What were you doing on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, at 9 p.m. EST? Were you taking a bath? Were you having a meal? Most people were probably watching their favorite television show, having quality time with their families or reflecting on the day’s happenings. However, about 20,000 medical students and medical graduates in the United States collectively held their breath at 9 p.m. EST. They had just submitted their official rank lists for the 2015 residency match through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).
If you have a family member, friend or acquaintance in the medical profession, you may already be familiar with “the Match.” The NRMP Match is a service that allows medical students and residency programs to submit preferences for each other through an application process. The service then runs a computer algorithm taking seconds to pair up medical students with their highest preferred, most closely ranked residency program. To the general population, the Match may seem strange, complicated or irrelevant. But for applicants, the Match is arguably the most important event of our medical careers.
It has been a very long and humbling experience to get to this point in my life. I can recall the specific moment at the age of 14 when I decided I wanted to become a doctor. It always felt like it was something I needed to do. Though many people discouraged me, the closest people in my life, including my parents and brother, were extremely supportive and helped me move forward.
I graduated from Townsend Harris High School in Queens, N.Y. and moved to Binghamton, N.Y., to finish my bachelor’s degree at Binghamton University. There I was fortunate to join the student run volunteer ambulance service, Harpur’s Ferry SVAS. While volunteering as an EMT, I met some of the most amazing and selfless individuals I have ever come across. There were countless volunteer firefighters, paramedics and police officers. Many of them had second and third jobs to pay bills, but worked tirelessly and without recognition to care for the people of the region, and to educate me. Working alongside these people opened my eyes to the harsh realities that exist in America today, especially in smaller towns, where socioeconomic issues and healthcare disparities are pervasive. Several individuals I am especially grateful to include John Dancesia, who was my AEMT-Critical Care course instructor, and Thomas Smith, a former marine who is now an excellent paramedic instructor and life coach. One of my favorite memories is driving down US Route 17 in New York after we got canceled from an EMS call. John Dancesia and his partner Nate Smith taught me how to fist pump to the then popular “Hey Baby (Drop It To The Floor)” by Pitbull and T-Pain. They joked with me about the difficult path ahead of me, but encouraged me and motivated me onward.
It was in the squad room of Broome Volunteer Emergency Squad, on the morning of March 18, 2011, that I received my acceptance email from Temple University School of Medicine. You cannot imagine the joy that filled my heart at reading the first sentence in that email.
“On behalf of the Admissions Committee, we are pleased to welcome you to the Class of 2015 at Temple University School of Medicine.”
I could not possibly describe in words what it has felt like to get through medical school and get to this stage in my life.
The journey to Match Day has been an arduous process, full of sacrifice, challenges and hardships. So many important things have happened over the past four years. I lost my grandfather to advanced lung cancer, which was especially difficult because he was one of my biggest heroes in life. I reconnected with my high school sweetheart, Annie, who is now my fiancée. She is the most remarkable person I have ever met and never ceases to amaze me with her love, passion and laughter. I have put 60,000 miles on a Mazda CX-5 that I bought only two years ago. I have traveled across the country for conferences and residency interviews. I have worked the front desk of a Philadelphia hotel to help pay bills. I have sewn together horrible wounds, performed countless rounds of CPR, and intubated patients to ensure they are able to breathe. I have seen nurses, physicians, technicians, and all forms of staff and volunteers take the burden of healing squarely upon their shoulders. I have seen people put life on hold so they could finally achieve their goals of becoming a physician.
It is hard to convey in words what it takes to become a physician in America today. Perhaps this bullet point list of statistics based on my own experience will illustrate the funny and not so funny realities of what we medical students have almost accomplished. Keep in mind these statistics begin with the start of high school.
Number of Years in School: 12
Number of Significant Family Events Missed: 60
Number of Textbooks Purchased: 80
Number of Exams Taken: 240
Number of 8 Ounce Cups of Coffee Drank: 5,200
Number of Hours Spent Studying: 11,000
Number of Dollars Spent on Tuition, Textbooks, Exam Fees, Applications, Interviews & Other Mandatory Fees: $553,050
(Please note that I attended a state undergraduate institution, and these values are conservative.)
On March 20, 2015, at 12 p.m. EST, medical students all around the country will receive envelopes with letters indicating at which hospital they will be training for the next three to five years. There will be lots of screaming and crying. There will be innumerable hugs, congratulations and kisses. There will be laughter, balloons, food and drink. There will be frantic calls, sloppy rushed posts, and ridiculous pictures of people going berserk on social media all over the world. Passersby might wonder if the people inside may have contracted some type of zombie doomsday infection. Even describing it right now is causing an adrenaline rush for me.
On March 20, 2015, at 12 p.m. EST, I don’t know where you will be. But I can tell you what I’ll be doing.
I will be standing in the main lobby of the Medical Research and Education Building at Temple University’s health science campus in North Philadelphia. I will be holding my phone in my hand ready to call my mother, who is in India researching items we will need for the wedding. In my other hand I will be tightly holding Annie’s hand. I may be looking nervously at my friends, Dilan Patel and Sarab Sodhi, thinking of how much we have supported each other throughout the past four years. I’ll be thinking of my parents who have invested their entire lives to nurture and care for me up until this stage. I will be remembering the hours I spent studying and working in different labs. I will be thinking of the years and years of sacrifices that my family, friends and I have all made for this single moment.
I’ll be thinking of the winter I lived between the HFSVAS squad room and a closed down dormitory so I could attend my EMT-Critical Care shifts and field time while the rest of the campus was shut down and everyone else was back home for the holidays. I’ll be thinking of all of the times I cried in the arms of loved ones because I doubted whether I could do this. I’ll be thinking of all of the times someone told me I wasn’t capable of becoming a physician. I’ll be thinking of all those people I have met in hospitals all over the country, in doctor’s offices, all of the nurses, advanced practitioners and technicians, who have patiently trained me to become a soon to be physician. I’ll be thinking of all the times I had to stay up for three days straight because of mandatory classes, shifts and personal commitments. I’ll be thinking of all the times I had to tell people I loved and wanted to spend time with that I had to go to the hospital or the office, that I had to go to the library to study, that I had to miss out on the events of our lives because I had a larger cause.
I’ll be thinking of you, the non-healthcare related individual. The patient’s daughter, the patient’s grandfather, the patient’s employer, the patient’s nurse, the patient’s pharmacist, the patient’s dog, and the patient’s spouse.
I’ll be thinking of the extremely pleasant 67-year-old-woman who was my first patient during the first day of my first clinical clerkship during my third year of medical school; how she wrote me silly rhymes about her ailing health; about how she has since passed away.
I’ll be thinking of the parents of the 16-year-old-boy who I witnessed fall to their knees in agony when they were told that their little boy, their biggest treasure in life, had died from complications of a seizure he sustained while they all slept peacefully at home.
I’ll be thinking of the 54-year-old-man I met last month, who had been fighting angiosarcoma of the scalp for two years, and continued to work as an engineer even though 75 percent of his scalp and skull had been excised and his oncologist predicted he would have another year to live, at most.
Most of all, I’ll be thinking of you, my future patient, the single most important person who will exist in my world from this day forward.
Ready or not, here I come!