Match Day: How it Works And How it Feels

Formally, Match Day at the end of Match Week is the pinnacle moment in a medical student’s educational journey. It is that day when the residency interview and application matching process reaches its conclusion, and students learn the location where they will be training as a resident.

For each doctor in training (myself included), it began six months prior with the submission of an ERAS application. Then came traveling throughout the country, interviewing like it was our only job. This was followed by the creation and certification of a rank order list, its submission in mid-February, and then a grueling 30-day wait until Match Week arrived. What a process! And that’s just getting to the day in question.

The crucial events of Match Day amount to opening an envelope or email to discover your residency program. However, for fourth year medical students around the country, the day is so much more.

The details

Match Day is celebrated on the 3rd Friday of March, which this year (2019) falls on March 15th. At noon EST, graduating medical students around the country will open an envelope from the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP)—or read an email, or log in to the NRMP R3 site—to see the following information (barring any recent changes):

  • Title: “2019 Match Results”
  • Dated: March 15, 2019
  • AAMC ID: Unique eight-digit number for each student
  • School Code: Unique two or three-digit code for your medical school
  • Applicant Name: Your full name
  • A friendly message: “Congratulations, you have matched!”
  • Program Code: Unique ten-digit number for each residency program
  • Program Name: Program Specialty (i.e. Internal Medicine, Anesthesiology, etc.)
  • Institution Name: The institution where you will be completing your residency training.

Given the order in which this is written, we recommend reading from the bottom up. Get right to the punchline of where you will be training, and then read up to the top of the document to make sure it was meant for you!

The ceremony and celebration

The structure of the Match Day ceremony itself is dependent on each medical school. Some schools will lay the envelopes out in a communal area, which generally results in a mad (but fun) dash to grab envelopes at noon. Others will have students open the envelope at the front of an auditorium and read their match into the microphone. The traditions vary, but all of them are full of nervous excitement!

What comes next? Unless you are finding out at home alone, there are likely to be plenty of hugs like those depicted here and here!

The organized events that precede or follow the envelope opening ceremony may also vary greatly between med schools. Traditionally, there will be events the morning of Match Day, then a ceremonial meal following the match (this takes the form of lunch on the east coast, and breakfast on the west coast). Other festivities such as slide shows, class bonding activities and celebratory dinners with families are also common. Whatever happens on your Match Day, it is certain to be memorable.

A personal Match Day experience

I always find that anecdotes bring a little reality to a general order of events, and personal stories can give a better idea of how Match Day might look and feel. So here is a play-by-play of what happened when I matched on March 15th, 2013.

8:00am: Wake up and realize it is Match Day. Pinch myself to make sure I’m not having another “Is this really Match Day?” dream. My family is already in town, so we greet each other with a celebratory, “It’s Match Day! Woot!” Time to get started.

8:30am: Shower, get dressed in slacks, dress shirt, and blazer. Looking good!

9:30am: Meet at an Irish pub that was the go-to hangout spot for our class. They prepared a full Irish breakfast for us as part of the celebration. Many good moments were spent there, and I still have a lot of nostalgia about that place.

11:00am: Convene in one of our classrooms for class photo slideshow (this included baby photos) and more nostalgia. Good times! We also had a peer awards ceremony. I am selected as both “Most Likely to Play a Doctor on Television” and “Most Likely to Treat a Celebrity’s Child.” To this date, I’m still working on accomplishing both.

11:45am: Move to the designated Match Day Envelope Area. Envelopes are laid out and closely guarded. The countdown begins!

Photo by J. Adamn Fenster (University of Rochester)

11:45 – 11:50am: Press covering the event takes a photograph of my brother…taking a photograph of my envelope. My family still jokes to this day about the fact that there is no official photo of me matching, and yet my brother is featured by the medical school without ever having attended a class.

Photo by J. Adam Fenster (University of Rochester)

11:50 – 11:59:59am: Our dean holds up a large digital clock keeping the official time (It is advertised as being visible from over 200 feet away, and lives up to that claim). The smirk on his face adds to the anticipation—and someone even caught it on camera.

Photo by J. Adam Fenster (University of Rochester)

12:00pm: Match time! There’s a mad dash for envelopes, followed by ample cheering and hugs. My brother shows up again in the lower left-hand corner of the following image. I am still nowhere to be found in the official event photography, but very happy and fortunate to have matched at my number one.

Photo by J. Adam Fenster (University of Rochester)

12:30pm – 2:00pm: Celebratory lunch from Dinosaur BBQ (some of the best BBQ one can have).

2:00pm – 5:00pm: Show my family around campus. Go find my favorite professors/attendings and share the good news, which results in many “thank yous” and many more hugs.

5:30pm – 9:30pm: Have a celebratory dinner with my family, my best friend/classmate and his family. Our families had never met, and it was one of my favorite dinners ever—with more laughs than could be counted.

6:37pm: Receive congratulatory phone call from my new program director and share how thrilled I am to have matched at her program!

10:00pm: Go to bed with a huge smile on my face, thankful for everything and looking forward to the future.

What is Match Day?

Match Day is everything presented above and more. The day is the culmination of so much hard work and dedication. It is every late night spent in the anatomy lab. It is every early morning trudge through snow to gather vitals on all the patients on the surgical service before the residents arrive. It is the skipped lunches during fourth year—in fact, during every year. It is the personal sacrifices: missed weddings, family gatherings and holidays.

That single Friday brings to a head the excitement and hardship of a medical education spent learning about the wonders of the human body. It is the crushing defeat of getting a less than stellar review. It is crying with a patient and their family. It is USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS. It is every other test you take in medical school. It is every standardized and actual patient encounter. It is that time in pathology where you realized you had absolutely no idea what was being shown on the slide. It is the first time you tried to intubate a patient and succeeded or failed.

It is the smile and pride you see on your parents’ faces. It is the hug you receive from your brother/sister/significant other. It is the handshake you get from the attending you’ve always respected most, knowing that you will soon join them as a colleague. It is the realization that you will soon be Dr. so-and-so. And it is the excitement and sheer terror that comes with it. 

Happy Match Day Everyone, and best of luck in your residency training!

Thalamus makes the journey to Match Day a little easier by managing the crazy schedules of interview season. Find out how it works!