by Cindy Abole
The fourth and final years of medical school are known as defining,
exciting periods for students as they decide on a medical specialty,
finish any medical school requirements, complete Step 2 of the medical
boards and conduct residency interviews.
This can be particularly stressful for couples who seek to match in the same institution.
Less than two months ago, 129 medical school seniors went through
MUSC’s version of Match Day on March 19. Students gathered among
friends and family to formally learn of their collective fates in
medical internship and residency. Included in this group were seven
couples—the most ever at MUSC participating in the National Resident
Matching Program’s (NRMP) couples match.
from left: Drs. Jennifer and Andrew Jamison; Drs. Angela and Young
Choi. Back row from left: Drs. James Gambrell and Cheryl Bradley; Drs.
Amanda Wrenn and Angelo Del Re.
Match Day is part of an annual ritual shared by about 16,000 graduating
medical students across the country. It occurs on the third Thursday in
March and is described as a tough, tumultuous time that results in the
dramatic culmination of years devoted to education and preparation.
The pressure building up to Match Day is described as a complicated,
exhaustive, expensive and challenging experience. The Match Day results
can either make a young doctor’s career or challenge and possibly break
NRMP’s couples match program is an option open to fourth-year medical
students who wish to be matched as a couple. Both individuals submit
pairs of choices on their primary rank order lists. Applicants
participating in the couples match can be married couples, significant
others, siblings and friends.
“Throughout medical school, everyone knows that the match process
exists. It’s not until the start of fourth year that medical students
begin considering it; although couples tend to plan early about the
option to enter the couples match. Entering as a couple changes the
strategy a little as they prepare to rank programs,” said Cheryl
Bradley, M.D., who submitted as a couples match with fellow graduate
James Gambrell, M.D.
In preparation for match, students choose a field of medicine to do
their post medical school education and training. During the fall
semester of their senior year, they complete applications with NMRP and
visit hospitals and residency programs. By Feb. 25, candidates submit
their rank order list or “wish list” of residency choices to the
Electronic Residency Application Service. Often, their list is based on
residency visits, interviews and decisions. Similarly, residency
programs submit their own list of desired candidates. NMRP’s national
database runs an algorithm that matches the student’s ranking with a
residency program’s preference at cities and hospitals across the
Once an applicant is matched to a residency program he or she is bound
to the final results by NRMP’s Match Participation Agreement. Failure
to go where the match sends them is a violation of the match agreement
and has strict penalties.
“The College of Medicine’s Dean’s Office has worked hard to assist and
coach students into choosing wisely with their residency options and
rank order lists,” said Jeffrey G. Wong, M.D., senior associate dean
for medical education, College of Medicine. “We tell students to apply
widely and shoot for the stars when it comes to applying to
residencies. Programs draw up their own list in a similar way. If
everyone completes their lists in this manner, everyone’s results would
When couples enter the Match process, their goal is to match into the
most preferred pair of programs at the same institution where each
partner has been offered a position. In essence, both partners of a
couple pair the same residency numbers on their primary rank order
lists. For example, a couple visiting the same residency program can
save money by traveling and interviewing together. That was the
situation with Cheryl and James as well as Angelo Del Re, M.D., and
fiancée Amanda Wrenn, M.D., who received her medical degree earlier
from the University of South Carolina. Some residency programs may be
“couples-friendly” and look at the couples match as a “two-for-one”
deal, especially when the match involves strong candidates who apply to
a large, less competitive residency such as internal medicine,
pediatrics or family medicine.
“We were blessed to not experience any major issues going through the
Match process,” said Angelo who, along with Amanda, will join Cheryl
and James for their residency years at Eastern Virginia Medical School
in Norfolk, Va. “We took time off to travel and interview together and
constantly stayed in touch with the residency program directors we met
throughout the process.”
But the process also can be complicated for others. With one candidate
or both students entering the couples match and vying for a very
competitive medical specialty, the process can be especially
challenging. Jennifer Jamison, M.D., and Andrew Jamison, M.D.,
interviewed at 12 residency programs in 10 different states seeking
residency slots that would meet each other’s professional needs and
help keep them together.
Jennifer searched for family medicine programs, while Andrew
interviewed at more competitive dermatology residencies throughout the
Southeast. Some specialty residencies also may require a candidate to
complete a one-year preliminary training program prior to the start of
their primary residency specialty training.
“Andrew and I were challenged with several different scenarios, which
included 28 possibilities for us with Andrew also matching for his
preliminary year in addition to his categorical spot,” said Jennifer.
By the Monday prior to Match Day, they received word that they
successfully matched as a couple but still worried about details
concerning Andrew’s preliminary year. They were glad to learn they
matched to residencies at Texas A&M Health Science Center at Scott
& White in Temple.
That same anxiety challenged newlyweds Angela Choi, M.D., and Young
Choi, M.D. Angela felt limited in seeking compatible residencies for
herself in OB/GYN and Young in anesthesia. The Chois considered
programs based on their own strengths as well as each program’s
competitiveness. They looked at multiple programs in the Chapel
Hill/Durham area and in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, they matched at MUSC.
“It’s great that a couples match is now an option in the match process
as it is a relatively new program that allows families or friends to
remain together,” said Angela. “It just requires more time, preparation
This stressful, dynamic process also can challenge the strongest marriages or often strains relationships.
“I learned quickly that the process is not all about one person,”
Jennifer said. She and Andrew have been married since August 2007. “It
also relates to the foundation of marriage and placing your partner’s
interests and well-being before one’s own. It’s the same give-and-take
concept that defines a marriage. Neither partner wants an unhappy
spouse. We just learned to work together and communicate in an honest
and open way.”
“It’s been well worth it for us, even with the extra stress,” said
Cheryl. “Not only did James and I stay together throughout this
process, but we’re stronger now as a couple having been through it
together. I have no complaints.”
Like every good system, there’s always room for improvement. When asked
how these couples would recommend improvements to the traditional or
couples match of the system, the new doctors were very positive.
“Start the process early,” said James. “Students should take the
initiative and responsibility to get information and initiate the
process on their own. For couples, it’s also important that they be
honest with themselves and ask the right questions and tap resources
like other residents, the school’s own residency program coordinators,
faculty and the dean’s office staff.”
Others reminded their peers about the importance of preparation and staying organized.
“Take advantage of your down time,” Jennifer said, about the period
after a medical student submits their rank-order list and Match Day in
March. “Our work is done. You can’t worry, plan or pack until Match Day
anyway. Then, the reality suddenly hits you once you’ve confirmed the
results. After that it seems like the whole world drops into your lap
and you’re busy again planning a move, finding housing, confirming your
salary and what insurance you need, etc. Take advantage of that sweet,
“This is really an exciting time for new physicians, especially in
today’s struggling economy,” Wong said. “I don’t know of any other
profession where students who have completed their medical education
are guaranteed a job. Like other professionals, they learn to
work with a boss and coworkers and have responsibilities. They also
have that added benefit of walking into an already established support
system composed of other residents and colleagues who form an extended,
supportive family that’s there when they need it.”
Friday, May 15, 2009