Unmatched, now what? The Hazy Path of the Qualified Medical Residency Candidate 

by Jessica Obi, MD

On March 15, 2021, I found out I didn’t match. Needless to say, I felt alone, disappointed, and uncertain of my next step(s). “Dr. Obi!” is what family and friends would call me. The next question I would hear and would still feel uncomfortable answering was, “Which hospital do you work in?” or “What residency program did you match to?” My reply would always leave them asking, “It’s not automatic to match into a program?” followed by “I thought there weren’t enough physicians?” Then my favorite question, “So what are you to do now?” Although these questions are asked from a sincere place and valid, I could not, and still sometimes can’t help but question my worth, intelligence or if I made the right decision to pursue a medical degree. I feel the medical educational system is broken in that it lacks support for candidates like myself – support that includes mentors for such situations and jobs that would allow our degrees to still be useful. Instead, unmatched candidates are left to scramble for positions and other areas of work to repay student loans. The worst part of not matching is not having a sure direction to follow that would guarantee matching during the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP) or the next  cycle. 

As any unmatched candidate would do, I began searching for mentorship and guidance. I happened to join Twitter to network and follow physicians, and by chance stumbled upon a few accounts dedicated to helping the unmatched. I was able to learn of zoom webinars dedicated to guiding unmatched applicants down this tricky road in terms of personal statements, letters of recommendation, curriculum vitae, and networking.1-2 Of  course, my family, friends, and medical school have been supportive; however, to my utmost surprise, social media, particularly Twitter’s @Inside_TheMatch and @unlikelymds, has provided the most useful support. I have met and networked with awesome physicians and mentors via social media, and I have also found a peer support group  with the same goal of matching. This has undoubtedly powered my strength to persevere. 

The recent match cycle left many unmatched with unanswered questions. There were 42,508 active applicants and roughly 6,254 candidates that went unmatched. Yet, we are forced to forge a unique path to residency. As I reflect on this, I find myself finally at peace to have had this experience. I can use my struggle to gain empathy and experience that will help my patients navigate their struggles e.g., decreasing blood sugar or losing weight. My struggle to achieve residency is analogous to a patient’s struggle to achieve healthy outcomes, and in both cases, it is crucial to have proper guidance and strategy. My attributes of resilience and perseverance developed over this period, will fuel my passion and strength. 

I believe every path, albeit hazy, is unique to the individual whether one is a patient, student, resident, or a physician. Some practices I’ve adopted to cope include remembering my why and my faith, mentorship, networking with other qualified candidates, and following the stories of others   who have previously tread this path and are now residents. Currently, I’m also working on a few  projects that I’m hopeful will be ready for the next match cycle. 

Creating a path to reach this goal is not easy. I find on this journey that I’m developing resilience, endurance and relationships. I’m essentially creating a story, my story, that just may provide enough hope for that competent unmatched candidate – who may be on the verge of quitting – to not give up. 

To all the qualified unmatched reapplicants, you’re not alone. There is a virtual community of faculty, residents, physicians, your peers, that are supportive and are willing to aid as you carve your unique path to matching. 

There is hope. Keep going. 

Dr. Jessica Obi is a 2020 medical graduate of Ross University School of Medicine, from Los Angeles California, and learned in 2022 that she matched in Internal Medicine. She is passionate about health equity and medical education, and outside of Medicine, Dr. Obi enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and fashion and hopes to positively impact the medical field. 

References
1. van de Ridder, J.M.M. [@MvdRidder]. (2021, April 28). INVITATION Zoom network meeting for UNMATCHED STUDENTS, organized by UNMATCHED students. Please register in advance. Please RT.[Tweet]. Twitter. 
 
 2. Stulak, J. [@JohnStulakMD]. (2021, April 19). As promised, for those who went unmatched in #MatchDay2021, feel free to sign up for an informal webinar in which we give our insights and your answer questions No matter who or where you are, we are happy to help and be a resource [Image attached]. [Tweet]. Twitter. 

Acknowledgements 
I would like to thank Kyle Swearingen, MD, Emmy Abraham, MD, and Monica van de Ridder, PhD for their support and feedback on the earlier drafts of my reflection. 
 

Working on my MD and PhD degrees as a DACA recipient

By Cesar E. Montelongo Hernandez

Last week a federal appeals court upheld the ruling that blocks the Trump administration from ending DACA. This means the nationwide injunction that allows DACA to remain will stay in place. Despite this, the legal battle will continue and likely head to The Supreme Court of the United States. DACA recipients have been granted a few months of respite but their long-term outlook is still very uncertain.

I am currently in my fourth year of medical school. In total the combined MD-PhD program takes eight years to complete (an MD degree alone takes four years). Students begin by completing two years of the MD, switching over to the PhD for about four years, then coming back to complete the last two years of the MD. At present I have completed two years of the MD degree and I am in the second year of the PhD degree. Ideally, I will complete the PhD degree by 2021 and the MD degree by 2023.Read More »

A Response to Alumni Disappointed in Stritch’s Support for DACA

By Sunny Nakae

In May the Stritch alumni magazine published a cover feature article about our first cohort of DACA recipients admitted to the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and their impending graduation.  We received both positive and negative correspondence about this feature.  What follows is a compilation of complaints I received from some alumni and a summary of the responses I offered.

“As an alum I am disappointed in your policy to admit DACA recipients over US citizens.  Because you are admitting non-US citizens that means a US citizen will not get a seat. Supporting undocumented students violates Federal Law.  Did these DACA recipients get ‘affirmative action’ status?  Candidates should get admitted because of their credentials, not because they are minorities or immigrants.  What constitutes the right minority?  It seems like Japanese, Korean and Chinese are no longer considered minorities but smaller Asian groups like Hmong are? In my graduating class there are many of us who will no longer be supporting the school.”

