Match Day is right around the corner. After a long season of interviews, it is time to make your final decisions. As a practicing physician myself, I went through the same process of applying, interviewing, ranking, and eventually matching, so I understand what goes into this important decision.
If you aren’t quite ready to finalize your rank list, here are some tips to help you feel confident as you rank.
The most important thing to know when ranking is knowing when it begins and ends, so you can rank and certify on time.
Ranking opens on February 1 at 12 p.m. EST. At this time, you will be able to input your rank order list, which must be completed and certified by March 1 at 9 p.m. EST.
Even during pre-pandemic, in-person interviews, you may not have received all of the information you needed to make your decision. This year’s Match process was virtual for the third year in a row, and it was potentially even more difficult to get a full understanding of each program. In fact, a survey of 2021 Match applicants found the ability to determine the “fit” and culture of a program to be very challenging.
If you are narrowing down your rank list and find yourself with additional questions, now is the time to ask. There’s no harm in contacting program directors, faculty members, or current residents who may be able to answer your questions.
If you interviewed at a program, we recommend including it on your rank list, unless you had major issues or there was clearly a red flag about the program.
According to the American Academy of Family Practitioners, unmatched students’ lists were typically shorter than matched students’ lists. Including every program you interviewed with will give you a greater chance of matching.
Leaving a program off of your list means you have less options and a lesser chance of matching. However, if you saw red flags during interviews, do not include the program on your rank list. You will spend the next few years of your life working countless hours in this program, so do not risk the chance of matching if you do not feel comfortable.
Matching with a program is a legally binding agreement, so do not rank a program if you do not want to do residency there. Consider whether you would rather not match than be matched with that program. If going unmatched is preferable, do not include the program on your rank order list.
When ranking, it is very easy to be influenced by external factors and opinions. Opinions of friends and family, positive feedback from program faculty or directors, and discussions with peers can all influence your decision.
In reality, this decision is only yours to make. Your family, friends and others will not be the ones directly enduring the trials of residency (but we all know many in your life will be affected by your choice). But you have individual needs, aspirations, desires, etc. that must be factored into your final choice…so make the decision based on what YOU want, not everyone else’s opinion.
Program prestige does not indicate greater happiness at a program. In fact, recent research shows that a greater indicator of happiness at a program is how aligned you are with it. It can be tempting to base your decision on the prominence of the program, but a recognizable name doesn’t mean you will fit in well with the team and culture.
In fact, the aforementioned survey noted that perceived “alignment on post-residency opportunities” predicted greater burnout but perceived “alignment on program culture” predicted 30% less burnout.
The NRMP match algorithm tries to match you to programs based on your preferences, so you do not need to try to figure out how a program will try to rank you. Simply rank the programs based solely on your preferences.
In our Match Day interview tips article, we recommended jotting down notes or recording voice memos of your initial thoughts after each interview to reference when it came time to rank. If you followed this advice, now is the time to take advantage of your preparation.
I did this in my process and was surprised when I listened to my recordings before finalizing my rank list. There were several programs that I did not fit well with during the interview, but over time, I had mentally moved them up my rank list, likely due to reputation or prestige. But when I heard my voice and my “gut,” it was a reality check on what mattered most—“fit” (and why the survey we mentioned also seems to find “fit” as a protective factor to burnout),
After meeting with different programs and dealing with other factors over the last few months, your memory of each program may be cloudy. Refresh your memory and trust your first impressions. This will be a great guide when choosing the right program for you.
This tip seems unnecessary, but if you forget or if technical issues prevent you from certifying your rank order list, you will go unmatched. Don’t wait until the last minute to certify.
It may be a good idea to certify your list at least a few days before the deadline. If you change your mind after more thought, you can revise your rank order and recertify if needed. Having a tentative list go through is better than having no list submitted at all.
After months of preparation and weeks of deliberating, it is time to make your final decision. The tips we outline may ease the decision making process slightly, but ultimately, we recommend trusting your gut. You know what you need and how you felt when speaking with each program.
Once the decision has been made, it is time to wait. This can be a stressful process, but once your rank order list is submitted, there is nothing more to do. Try to relax and enjoy the time you may have before Match Day. We are excited for your future and can’t wait to see where you match!
Looking for other Match Day and residency resources? Check out our Match Day page or visit one of our Match Day-focused articles here:
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