What To Do If You Don't Match
By: Dr. William Ross
On March 20th of this year, at “Match Day” celebrations throughout the nation, thousands of medical school seniors will find out where they will continue their career path. Also in March (the 16th, to be exact), a significantly smaller and much less heralded group of medical school seniors will discover that their career paths have been altered dramatically. What do you do if you find yourself in that second group? Glad you asked…
Perhaps the best way to avoid being amongst the “unmatched” is to increase your chances of matching in the first place. If you are reading this blog before February 25th, then there is still something that you can do. Before you finalize and certify your rank order list, consider including more places and at least one alternative specialty. Statistically, per the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), qualified and marginal medical students who increase their application pool, also marginally increase their match rate.
In the most recent analysis of all 1st year Orthopedic Surgery Residents, the AAMC found that on average these residents had:
1. Step I score of 241
2. Step II score of 248
3. At least 3 Research experiences AND
4. At least 6 Publications/Abstracts and or Presentations
If you do not have these scores or experiences then you are absolutely at risk for NOT matching in Orthopedics. This does not mean that you will not eventually get an orthopedic residency, but it does mean that your path may be non-traditional at the least.
Without the above, you should immediately have your revised personal statement digitized and ready to upload. What do I mean by “revised”? Per Christopher Woleben, M.D., Associate Dean for Student Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, “Students identified as at risk for going unmatched also need to be prepared to submit new personal statements during SOAP indicating why they think they went unmatched and highlighting strengths they could bring to a residency program.
Be SOAP Ready
In 2012 the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP) was established. This process places unmatched students into unfilled residency programs.
Once you are informed that you have NOT matched, you literally have only a couple of hours until you must begin uploading your information to enter the SOAP. PLEASE review this process BEFORE that date so that you have all of the information needed [as well as the money required], on hand and ready to go. Have residency alternatives [General Surgery or Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation] already in mind. Know the SOAP rules. Some of the programs you may be interested in may NOT be participants in this process. Know how [and when] you may contact them. Residency spots through the SOAP generally fill on a first contacted/ first hired basis. Be first!
The period immediately after being informed that you have not matched is a great time to do a self-check. Ask yourself “How badly do I want to become an Orthopedic Surgeon?” Are you willing to do anything and everything it takes to navigate your path? Is “Orthopedic Surgery” just something you’ve said you wanted to do for so long that your pursuit is more momentum then desire? There are less competitive specialties for which you may be better suited, and more easily matched.
Be Something Else…. Temporarily
Think about what else you might do if you don’t initially match and the SOAP process has failed you. Research is a common landing spot. You might also consider continuing your education. Obtaining your MPH or PhD are reasonable alternatives if a residency spot is unavailable. It may be advantageous to choose a facility or institution that also has an Orthopedic Residency Program that you may be interested in.
If you are like the majority of your peers in medical school, you have student loans.
Be aware that your status post medical school will directly affect your repayment status for your student loans. If you do not match, then you should immediately communicate with your loan provider and work out a payment program that makes sense for you
The good news is that almost all of those who apply for an orthopedic residency ultimately get one. As a board-certified, fellowship-trained Orthopedic Surgeon who was previously an unmatched senior medical student, I can certainly attest to this. The operative word here, however, is “ultimately”. If you are willing to devote your time and energy to shaping yourself into a qualified candidate, and are willing to patiently and persistently keep trying, then you will become the orthopedic surgeon you aspire to be.