It was Friday. Finally. The day had been circled, stared, and highlighted on the calendar, serving as a constant reminder to prepare my mind and hedge my future. Weeks out, my friends had noted the build up, and the countdown began at seven days. Thursday night, I slunk into bed, exhausted, and quickly drowned into a deep and efficient sleep. But my mind remained aware. I awoke wide-eyed, switching off my 4:45 alarm before it had the chance to chime and wake my wife, who at that hour is always peaceful, regardless of the upcoming events.
I threw on shorts, laced up my running shoes and walked out the door at 5, greeted by the moon and a couple of buddies waiting on the pavement.
“Big day!” they shouted. Indeed. I needed a light run to shake the nerves, so we set off down to the waterfront for an easy 10. They took bets on my future.
“No doubt she’ll get her first choice.”
“She’d better,” I replied. Match Day was upon us. “I already accepted the position in Seattle,” I said with more nervousness in my voice than I intended to let on.
Two weeks before, I enthusiastically accepted a postdoc fellowship at the University of Washington to study autism. I had researched and interviewed for various positions across the country, sending me into a constant back-and-forth, weighing the pros against the cons, considering what-if I chose this position, or the other. But one morning, I awoke with a clear research vision that sent me racing to the computer for a quick literature search.
You know, I thought to myself, this is worth exploring. The gears clicked, the wheels turned in unison, and I knew that it was the right postdoc position for me. But I needed to lock it down. There were other candidates, and I could see the opportunity seep through my fingers by not committing. I feared missing the opportunity, so I dove in, accepted this offer, turned down the others, and held my breath.
“What happens if she doesn’t get it?” my friend asked.
“Well, there are two other Seattle options. But I don’t know what will happen if those don’t work out. I’ve gone all in on Seattle.”
Match Day is a special day for the medical students. It’s the culmination of their efforts in classes, board exams, rotations, extracurriculars, essays, and interviews. It can define their careers and be a celebration of past achievement. It’s stressful and I get it. But I’m not a medical student, just married to one.
I had enormous confidence in my wife’s ability and qualification to match into her top choice: a family medicine residency at Swedish First Hill in Seattle. Her board scores, grades, whatever metric you pull up, suggested a clear fit and easy match. But as a scientist, I’ve been trained to be weary of certainty. We establish careers from claims based on uncertainty-seeded probabilities. And unlikely things do happen. In 4th grade, I won the grand prize in an elementary school raffle: two tickets to a theme park. I feared I might be overdue for another unlikely event (one could argue that my acceptance into the Behavioral Neuroscience program was one such example). Until I read the contents of my wife’s envelope, all possibilities, however remote, were on the table.
“Maybe she’ll match at OHSU. Then you’d have to come down and visit more often,” my friend joked, perhaps with a bit of hope in his voice. I’m told it’s not easy to find early morning training companions. Not a funny joke, at least not at the moment. I filled the next few seconds with nervous laughter while I contemplated the option. Of course it wasn’t the first time the thought entered my head, but today, the possibility felt increasingly real.
“So you’re saying she could end up in Vermont? Or North Carolina?”
“Let’s not go there.” But my mind did.
Eventually the run ended along with postponing the inevitable. Families huddled in the first floor of the library. It was loud, cramped, and filled with a giddiness that often precedes a big exam. Our fate was sealed in a thin envelope, awaiting the clock in Times Square to strike noon. There wasn’t a balldrop, nor a screaming countdown, but there was a lot of checking the watch. And waiting…
In the end, my wife matched into her first choice. The effort, the honor, the celebration belonged to her. She earned it and deserves the recognition. While she was on her night shifts, I slept comfortably. While she studied for boards, I went hiking. Yes, this was her Match Day celebration. But it’s funny how it feels like we matched. Sure, the envelope only has one name on it, but when you’re married to a medical student, the accomplishments feel shared (if the debt is, then the successes better be!). And while my poor cooking (if you can call it cooking) in no way contributed to this honor, tackling an M.D. is in no way a solo venture, nor is obtaining a Ph.D. Later that day, I submitted my dissertation to the Dissertation Advisory Committee and together, we toasted shared accomplishments.
Congratulations Med ’15. Good luck wherever you may be heading.