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Lives of Doctor Wives: Let the match be the bad guy, and other advice to get you through your holiday dinners

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Let the match be the bad guy, and other advice to get you through your holiday dinners

I kind of hate that the match spans the holidays, because instead of focusing on turkey and presents and thanks and families, there's always this sneaky voice in the back of your mind saying "the maaaatch is coming cloooooser." And then there are the louder voices of well-meaning relatives who are so innocently curious about the match process.  

It's been a few years since we matched, but I still remember agonizing over some of the questions and commentary we got from our families. For those of you in the midst of matching this year, here are some tips of how I wish I'd handled things when we were matching.  

First: Avoid specifics, and don't make promises. When Grandma tells you that there's a program near her, and you know the program's not a great fit, you can reply: "Oh Grandma, it would be so fun to live closer to you! I'll let you know if they invite us to interview there. And could you pass the gravy?" Oftentimes, explaining that not every program is right for you is a much longer and more emotionally perilous conversation than you want to have over dinner. Mention its positives and that if they invite you, you'll go, and conveniently forget to mention that you didn't even apply there.

Second: Blame everything on the magic of the match. If Uncle Steve asks where you want to match, and your dream program is an eye-watering two-thousand miles away from family, you can say, "Just to cover our bases, we're applying all over. We're definitely looking at [program near family], and also at [a few other places you're applying]. We're so excited to see where the match will send us! How's cousin Mike doing in school?" Later, you can follow this up with, "We're as shocked as anyone that we matched [far, far away]. We're going to make the best of it, though, and we're so, so excited we matched! Come visit!" Let the match be the bad guy. You don't want to move far away, but the match is making you. 

Third: Don't (necessarily) share your rank list. When your mom tries to pin down your rank list, you can say, "Man, I wish my husband would make up his mind about it! I think he'll be up until midnight on the night it's due getting it sorted out. Why didn't Aunt Emily eat anything but jello salad at dinner? Is she on another crazy diet?"

That third point might need more explanation: when my husband was a second year, we heard of a couple that refused to share their final rank list with a single soul outside of AMCAS. I thought they were crazy, and two years later we happily spilled our list to everyone. I have since seen the wisdom of the other approach.  Here's what happens: as soon as you mention "We're hoping to match at X," your family and friends hear "They're going to match at X!" This invites all kinds of comments, ranging from "When you're at X, we'll come visit you! They have an amazing museum there that I've always wanted to visit!" to "Why X? What's wrong with the programs closer to home?" Maybe this doesn't make you feel crazy, but for me, I felt like if we didn't match at our number one, we were letting everyone down.

We didn't match at our number one. Or two, three, or four. We matched about halfway down our list, at a far-away program we now love but weren't very familiar with during the interview process. We spent the week following the match in mourning for those programs we didn't match at and, unfortunately, some family members did too. My poor, sweet husband kept getting asked "So...what do you think you did wrong at the other interviews?" (Answer: not a single thing. Ortho is competitive!)  Keeping your match list to yourself, or at least to a small, select support group, can help avoid those awkward moments.

Fourth: Support your significant other, completely. When your cousin says, "You need to get your husband to apply in X field or Y location,"or "I can't believe he's taking you away from us!" remember this phrase: "Becoming a doctor is my husband's dream. I am so happy to support him and his dream, wherever it takes us, just as he's supported me with mine." 

And as long as you mean those words when you say them, you'll get through whatever the match throws your way, together. 

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