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I Didn't Match. But I Refused to Give Up

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As I walked around the room trying to ease my mind, I could not stop thinking of the endless possibilities that might have unfolded once I opened the Match email, after months of waiting. But instead of a Match email, I received an email requesting that I report to the Dean’s office. I was to prepare for SOAP. I received the email on a Monday, and, after what felt like an eternity, concluded the process on Thursday. I went through all four rounds of SOAP with no offers. By the end, I felt I had fallen into a land of misfit toys, now competing with several hundred other students still looking for a new home. 

What I want to share with you is my experience with the post-SOAP process, helpful advice that I received, and several resources you may find useful if you end up in this position. 

First, do everything you can to avoid this situation. Make sure to seek out honest, straightforward advice. Be realistic with your application, where you stand among the other applicants, and which programs you should apply to. Last year, Ortho Mentor produced a great series of free webinars about how to prepare for the application cycle. These videos are great for any specialty, and I highly recommend you watch them online.

If you do not match, the key to your success in the post-SOAP job search will be to hit the ground running right away. Make cold calls to different programs for available research spots, spend extra time at night looking for positions, and make sure that you continue to build your resume, even in the supposed downtime at the end of fourth year. There are several questions you will need to be prepared to answer, including “Where did you match?” You might get frustrated after the first couple of times someone asks you, but get over it quickly because people will continue to ask. Not everyone knows your situation. Other questions to prepare for: What parts of your application would you consider to be red flags? Did your interviews for residency go well? Why do you think you didn’t match? 

Next, utilize this time wisely. I thought about what I could do to improve my clinical skillset and to be a more superb applicant for the next cycle. What could I do to make the most of my time in the next year? Make sure to write down your main goals, stick to your plan, and supplement your plan with quality advice before you put it into action. Figure out who has your best interests in mind, and utilize their guidance to help you find the right opportunities. If not already in place, I would strongly encourage you to build a support system of mentors, family, and friends. The next three or so months will be tough in a different way. Compared with your studying for Step 1, the overnight calls on your externships, or the “death by video call” you experienced throughout the COVID-19 Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) interview season, this form of difficulty is more emotionally draining. You will be constantly checking your phone for the next residency spot opening. You will be continuously refreshing your browser for research opportunities. You will also be filling out applications for job positions right when they appear. The issue is you never know when the next opportunity will come, and you always need to be prepared to act immediately. It wasn’t until three months after Match Day that I received my first job offer.

Resources will vary depending on which field you are interested in. With my career interest in surgery, several advisors recommended looking at the open careers section on the Association for Program Directors in Surgery webpage. There are several other more generic job search sites to consider as well. Continue to network with clinicians in your field of interest, and potential opportunities may arise. One national program to investigate is the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education, which lists currently available postdoctoral research fellowships. 

Compared with ERAS, these applications are slightly different. Contact your program’s writing center about tips and tricks to writing a concise, persuasive cover letter tailored to specific jobs. If you feel that interviews didn’t go as planned, work with your program’s writing center to practice your interview skills. Ask your letter writers if they can update your letters of recommendation with your current plan. Make a list of references with professional contact information and ask for approval from each individual beforehand. Continue to build your resume in the post-SOAP application process. Actively seek out research projects at your current institution that are in the closing phases, and wrap up any projects that you have been working on so that you can incorporate them into your CV. 

Lastly, keep up your morale. Remember, you completed college in good standing, completed medical school, and will be a physician in May. Things happen for a reason. Every second from this point on is even more valuable, as it is a chance to show how you can improve upon your mistakes. I was told in the beginning of the process that it’s not always about the result, but rather what you have learned on your journey to get there. It’s how you respond to adversity that defines you.

What would advice would you give to someone going through SOAP? Share your thoughts on challenges with The Match in the comment section.

Wayne is a Clemson University alumnus, recent graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine, and is currently completing a postdoctoral research fellowship at St. Luke’s University Hospital. Wayne is an aspiring golfer, fitness nut, and avid outdoorsman. He is a husband, older brother to two siblings, and proud cat owner.

Illustration by April Brust

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