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Lives of Doctor Wives: Finding Happiness After a Disappointing Match

Friday, April 24, 2015

Finding Happiness After a Disappointing Match

Match Day was years ago, but I still remember feeling my stomach drop when my husband read that he matched to the second-to-last program he ranked. His rank list was so long, and he had received such encouraging feedback; it was unimaginable he would match at a program ranked down in the double-digits. I ducked out of the Match Day party to weep, overwhelmed by shock and disappointment, and even a little bit of shame.

The cry you hear repeatedly is "We got our number one pick!" People say it so often it seems like no one gets anything except their first, or possibly second, choice. The reality is the only people who say anything are the minority of lucky students who matched at their top choices. The rest of us are silenced by stigma. Admitting you matched to anything other than number one is admitting that programs didn’t want you. Programs’ decisions for who they want most are largely arbitrary; they’re picking from a pool of well-qualified candidates they just met. This perceived rejection can make you believe the lie that you’re not good enough.

It took time to pick up the pieces of my lost dreams, but I’m grateful we matched where we did. My husband’s training has been solid, and the culture of his residency has been a better fit than he would likely have found elsewhere. His career will be fine. We’ve met wonderful people and had great experiences. We would still rather have our number-one pick, but we are happy and life is good. Life works out, but it can be an emotionally draining journey to make that happen.

When dealing with disappointment from the match, here are my thoughts for survival and growth:
  • Don’t envy those who did better in the match. It accomplishes nothing and poisons you and your relationships with your friends who had better luck in this fickle process. So much of it is arbitrary, and chance has a huge role in it. Congratulate your friends for their good fortune, even if it takes time for you to genuinely feel happy for them.
  • Don’t resent your husband or blame him for the match results. Let go of the "if only he had . . . ." thoughts, unless there’s a real lesson to be learned that can be applied to future experiences. Everyone has shortcomings and no one knows his better than you, but let them go. Go ahead and hate the match itself if you need to channel the anger toward something.
  • "Comparison is the thief of joy." (Theodore Roosevelt) Don’t dwell on what might have been because distant grass always seems greener. We aren’t close enough to see other programs’ warts, so we assume they are better than the life we are living with all its bumps and imperfections. For example, one program we highly ranked seemed fantastic. I spent too much time thinking "If only we were there, then residency would be better, he’d be working less, and life would be wonderful." Several years post Match, my husband spoke at conferences with their residents. The program had education problems and a malignant culture. The wonderful promises they’d made during interviews hadn’t been kept. But because all I’d known was their excellent presentation during the interview process, they’d seemed ideal. No residency is perfect, and if you can’t see their flaws, you don’t really know them yet.
  • Don’t badmouth your destination. Whatever institution you’re headed to has people who love it and are proud of it. Disparaging the program or the town can only burn bridges. So sure, tell your mom you’re disappointed, but limit that information to your inner circle and never on social media.
  • Dive into your new city with gusto. Every city has something great to offer, whether it’s world class museums, a great park, or a fantastic neighbor. There’s a treasure there somewhere. You just have to find it.
  • Establish your new place as home, both physically and in your heart. Home is where you and your partner live. It’s not where your parents live, and it’s not where you used to live. Invest a part of yourself in your new community.
  • Build a tribe. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a tribe to survive residency. Reach out to your local medical alliance chapter, get to know your neighbors, join a club, and if applicable, jump into your faith community. You will need people whom you can call on during the many times disaster strikes and your resident spouse is not available. Start building those relationships from day one and residency will be far less lonely.
  • Build up and encourage your spouse. Being rejected by a long list of programs is likely just the first in a long series of residency experiences that will hurt his confidence and his feelings. Be sure to let him know that you are proud of the person he is and the doctor he is becoming.
  • Find things to love in your program. I’m not saying convince yourself this is a better outcome than your top choice, but find the things that can be appreciated about where you are. There’s something to love about his program, whether it’s great medical benefits and research opportunities or fresh cookies in the cafeteria. Find things to be grateful for, even if you have to dig deep. Gratitude seeds happiness and dispels resentments. Choose to be happy where you are.
We are now preparing ourselves for a competitive fellowship match. This time I have more realistic expectations and a better attitude. I understand that matching anywhere should not be taken for granted, and getting the last spot on the list is still an accomplishment we are going to celebrate. If there are any tears this time, they’ll be tears of happiness.

By Anon.

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