Note: This is about my experience pursuing a pharmacy residency. For those coming from a medical background, the experiences may be similar and worth reading.
I remember distinctly the night before the match results would be sent out, laying in bed trying to sleep. I was still on my community rotation, and knew I would have to go in later that day. Nonetheless, I kept checking my cellphone to see how much longer I had to wait. Eventually, the time came, and the email popped into my inbox, and it was exactly the one I feared to see. I didn't match with any of my picks.
There was a wave of emotions that washed over me when i saw that message. Part of me just wanted to go to sleep, the other part went into panic mode about what to do. No one explained to me what to do if I didn't match and had to participate in the scramble. I remember pulling up my computer and doing a crash course on the pharmacy scramble for the next 30 minutes while sending out requests from professors on what to do. By 12:00, the list of unmatched positions and match statistics were released, and I realized that there were 1250 unmatched applicants and only 146 positions left.
I don't have that email of rejection anymore. I probably deleted it. I also don't know how many applications I sent out. The only thing that stood out to me, and I think about often, is that it's amazing how all preferences you had for a residency beforehand fly out the window when you suddenly face the reality of belonging somewhere or nowhere. I also reached out to those that had written my original letters of recommendations telling them that I did not match and may require new letters depending on the situation. I remember then turning off my phone and spending the rest of the day in a fugue. I didn't want anyone to call me asking where I was going to match, I didn't want to see where other had matched on Facebook, and I really didn't want to talk to my family. I wanted to be alone.
Looking back on this time, I realize that we spend so much time congratulating those that match, and do not take the time to counsel those that do not match. Emotional support is important, and just general guidance would have helped. I was at a loss, I had no job lined up or backup options outside of residency, I had essentially thrown my eggs in one basket. What I did get a lot of was comments such as, "everything happens for a reason," "everything will work out," and similar quips, which in all honesty I didn't need to hear.
Over the next few days I received emails from programs I had applied to, letting me know that they had selected another candidate, and wished me luck. Each one was a defeat that dropped my self-confidence lower and lower. Finally, weeks later, one faculty member sent me an email to apply to a program that had an empty spot, due to their candidate dropping out. I immediately applied. By this point, I had accepted that I was not going to get a residency spot, and was looking for job on the East Coast. I was in my last block, which I had off, and had a lot of free time to visit friends and family. Then, one day, weeks after the match results had been released, I received a phone interview. It was quick, and I was nervous as hell, but they took me nonetheless. If anything else, I owe my director everything for taking the chance of letting me prove myself in that residency program.
I pursued a fellowship, and entered the world of academia. I like to think I have done well, and I feel comfortable now sharing my 'joys' of the scramble. I didn't end up pursuing a second year fellowship, due probably in my crushing self-doubt about not matching and going through the scramble again. I really didn't want to, and got a great chance to go into a fellowship that had qualities that I loved. Nonetheless, it took me a long time to get over the fact that doing the scramble didn't make me less of a person or any less knowledgable than my peers, but it did take a great amount of time, and to rebuild confidence also took a lot longer.
Being in the scramble and not matching has hung over my head every year that Match Day comes round. I congratulate the students that match, and take time with the students that do not match. I listen to them cry, despair, and share in their anger, and help them in the process or the scramble or looking for a job. I know how it feels. It really does feel like your world has come crashing down and everything you did was for naught. It's a dark space to be in, and I do not want my students to suffer in it alone. I know now that that is not the case, that not matching does not necessarily block you off from moving on in life, from a worthwhile career, or from trying again. I know a lot of individuals who never got a residency and have moved on and done well with their professional lives. But it does leave some emotional scars that never leave.