Dear Stritch Alum,

Thank you, sincerely, for expressing your current views on our decision to accept MD applications from DACA recipients.  This happened in 2012 with the support of our then dean, Dr. Linda Brubaker, and our then president, Fr. Michael Garanzini, S.J  The inclusion of DACA recipients continues to receive full support from our current dean, Dr. Steven Goldstein, and our president, Dr. JoAnn Rooney.  It seems from your email that you might not have all of the facts for the situation, so I would like to open a dialogue and provide those facts for you and any colleagues with whom you wish to share this information.  I understand that at first glance this decision may appear to disenfranchise other applicants, specifically those of Asian descent or US citizens. Read More »

From Marjory Stoneman Douglas to Medical School: A Call to Action

by Zarna Patel

I cannot find the right words to describe how it felt when I read news: “School shooting at High School in Southeastern Florida.”  Despite the 239 school shootings since Sandy Hook, nothing can prepare you for the numbness of having it happen in your hometown.  The way your heart leaps into your throat, the way all sound is muted, the way debilitating fear takes hold from your head to your toes.

“Are you OK?  Tell me you’re OK?!  Please answer me!”  Never in a million years did I think I would have to send a text like that to my 16-year-old cousin, whose biggest worry last weekend was her upcoming SAT test.

Knowing how many innocent children would never return to their parent’s arms that night was paralyzing.  I couldn’t close my eyes for more than a few minutes before flashes of my old high school haunted my dreams.  The large courtyard we ate lunch in, smeared in blood.  The freshman building we loved to hate, filled with kids running away, hand raised. The large auditorium where I spent four years performing, now filled with the cries of distraught children.

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Going the Extra Mile: A Med Student’s Marathon

By Shoshana B. Weiner

“4 ounces water every mile, half an electrolyte ‘gu’ pack over 2.5 miles, ¼ energy bar every 6 miles.”  AKA how did you manage training for a marathon while in medical school?  The simple truth: I decided to run a marathon so I did.  Longer story: months of rigorous training, more moments of doubt than I care to recall, and insights already positively impacting my medical training.

Training for and running a marathon is a time-intensive commitment of physical and mental endurance.  Age-old lessons of “you can accomplish anything you set your mind to; hard work pays off” hold true and gained new meaning for me. Read More »

The Power of Mentorship and Transformation: from “What’s next?” to “Bring it on!”

By Jody Platto

Since graduating from Wellesley College in 2015, I have experienced a paradigm shift from always searching for what is next to remaining committed to what lies straight ahead. Strong personal and professional mentorship in my first career as a professional athlete set the stage for me to excel when I resumed my university education. At Wellesley, mentorship again played a key role when I joined a neuroscience lab. Inspiring leaders helped me to gain the skills and confidence to succeed, encouraging me to take whatever career path I chose. But choosing was hard!

Now, as a second year medical student, this lifetime of support from powerful mentorship and a healthy respect for transformation guide me in navigating – and sticking with – my burgeoning career…Read More »

Beginning Your Medical Journey: Advice for First-Year Students

By Steve Goldstein

On August 19, 2017, I offered the keynote address at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine Class of 2021 White Coat Ceremony.  It was an honor to address this class, my first as dean.  I had welcomed the students during orientation when they were absorbing a great deal—rules, responsibilities, schedules, safety, organization– and met with them during discussions of a book we all read recounting the rich, complex career of pediatrician– events when they were in a focused, serious mood.  This day, however, the student’s were with their families and excited, bolstered by well-deserved pride, and filled with the shared mission of improving the world through the practice of medicine.  Below are the thoughts I shared in my address to the class as they began their formal training as first-year medical students…
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Medical Students Can Handle the Truth; Their Mentors Should be More Open About It

By Shannon Tapia

Medical School is rough.  Fortunately there is a recent movement to make medical education more humane.  The movement to bring humanity, ethics, and love back into the molding of our future physicians is crucial. Personally, I felt my medical school was on the forefront of this push.  Perhaps it was because we had Jesuit priests for attendings and the hospital’s motto of “We also treat the human spirit” filtered into the treatment of students.  Whether it was something about myself or my medical school, I was fortunate to never experience the depression, competitive urges, burnout and isolation that is so prevalent during American medical school years…
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Whispers of Vulnerability and Gratitude: Graduating Medical Students Share their Secrets

By Trent Reed and Sunny Nakae

Many medical students struggle with fear, pride, priorities, regrets, and insecurities, but the liberty to disclose such feelings may be limited.  Students often avoid sharing their challenges and feelings with their peers for fear of looking weak or due to shame.  How can we destigmatize sharing among students to build resilience, foster community, and improve well-being?

A week prior to match day we received almost 70 anonymous secrets from our senior medical students at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.  Dr. Reed solicited these messages from the students by explaining the premise to them.  The exercise is based on the work of Frank Warren who created postsecret.com.  The students were not given guidance regarding topics or tone; they were simply asked to submit an anonymous secret…
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Tough Love for Your Personal Statement: Advice from a Medical School Dean

By Sunny Nakae

The Stritch School of Medicine received 11,355 applications for 160 seats for the 2016-2017 season.  Thousands of applicants have the required coursework, strong grades and test scores.  The word is out that students need volunteer work, clinical exposure, leadership, and research in order to be competitive.  Every applicant submits a primary personal statement as well as responses to school-specific supplemental questions. As an admissions dean who reads hundreds of applications per year, I would like to offer some advice to all the premeds out there who are looking for a competitive edge: reflection is key to achieving and demonstrating personal growth…
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