I breathed a sigh of relief as I turned off my camera for a much-needed break.
Sitting back, I glanced between the pile of clutter I had carefully positioned out of sight behind my computer and the intentionally crafted background staged behind me: a plant to demonstrate my care in cultivating life, a bookcase and an art print to fill space and showcase my humanistic side. All were genuine attributes, but exhibiting them in this manufactured way gave me pause.
This process of virtual residency interviews felt like a marketplace. Visible as simply a face in a box, I was peppered with questions. I answered with carefully crafted responses aiming to sound spontaneous but polished. I was both the salesperson and the goods to be sold. I spoke the truth and also allowed my curriculum vitae to speak for itself. So why did I feel like the newest commodity sitting on the shelf, hoping to appeal enough to land a spot in someone’s shopping cart? I worried that once the luster of my advertised self gave way to the realities of residency I would not measure up to the expectations I had set.
As I completed my residency interviews, I recognized that we are hard pressed to find a better way to match burgeoning physicians with training programs searching for their next class of interns. Yet I also knew that neither I nor any other applicant could fit into a preconceived box or several sentence summary. I could not simply market myself as a humanist or an artist, or an activist or a researcher.
A polished “tell me about yourself” reveals some of your truth, but it does not tell it all. It cannot describe the resiliency needed to push myself out of bed on a dark, cold morning to arrive at the hospital at 5 a.m. for a 24-hour shift. It will not adequately explain the seemingly banal conversations had with my 90-year-old patient about his hobbies that somehow gave meaning to my day. It fails to encompass the feelings of anxiety, sadness, pride and laughter that can all occur over the course of one day at the hospital. The stresses, tears, bitterness and, at times, pure joy cannot be described in the bill of goods I sell myself as. This path through medical school has shaped me in indescribable ways, irrevocably molding me into the applicant sitting before my glowing computer screen. To boil down the complexity of the person I have become over the past four years to a streamlined description that fits in a 20-minute interview would be impossible.
I found comfort in knowing that there are also intangible goods that residency programs cannot easily advertise. Wherever I end up, there will be countless moments that cannot be articulated in a virtual slideshow: the comforting words of a senior resident after an arduous day, the secret hallway nooks offering a sanctuary for tears, the familiar cafeteria employee who graciously doles out an extra serving, the wise guidance of a mentor.
Like my medical school experiences, these small touchpoints will continue to mold me. They will perhaps shape me even more than the call schedule or the research opportunities that are highlighted so frequently on the interview trail. There are many incommunicable traits that we must try to discern during this ritualistic dance of programs and applicants. Between the pleasantries and polite questions and answers there lies the intangible, the truth of a community and whether or not it will serve as fertile ground for a resident to thrive. I hope that the hospital walls and the people within them will nurture me as I take my first steps as a physician. I aspire to have an impact on my future residency program as well, improving it within those same walls. I pray my patients and mentors will remember me as a young physician who cared about their wellbeing and personhood while she was navigating the bewildering yet beautiful road of medical training.
As March has come and gone, the confetti has been swept away and the proudly personalized Match signs have been cast into numerous trash cans across the country. We opened that fateful white envelope to suddenly forget the hypothetical futures we might have had in favor of the one handed to us in a neatly folded document. Some of these futures were met with leaps of joy, others with shock and confusion. Each one was a match made with faith placed in the untold wisdom of providence. I reflect on the process as a whole including the limited agency I had and the trust I was forced to place in the unknown. These programs took a leap of faith on me as much as I did on them, not solely based on the qualifications seen, but on the potential perceived. In retrospect, I ponder if there is no perfect match. In the aftermath of goods advertised and sold, each program and its new trainees now must settle into their fresh reality. Rather than fitting together like puzzle pieces, they will grow like vines learning to meet the needs of each other as the annual ritual of the Match repeats.