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What Match Day Is Like During A Pandemic

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“Match Day is the culmination of four challenging and arduous years, and, in some ways, the most exciting day of the medical school experience.” This is how my medical school’s website describes Match Day. 

I have attended my school’s Match Day ceremony for the last three years. There was always an air of excitement throughout the medical center as residents, attendings, and staff flocked to our auditorium to celebrate the graduating students. Each student would walk up on stage surrounded by their family, thank their mentors and loved ones, open their envelope containing their NRMP results, and announce where they would be spending the next three to eight years of their lives. Emotions were high, and it was impossible not to cry as close friends finally accomplished their lifelong dreams. 

As last year’s Match Day concluded, I began looking forward to my own. I imagined standing on stage, in the same auditorium my family and I first attended eight long years ago at my college freshman orientation. To me, this was not only the culmination of four years of medical school, but eight years of hard work at a university that has been my home for the entirety of my adult life. It was the moment that I would find out that, after years of studying, late call nights, and months of away rotations, my hard work would finally pay off as I achieved my goal of matching into my first-choice medical specialty. 

This year, there will be no envelopes. Families will not travel to town. The auditorium doors will be locked to prevent the gathering of people. Graduating medical students will make their transition from students to physicians on the wards, as they contribute to a health care system strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday, my university banned all university-associated events and classes, including Match Day and the celebrations set to follow. While undergraduate students have been instructed to move off-campus and attend classes online, medical students are still expected to attend clinical rotations. A health care provider at our medical center has already tested positive. As testing becomes more widely available, it is likely that many more providers will contract the virus, including medical students. 

When cancellation of Match Day ceremonies was first announced on Monday, my class still hoped to be able to celebrate with our families. We now realize that as health care professionals, we have likely been exposed to the virus on the wards, and celebrating with families will place our older parents at risk of contracting COVID-19. The gravity of the sacrifices we must make as physicians now, and for the remainder of our lives, weighs heavy on our minds as we prepare to forgo celebration for the health of our global society.

The knowledge of our responsibility to the public makes grief feel selfish. However, this is indeed a time of grief for graduating medical students, and this grief should not be diminished. Medical school is the beginning of the sacrifices we make as physicians. Many of us live far away from our families, and won’t be able to move closer during residency. We will spend our late 20s and early 30s working in hospitals, with little time or money to travel, take honeymoons, or attend family gatherings. With the loss of Match Day comes the loss of precious time with family and friends. With the restrictions of a global pandemic comes the loss of the time to travel before residency begins. 

To my fellow grieving fourth years, we must keep in mind that this time will pass. We are fortunate enough to be in the demographic among the least likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, and because of this, we will likely have an opportunity to celebrate when the virus is contained. Until then, take advantage of technology. Use your free time to video-call your family and friends. Spend time with your medical school friends before you part ways for residency. Exercise and practice your hobbies (within CDC/local guidelines). Though the coming months will be very different than we planned, they should still be cherished. Pandemic or not, July 1st will soon be upon us all.  

Emily is a fourth-year medical student. 

Image by Nejron Photo / Shutterstock

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