during this process. Peers who have gone through, or are going through the matching process can be a huge resource to talk out your nerves and excitement.

If your anxiety is still at a high level, don’t shy away from talking with a professional. Not only will this give you an unbiased third party to express your fears to, they can provide personalized tactics to manage your stress until the big announcement.

Devise a Backup Plan

While no one wants to think about what would happen if they don’t get matched, the reality is it’s a true possibility. Due to the rising number of students in medical school and stagnant amount of residency programs available, not matching with a position is becoming more common among students across the world. In 2017, more than 4,000 U.S. and international students did not match with a residency program.

Instead of dwelling on the dread of not receiving a match, use these weeks to prepare your backup plan. As devastating as this news can be, not matching with a program does not mean you’ve reached the end of your medical career. It will be essential to keep up with clinical experience even if you did not match, so be prepared to look for a hands-on externship in a hospital setting, preferably in an ACGME Accredited Teaching Hospital. These opportunities allow you work with seasoned professionals, to build skills and demonstrate real world knowledge in the next application cycle.

You can also take this time to research organizations and programs that will help you manage the application process successfully in the next cycle. Consultancy programs like Residents Medical can enhance your candidacy, improve your CV with clinical experience and provide tutoring to improve USMLE Step scores.

Being prepared for the worst-case scenario can help you feel ready to tackle whatever challenges are thrown your way.

I Didn’t Get Matched to a Residency – Now What?

If, after weeks of managing your stress and anxiety, you do get the news that you were not matched with a program, take a moment to feel that pain – it can feel like the end of the world. You’ve already sacrificed so much time, money and dedication to make your dream come true. As devastating as that feeling be, this can also be an opportunity to demonstrate your resiliency. Once you’ve felt the pain, frame this is as another opportunity for growth.

If you’ve a developed a backup plan, now is the time to put it into action. Look at what skills you can improve on for your next application, whether that’s a lack of clinical experience or even poor interviewing skills. There is always room to revitalize your skills and revamp your application.

Understand that you will likely need to apply to even more programs in the next cycle, so it’s important to be prepared to take care of yourself. The road to becoming a physician is not an easy one, but with the right combination of stress management practices you can be ready, not just for Match Day, but the rest of your career.

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