Match, Medical Education, Career Planning

A Last-Minute Swerve into EM

After a second interview season, I’m an intern in emergency medicine watching as EM-bound students and reapplying residents make their way through the match. This is what I learned about taking the scenic route.

I had a midlife crisis during my fourth year of medical school. Choosing a specialty was daunting, but I thought I’d finally figured it out. My ERAS application was submitted, and I began interviewing. Then I had my emergency medicine rotation and loved it.

I fought the feeling. Maybe it was just one great rotation, or maybe it was the residents I worked with. But it didn’t go away. How could I switch now? How could I risk being unemployed with all this debt? It was late in the season when I committed to making a change, and committed myself to the SOAP, which is how I matched a preliminary surgery position.

Now, after a second interview season, I'm an intern in emergency medicine watching as EM-bound students and reapplying residents make their way through this year's match. This is what I learned about taking the scenic route.

Be true to yourself.

The first hard question an unmatched EM-bound medical student must answer is why they didn’t match. It was not only brought up by interviewers, but more importantly, it helped me grow. I hesitated for half of an interview season before committing to reapplying because I doubted myself.  I doubted that I had enough experience, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, or a clue what to do. So, I hesitated. It took a lot of reflection to accept that my passion was in EM, and that I wouldn’t be happy in another specialty. This helped me commit to the SOAP, pursue a challenging year as a surgery intern, and build myself into the kind of EM doctor I wanted to be. Whether you spend your reapplication year as a preliminary resident, researcher, or take another course, you should seek out rewarding opportunities that challenge you to grow.

Be true to your story.

There is no reason to hide why you didn’t match, and most likely programs will know you are a reapplicant. I brought up why I didn’t match in my personal statement, so interviewers were often prepared to ask follow-up questions. Why a year of surgery? What have you learned as a surgery resident? This gave me the opportunity to discuss work experiences I had as an intern that would set me apart from medical student applicants. In interviews, reapplicants should be prepared to share insights on the personal and professional growth they’ve had in their first months since medical school.

Take care of yourself.

I got lucky in not having to travel for interviews, since time and money are scarce for an intern. My program was not familiar with prelims having to spend time reapplying, as most prior prelims had already secured categorical spots. To attend virtual interviews I was required to use what little vacation and time off I had, so I also did five interviews while post-call on a month of night float. This was, in short, a nightmare and 9 out of 10 doctors would not recommend doing this. It was physically and emotionally draining, and I did not perform to the best of my ability. In making your work schedule during interview season, be direct with your chief residents or faculty about the time you need in order to do well. Your career is at stake and must take priority.

Don't worry.

Initially, I thought being a reapplicant was a dark mark on my application that everyone would care about. Instead, I found almost every program already had other residents who were reapplicants, and I was far from alone. There were residents, fellows, and even attendings who told me they too did not match into EM initially. Emergency medicine celebrates applicants with prior work experiences, especially in other fields. Rather than being a detriment, my year of general surgery was beneficial in many ways and praised in interviews. Though the reapplication process initially feels like you’ve fallen down, know that you will soon be valued for your ability to get up and try again.

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