Match Day

On the third Thursday of March each year, medical students across the nation participate in a half-century old tradition that has the tendency to bring tears—of joy or sadness —to the eyes of those involved: Match Day. On March 17, fourth year students at Penn’s medical school found out the residency programs to which they had been accepted.

Residency is a critical period in physicians’ education and training. It is during residency that they get fully immersed in the high pressure and long hours of hospital work. Residency programs are also highly competitive; there are roughly 16,000 American medical students vying for 25,000 slots every year. An additional 20,000 applicants from previous graduating classes and international medical schools also enter the pool. Add in the complexity of matching students with residency programs in the subfield of medicine they intend to practice, and you have the potential for chaos.

match day photo by scott spitzerIn 1952, the National Resident Matching Program was founded to help organize the process of connecting students with the programs that best fit their needs, and vice versa. After participating in a round of interviews, students rank the residency programs they most want to attend, and the programs rank the students they most want to take on. The NRMP then processes those lists using an algorithm that attempts to give all students and programs their top choices.

The NRMP also tries to match married couples with residencies in the same city, though finding a perfect fit with this additional complexity turns the task from merely difficult into something that is beyond the ability of current computers to solve. Penn’s advancing medical students celebrated the day with cheers, hugs, cookies and champagne.

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Text by Evan Lerner
Videos by Kurtis Sensenig
Photos by Scott H. Spitzer