Five years ago after having 11 interviews from August to February, I received a call from my medical school adviser on the Monday of match week telling me I didn’t match. It was the one call that turned my whole medical school life upside down. I knew that over my four years of study I did all that was required to match. From doing research to being a regional medical student representative for ACOG, and making sure my grades and step scores were good. I checked every box. There was no way I was supposed to not match into ObGyn. Yet the reality was right in front of me. I didn’t match and now I was positioned to go into the dreaded SOAP.
As my medical school advisor apologetically gave me the unwanted news over the phone, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was supposed to happen, but during that time I didn’t know why. All I could feel was embarrassment and disappointment. As the conversation with my adviser went on, she asked to see me in person to discuss my options. So I packed up my things from home and headed to school not knowing what to bring or what to do.
When I saw my advisor, I was still in shock. I didn’t really have any emotions at the time. Just as I was trained to do in medical school, I looked at the problem objectively with the goal of finding a solution. I was presented with some options: graduate from medical school and try to reapply to residency next year, go through the SOAP which would require for me to also apply into other specialties, or do an additional year of research to extend my time in medical school. I chose to go through the SOAP. It was mainly because the other options would prolong this grueling process and at the end of the day I needed a job. It was time to get paid for my work. In SOAP, I applied to programs in ObGyn (which were only a few), Family Medicine, and Anesthesia.
After I made that decision and told my adviser what I thought would be best, I was ushered to the ObGyn office where I then met the ObGyn clerkship director. We began to review programs for me to apply to. Since my clerkship director was not familiar with all the programs, we recruited someone from Family Medicine to join us. Overall, the process wasn’t tough because many of the programs I knew nothing about. I trusted my newly found SOAP team to guide me in the right direction. The goal was to match anywhere and figure out the rest later. I also had to tweak my personal statement to be good fits for family medicine and anesthesia. So many things to do all at once and I began to feel overwhelmed. Hours after finding out I did not match, I began to cry. It was starting to hit me. I was seeing my dream of becoming an ObGyn and later a gynecologic oncologist drifting away.
The following days were stressful. I waited hour upon hour for phone interviews that were slow to come. Eventually I had 3 or 4 interviews; none were for an ObGyn spot. Although I tried to sell myself to the programs I did speak to, I felt like a failure; a failure who needed to push forward.
The first round of SOAP, I didn’t match into a program. I would then have to wait several hours for the next round. As I waited, I leaned back and forward hundreds of times as a sat on my couch. I was nervous on what would happen. I had multiple episodes of frantically running to the bathroom feeling sick as the nervousness and panic ran over me. I kept thinking to myself, “This is not real. Why me?”
Just like searching for any other topic, I began to google and look for others who did not match. I read an article written by someone who went through the scramble. In her encouraging article, she spoke of how the scramble was the best thing that could have ever happened to her. She too tried to match into ObGyn and eventually scrambled into an internal medicine program. She was happy with what happened to her and said that it led her to her dream job. I wondered if I would feel the same years later. Either way, at that point, I just focused on getting a job.
After days of an emotional roller coaster, I kept the faith and eventually matched into a family medicine program. I felt relieved, but then thought about what just happened. First, I was embarrassed, especially to tell my classmates, that I wasn’t going to be an ObGyn. Then I felt betrayed by medicine altogether. All the hard work for so many years and I didn’t get what I wanted. During those moments, I promised myself I would not let anyone or anything dictate what I wanted to do ever again. My whole view of medicine changed in literally days. I actually began to think that I needed a back-up plan if medicine did not work out.
I mustered up my feelings and told myself to keep moving on. I questioned if I should go to match day. It honestly wasn’t something that excited me anymore. I eventually decided that I should go simply because my family and friends were in town for the match. I owed it to them to be there. I tried looking on the bright side. Match day wouldn’t be so stressful since I got a preview version of where I would be for my intern year.
Eventually I got through the ups and downs of match week. It was tough to tell my fellow classmates where I was headed and what I would be doing. Family Medicine has the bad representation of matching people who could not match in other things. I was becoming the poster child for that. Again, I kept thinking about the article I read from the person who didn’t match several years ago. Thankfully, five years later, I can say I feel the same way she did.
Matching into family medicine was the best thing to happen to me! During medical school, I didn’t have much exposure to family medicine doctors. I honestly did not know what the speciality was all about. I eventually found that it was the right fit for my passion for community medicine, psychiatry, counseling, and health education. It also fit the mold of a speciality that I could grow with. If I just want to practice in the office, I can do that. I can even work in the hospital, emergency room, and do administrative work at the same time or various times in my career. My options are limitless!
During my intern year, I was amazed by family medicine. Even though I thought that I would not be a good intern because I went through the SOAP, I found that I was stronger and more driven than I was in medical school. At that point, I felt like I had nothing to lose. It only could go up from there. By the end of my intern year, I was given the most shocking evaluation from my program director. My end of the year feedback said that I epitomized a traditional family doctor. Wow! Look at God! I was in the exact field that I was designed for. And guess what? That year I even had the option to switch into an ObGyn program and I declined it.
Later during my journey in family medicine, I learned that I had interests in business leading to me getting an MBA during residency. (Remember, I felt I needed more options just in case medicine didn’t work out.) Actually, the day I graduated from residency was the exact same day I completed my MBA. In addition, I began writing on medical topics and going on the local news. By the end of residency, I had published several articles and recorded dozens of medical segments. I even was able to do a 1 month rotation at ABC News in NYC.
Additionally, I ventured into having an elected leadership role in family medicine as the resident representative for the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) during my 3rd year of residency. Oh and it doesn’t stop there…I published 4 books including “The Chronicles of Women In White Coats” and co-founded this website, Women In White Coats. After residency, I went on to do a family medicine fellowship program in health and media at Georgetown where I worked at PBS NewsHour.
All this happened within the last 5 years and it has been an amazing journey. I wish I could have seen all these things in those moments right after I found out I didn’t match. Match week was the beginning to my beautiful story even though at times it felt like a nightmare. I don’t regret not matching. I embrace it and am grateful for it! Through my journey I have been able to help majority of my mentees also match into family medicine. I really don’t think they thought about the field much until I kept raving about how great it is. Honestly, introducing my mentees and so many others to look into family medicine (one of the best kept secrets in medicine) is one of my greatest accomplishments. It’s really a great field!
For those who didn’t match this year, continue to hold your heads up high. You are amazing people and will make an amazing doctors. This is just a bump in the road. Seek comfort from family and friends, but also know that your story isn’t over. It’s just the beginning.
Dr. Amber Robins is a board-certified family medicine doctor practicing in Washington, DC, and graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is a recent Health and Media fellow graduate from Georgetown University and PBS News Hour. She is the author and founder of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” and “The Write Prescription: Finding the ‘Right’ Spiritual Dosage to Overcome Any Obstacle” with her own website and blog at www.AmberRobinsMD.com.