The Residency Match: Medicine’s Romantic Comedy

wedding invitation photo

For graduating 4th year medical students, spring brings warm weather, seasonal allergies, March Madness… and the dreaded Residency Match. The Match is kind of like medicine’s version of online dating. Med students and residencies consider and rank their most eligible suitors, hopefully leading to a 3-to-5 year committed relationship. As Match results are revealed, med schools announce proudly, “X percent of our students got their first choice for residency!” Then, as in any romantic comedy, residency programs and new physicians live happily ever after. But sometimes not.

Romantic comedies make us feel good, but they don’t really prepare us for the hard work of marriage. Similarly, statistics about first choice don’t necessarily reflect what real-life will be like after graduation. Residency is hard enough even if everything goes perfectly. What happens if you don’t get your first choice in the Match? Or what if you do get your first choice, only to find out that the attending physicians and chief residents—who all seemed so nice during the interviews—have suddenly turned grumpy? What if you discover you just spent thousands of dollars to relocate to a city that is too big, too small, too dangerous, or too boring? These challenges confound recent grads, people applying to PhD programs and post doctorates, and anyone starting a new phase of life.

God’s people faced uncertainty entering an unknown land. The rugged mountainous terrain was fraught with dangers. Moses told the people, “the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.” (Deuteronomy 11:11-12) Moses wanted the people to know that God would care for them in good times and bad. They would face mountains, but God would use the rain from those mountains to irrigate the land, enabling it—and them—to flourish.

wedding invitation photoOn my Match Day in 1994, I didn’t get my first choice for residency. My second choice was a strong program, but it didn’t align with the narrative I had imagined for myself. At first, in my immaturity, I was disappointed and even a bit angry. But God has a way of putting life circumstances in perspective. I realized that people face bigger challenges than not getting their first job choice. Many struggle with health, relationship and financial troubles. I had been blessed with an opportunity to help people as a physician. When I trusted God with my future, he took the hills, the valleys, and the rugged terrain of residency, and used them for my good. Looking back 25 years later, I remember my residency years, although hard, as some of the best of my life. I met my wife, made lifelong friends, learned how to be a compassionate doctor, found a great church and grew in my faith.

The land we enter has mountains and valleys. In life, we sometimes get our first choice, sometimes our second, and sometimes none of the above. We will have disappointments in our careers, families, and relationships. Connecting with God—even when everything seems to be going smoothly—helps us to turn to God in difficult and uncertain times. If we trust in God, he will give us strength in good times and bad to flourish.

Discussion Questions

  1. Name your favorite romantic comedy. What do you like about it? In what ways is it unrealistic about real-life and relationships?
  2. Share an experience when you failed or were disappointed. How did you respond?
  3. Have there been people in your life who struggled with major challenges (for example, serious health problems, depression/addiction, or poverty)? Explain. How might friendship with someone who is going through tough times help to give a person perspective?
  4. Do you know of someone (for example, a mentor, parent, teacher or sibling) who seems unshakable in the face of disappointment? Describe the person. What attributes characterize him or her?
  5. Do you find it easier to connect with God when life is going smoothly, or during difficult and uncertain times? Why? How do you connect with God? Is there anything you might want to do differently in your walk with God?
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Scott Santibanez

Tito Scott Santibañez is an adjunct professor at Emory University and Trinity School for Ministry. As a volunteer physician, he has provided medical care for underserved populations for nearly 25 years. He also has a doctorate from seminary.

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