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Residents share thoughts, emotions of their Match Day experiences

Friday is Match Day, a pinnacle moment for medical students.

Simply put, it’s the day the National Resident Matching Program releases where applicants seeking residency and fellowship training positions have been “matched.”

Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program, one of the oldest residency programs in the country, is gearing up to announce its newest class of residents. More than 300 residents have graduated from the program since 1971, and more than 160 of those graduates continue to practice medicine in Indiana. Many local physicians are graduates of the program at Memorial Hospital of South Bend.

We asked James Handtke, DO, and Allyson DiMagno, MD, to write about their Match Day experience last year. Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program Director Tina Jennings, MD, also provides her perspective on the important day for medical students across the country.

James Handtke, DO, First-Year Resident

“The stress surrounding Match Day begins long before that fateful Friday in March.

“I agonized seven months prior over which programs to send an application to, hoping I picked the right ones to give myself a chance to match at a program I loved. I sat waiting, hoping those interview requests would show up in my inbox. Other friends received interview requests before I did. Would mine ever come? When I received my first interview request, a huge weight dropped off my shoulders. The process was starting, and sure enough, there were more invitations to follow. 

“Interview season was a blur. I spent my time trying to make it through rotations, coordinating travel, attending dinners with other candidates, and trying to put together a coherent sentence on interview days. By the end of the season in February, making a rank list brought a whole new level of anxiety. How could I separate my top programs from each other? Would I match anywhere? Did I remember to click the submit button on my Rank List? By the time Match Week rolled around, I think I was one of the lucky ones. I had good feedback from some programs that made me confident I would match with at least one of them. Some of my friends weren’t that fortunate and were still unsure.

“Monday of Match Week you find out if you’ve matched somewhere, and getting to this point was such a relief. It’s crazy to think you could complete 4 years of undergrad and nearly 4 years of medical school and know there was a small chance you might not match with a residency program. The relief of knowing you’ve matched Monday quickly turns into torture while waiting for Friday to roll around to find out where. But the wait is well worth it.

“Match Day is a whirlwind of emotions. I celebrated with my wife when we found out I matched at my favorite program. I laughed with a friend who landed his favorite spot. Sighed in relief with someone who had to scramble to land a spot last minute. Cried with a friend who did not match at all. I think Match Day is so special because, even more so than graduation day, it was the day I knew all the hard work was starting to pay off.

“I knew for sure I was going to become a doctor.”

Allyson DiMagno, MD, First-Year Resident

“It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I was eagerly awaiting for the first of two emails, the one that confirmed that I had matched. Now that the pressure of landing my dream job in family medicine was secured, I was left with so many unanswered questions. See, fourth year medical students go through a year-long process of interviewing at prospective hospitals, constantly revising their rank list, and waiting several agonizing weeks for the one week that determines where they will be heading after graduation. And as with much else, that process is split into two days: Monday an email saying you have matched and another Friday where you find out where you have matched. The days between those emails are filled with many thoughts and emotions.

“Would I match at my top choice?  And if not, how far down the list would I have to go?” 

“Did the place really matter or was it more just knowing that I had a place to train following graduation?” 

“Where would classmates end up?”

“I remember talking with my roommate, who had dual applied in two specialties, and had the added worry of the specialty she matched in. It’s difficult to put into words all of the thoughts and emotions that the remainder of that week entails. But the most nerve-wracking day is that Friday, Match Day. Unfortunately with COVID, the usual festivities had changed. There would be no envelope opening with family and classmates to announce where you would be heading. Rather, it was my parents and I sitting in a hotel room, me nervously refreshing the page every minute in the hopes of finding out a little earlier. Because the nerves, anxiety, and excitement of where you will be heading is difficult to contain.

“But when the email finally came across, I was so relieved and excited to have matched at Memorial, my hands down favorite and top choice!”

Tina Jennings, MD, Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program Director

“My match day was March 17, 2011. It was a day packed full of emotion. After spending years in college and medical school preparing, months researching and interviewing throughout the country at residency programs, this represented the culmination of a very long journey. I knew I had put in my best effort and I hoped that it would pay off. There is a bit of mystery to match day that makes it extraordinarily exciting but also terrifying. 

“Once you match at a program, you are bound to go there—it isn’t like a typical job interview where you interview at several places, receive multiple offers and then choose the one you like the best. You rank programs based on preference, programs rank you based on preference, and an algorithm is run to help match up applicants with programs in a mutually beneficial manner.  On Monday of match week, you learn if you matched in a program. Once I received this email, it was a huge burden lifted — I’d be training somewhere that I interviewed and ranked. And then I had to wait until FRIDAY to find out where!!! 

“It is a process that truly helps to cultivate patience. I ranked Memorial Residency Program in South Bend as my number one program and as I opened the envelope, amidst some of my dearest medical school friends, and saw that name on the paper, I couldn’t be more excited! I hoped that Memorial would provide for me a full spectrum family medicine education and, now as I look back a decade later, I know that I couldn’t have made a better choice of residency program. 

Dr. Tina Jennings is third from left in back row.

“I was pushed in residency to be the best physician I could be and was able to do it in a community that appreciates the value of family medicine as a specialty. Training in a community-based hospital offered such rich learning opportunities and an ability to know specialists, nurses, and support staff in a close collegial manner. But the best part of the experience, was being able to train and learn with residents and faculty who are truly amazing and supportive, who are like a family. 

“Residency is a difficult journey and to be accompanied by individuals who want to lift you up and help you succeed, is a true gift. My residency experience was path changing for me; I had no intention of staying in South Bend to practice. I didn’t imagine that I would become a faculty member out of training, or move on to become a program director of one of the best family medicine programs in the country. But this program helped provide me with the tools and experiences I needed to be successful and to envision a future that I had no idea was possible. I am so grateful I matched at Memorial and am so honored to continue the strong tradition of bringing some of the best and brightest medical students to Memorial to train at our program. And I continue to be challenged to cultivate patience as I await learning who the newest 9 members of our family will be on Friday.”

Click here to learn more about Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program.

About Heidi Prescott-Wieneke