Op-Med ran the “Match Day” contest in March 2018. We are excited to announce this piece as an honorable mention.
My favorite passage in literature comes from Sylvia Plath’s book, The Bell Jar. In the passage, Plath uses the metaphor of a tree with multiple beautiful figs to describe the numerous wondrous life paths a character could take — from Olympic champion, to professor, to global traveler. After detailing the myriad paths, the character comes to a hard realization: “I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all of the rest.” While perhaps a tad melodramatic, the quote summarized exactly how I felt on the morning of Match Day. I woke up in bed with numerous potential paths laid out before me, knowing that in just a few hours, my path would be concrete and specific. I was at the precipice of knowing what the future held for me, which gave the morning a sense of suspended animation.
The residency interview process was an exciting — if also stressful and expensive — process, that made me all the more eager to begin residency. Traveling across the country to visit programs, I was thrilled to meet faculty and residents passionate about training the next generation of family physicians. As I visited each program, I began to more distinctly imagine my life as a resident. When I woke up on Match Day, I knew I would be happy, and would grow as a physician, at any of the programs I ranked. But my ranked programs also reflected the wonderful diversity of family medicine — including community-based and university-affiliated programs, both rural and urban, in geographic locations that spanned thousands of miles. I knew that each program would provide a distinct training experience and would offer me an entirely different day-to-day life. Would I remain in the familiar warmth of the Carolinas or explore the wide expanses and mountains of Montana? Like Plath’s character, I sat in bed imagining the many wonderful paths laid out before me, and like the character, I was struck by the fact that I would only be able to experience one.
Match Day was the first step towards the conclusion of medical school, which was an experience that was often tinged by uncertainty and unfamiliarity. When I started medical school, I had limited exposure to the healthcare system and the profession of being a doctor. As a first-year student, drinking from a firehose meant not only memorizing the minutia of neck anatomy, and re-learning the Krebs cycle, but also internalizing new terms like “hospitalist” and “nephrologist.” It was a process of discovery to learn about the many different career paths that physicians could take. During my first years, with so little context, the future felt vague and amorphous, but although exhilarating and filled with potential. On my clinical rotations, the culture shock was as much of a learning experience as the medicine — trying to navigate the distinctions between interns, SARs, fellows, consulting teams, PCPs, PT/OT and LSWs. I initially struggled to orient myself and picture where I fit into this alphabet soup of professions and team members.
Thankfully, through my rotations and our school’s family medicine interest group, I learned about, and then fell in love with, the field of family medicine. In family medicine, I could envision a career that highlighted my strengths and allowed me advocate for the values I hold most dear. Longitudinal relationship with patients, flexible and varied career paths, and an emphasis the social determinants of health made family medicine a natural choice. So, despite all the uncertainty of the match itself, on Match Day it was a relief to feel calm and assured about the path I had laid out for myself.
The process of discovering my future was quick. At the appointed time I opened my letter and the future clarified in an instant of elation as I learned I was headed to the University of Michigan for residency. The rest of the day was filled with celebration and many excited calls and texts to my friends and family. However, later, in a quiet moment when I had time to reflect, I came to the conclusion that Plath’s passage really didn’t really describe my Match Day as well as I thought. While Plath’s character lamented the fact that choosing one future meant losing the others, Match Day just represented one inflection point in the trajectory of my career. The diversity of family medicine means there are always varied opportunities that I can pursue; it means that that pivoting and changing practice is never an impossibility. I realized that in a quick three years a whole new set of opportunities, challenges, and questions would be mine to address again, bringing new opportunities for adventure, exploration and learning.
Lauren Groskaufmanis, MD graduated from Duke University School of Medicine and will begin her residency in Family Medicine at the University of Michigan this July.