Eruptions of Emotion: Reflections on Match Day

Liz Abernathey '15
uvmmedicine blogger Liz Abernathey ’15

March 21st. Match Day for the Class of 2014. It’s hard to believe another Match Day is upon us – and when I say “us,” I mean the Class of 2015. As the day draws nearer, I find myself reflecting a lot on the past several years of our medical education. Perhaps because Match Day is such a recognizable milestone, occurring on the third Thursday in March, it lends itself well to reflection. I can easily think back and remember what I was doing and how I was feeling around the time of the other two Match Days that I’ve been a part of since starting medical school.

For instance, as a first year, back in the spring of 2012, I was slogging through the long days of the basic sciences Foundations curriculum, with the freedom of summer vacation seeming impossibly far away. One’s first Match Day at the College of Medicine is an event to remember. I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd on the second floor of HSRF, where I could gaze down on the graduating class a floor below me, in Hoehl Gallery. The soft roar of the chattering crowd, the palpable energy humming in the air, the bubbles drifting downwards  from a bubble gun someone was firing off the fourth floor balcony –all of it awed me. I remember looking at the fourth year students and thinking that they seemed impossibly mature and confident, full of a vast expanse of knowledge that I had yet to obtain. To a first year student struggling with understanding the carnitine shuttle in our metabolism class, these students appeared to me almost as another species. Although I did not know them personally, the eruptions of emotion they released when opening their Match letters nevertheless moved me.

By the time the 2013 Match rolled around, one year later, I was a newly-minted clerkship student, on my very first rotation. I didn’t think much of Match Day that year because, frankly, I was too preoccupied with feeling somewhat overwhelmed on Baird 5, the inpatient pediatrics ward. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I didn’t really understand what my role was. Mostly, I just tried to do a good job on what I could, offered to help a lot and asked thoughtful questions, while trying not to create extra work for anybody. As it turns out, that was a pretty good model to follow for the rest of clerkship.

And now the 2014 Match will be taking place in just a few days. This Match feels different from the last two. I can think of two reasons why. First of all, I’ve always felt that each medical student class tends to bond the most deeply with the class above them. We look up to the students in the class above us. We respect them. They have the most relevant and timely advice, and most importantly, they feel accessible. As a first year, you often bump into second-years outside the lecture halls or in one of the small-group rooms, and through the numerous student activity groups. On the flip side, as a first year, it’s harder to mingle with older students, because they are off on the wards, doing clinical work.

In my first year, I remember seeking out advice from the second-years about how to learn in Cell and Molecular Biology, and how to come back from a disastrous first exam in Human Structure and Function, two of the early classes in Foundations. I remember taking heart from the Class of 2014 that the second year of Foundations would go more smoothly than the first. I remember asking many students from that class how to approach that dreaded and important obstacle in the medical education process: Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). I remember that when I freaked out, they consoled me, and cheered me on. And I remember that when I started clerkships, I turned, yet again, to them, asking them advice about how to function as a clerk, what resources I should be using to study along the way, how to survive night float on Surgery, and on and on. Pretty soon, these wonderful members of the Class of 2014 will know where they’re spending the next phase of their medical training, and it’s hard to believe they won’t be here with us at the College of Medicine.

The other reason why this coming Match Day feels different, at least to me, is because it is the last Match that will take place before the Match for the Class of 2015. After March 21st, there won’t be any more classes above us to buffer us from this scheduled date with the future. We will be next. This is an astonishing and slightly terrifying thought to contemplate. At the same time, I think back on all that we’ve learned, just in one short year as clerkship students, and I feel so much more prepared, comfortable and confident than I did when I began my first rotation 12 months ago. In the last year, we’ve had the honor and privilege of working with countless patients and their families. We’ve watched many of them get well, and we’ve cheered them on as they recover and grow stronger. We’ve been saddened when some of them don’t get better, and even depart this world. We’ve never stopped learning from them – and never will, in this incredible profession called medicine.

To my fellow classmates in the Class of 2015: Congratulations on finishing a long, difficult, but amazing year. To the Class of 2014: We will be rooting for all of you on March 21st. We are so excited for you and we can’t wait to find out where you’re headed on Match Day. And somebody remember to bring that bubble gun.

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