Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Residency Rush: How Today’s Docs Pick Their Fields

Each fall, when the weather turns gusty and romantic, the city’s fourth-year medical students embark on a mass professional mating ritual designed to hook them up with the residency program of their dreams. The ritual is known as the Match, and like all frenzied dating rites, it is as much about defining who the students are as about finding their medical soul mates.
Are they ultra-alpha gunners with a latent urge to slice and dice? Then perhaps they’ll become surgeons, overworked but well paid. Or maybe they tend more toward the brainy-hipster type, with dog-eared copies of Dora in their pockets. Then clearly psychiatry is the field for them.
This year’s match frenzy kicked off on Sept. 1, when a vast electronic database began accepting student applications. By now, most students have already dispatched their carefully crafted personal statements to 10, 20, sometimes 40 programs, but a few poor souls are still scrambling—still trying to choose a specialty, in some cases—by the Nov. 1 deadline.
Then it’s on to interviewing, praying and waiting for the big day: March 15, Match Day, when a giant HAL-like computer spits out a binding verdict for each student.
Why do some choose a life of treating rashes while others opt for curing cancer or fixing fractures?
The most popular theory of the moment is the aforementioned Lifestyle Theory. A slightly less cynical theory—in fact, a downright warm-and-fuzzy one—is the “mentoring” hypothesis, which states that students, like ducklings, follow the lead of their schools or advisors.
But at the end of the day, for many students, the big choice comes down, quite simply, to personality, attraction, even musk. Indeed, one of the great old medical-school clichés is that a practiced eye can identify which students will go into which fields on the first day of class. The Match, nearly four years later, just seals the deal.

So who’s going to be setting your sprains, delivering your tykes or—God forbid—changing your catheter? Whoever they are, we just hope they’ll take our insurance!

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