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Curbside Consult by Dr. Jayne 3/12/12

March 12, 2012 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

I’ve been wearing my faculty hat more than I’m used to lately. It’s a little sad but not surprising that increasing numbers of medical students are questioning their career choices. Although I historically precepted students in traditional medical rotations, I’ve more recently led electives in practice management and health informatics.

For those of you who aren’t in academic medicine, this week is “Match Week,” which is the time when the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) spits out residency program offers to medical students who have spent the better part of the last year filling out applications, traveling to interviews, and generally trying to one-up each other on important clinical rotations.

The truth comes out on Friday the 16th at 1 pm ET. Across the country starting at noon, fourth-year medical students will participate in a variety of events (from formal ceremonies to all-out keggers) and receive a sealed envelope that tells them their fate.

Think of sorority / fraternity rush on steroids. These students have spent tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars on tuition then several more to go through this process, where they rank residency programs and the programs in turn rank them. That hopefully results in a match that allows students to pursue their post-graduate training program of choice. Most of them will move to another city, then embark upon three to seven years of additional training (some moving again between the first and second year due to residencies that don’t have integrated internship programs) and ultimately be able to join the rest of us in the trenches.

For those students that don’t match, there used to be an aptly-named “scramble” process where lots of phone calls were conducted to try to find an open slot. This year there’s a new process called SOAP – the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program. Students who are eligible for SOAP received e-mails last Friday night and now will have to go through eight “offer rounds” starting on Wednesday. Hopefully the process ends with a match by Friday at 5 pm. Each round will have fewer offers available, so potential residents are encouraged to accept a first-round offer if it is satisfactory. The offers are essentially binding contracts.

The entire SOAP process hinges on brand new software that, hopefully for the students’ sake, has been well-tested. I know more about this than I probably should due to this year’s increased number of students showing up on my doorstep to discuss their options. Many of the students who have rotated with me are thinking about going the administrative or informatics routes with their careers. They tend to stay in touch since there aren’t a lot of mentors out there and other faculty members tend to try to shame those students to some degree about “wasting” their training.

A number of them have decided (against my better advice) to not even do an internship or residency. There’s a growing sentiment that it’s just not worth it and that medicine has gone into what one termed “the death spiral.” One recently said, “If I’m going to wind up not being able to control my life, at least if I go into administration or to the pharma industry, I’ll be well paid.” The downside of not doing an internship is that you can’t be fully licensed, but some industries don’t care, and schools of business and law definitely don’t mind.

Looking at this year’s graduating class, there are nearly a dozen headed to business school, law school, or straight into the workforce. The number of students choosing careers in primary care is low – family medicine is almost a curse word at my institution. We’ll have to see what Friday brings. Over the last two years, the number of students matching to family medicine programs nationwide was up, but if the nation looks anything like our current student body, we’re in trouble.

It’s also interesting to look at the demographics of specialty matching. Last year in family medicine, 94% of available slots were filled, but only 48% of those by US grads. As a physician staring down the barrel of an onslaught of aging baby boomers, seeing that US grads don’t find family medicine attractive is concerning. Not surprisingly, NRMP data shows that some specialties continue to be filled with high numbers of US grads: anesthesiology (80%), dermatology (93%), emergency medicine (79%), neurosurgery (90%), orthopedic surgery (93%), otolaryngology (95%), plastic surgery (93%), radiation oncology (94%), diagnostic radiology (80%), general surgery (81%), thoracic surgery (92%), vascular surgery (97%). I’ll let my very intelligent readers climb the ladder of inference and figure out where these specialties fall on the pay scale compared to primary care.

So here’s to The Match – one more third-party hoop for physicians to jump through in preparation for a career containing many more. But even better – here’s to a Friday afternoon that allows those of us who are not on call to start drinking at lunchtime, officially sanctioned, with the Dean picking up the tab.

Have a question about residency programs, the challenges of subinternship, or which pumps look sassiest with your interview suit? E-mail me.


E-mail Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Fantastic article and a subject near and dear to my heart. When I was considering not doing a residency, I spoke with several mentors about it, as well as the med school administration. The administration was not very helpful and, for the most part, I don’t think understood my decision or the factors going into it.

    The faculty physicians that I talked to, both academic and community, overwhelmingly supported me not pursuing a residency. The only reason I was given to do a residency, really just do to an internship, was for the “legitimacy” of being licensed.

    My opinion is that medicine continues to be seen as a very linear, don’t stray from the path, field. I think increasingly, as you’re seeing first hand with your students, this is changing and roads once less travelled are becoming more commonplace and more palatable.

    Another example. My wife was told not to take time off after medical school off because she’d either never go back or, when she did, she wouldn’t be competitive for more selective specialties. She had no problem matching into derm (a very competitive specialty), but only after she got to spend 2 years at home with our kids. Ironically, she is now at the exact point in training as several of her med school classmates that started residencies in one specialty and then jumped to others.

    I realize an “n” of 2 is not real evidence but I wanted to highlight different personal experiences with the match and medical career choices.

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