Wellness Update: Going Unmatched

The stress and pressure which medical students face is considerable. In case you missed it in the press this weekend, a heartbreaking story was reported of Robert Chu, a medical student from McMaster who took his own life after unsuccessfully matching to a residency position in Canada two years in a row. For the full stories that appeared this weekend, see below links:

  1. Tragic Case of Robert Chu
  2. No easy cure for left-out medical school grads

Many of you will be peripherally familiar with the basics of what match day involves. But most of you will identify with it only by the proud and exciting posts that appear on social media when an applicant that you know personally has received a successful “match.” The immense burden of anxiety that is felt in the weeks, months, and years leading up to that fateful day is felt only by a select few. For some, match day is the highlight of their lives and terminates much of their angst. For others, match day results in a crushing blow that destroys confidence, engenders stigma, and, as in this instance, ends lives.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, she writes:

“We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization—the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. The three P’s play like the flip side of the pop song “Everything Is Awesome”—“everything is awful.” The loop in your head repeats, “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful.”

Having spoken with a number of unsuccessful applicants in recent years, these words capture how I think they may feel. As a medical community, I think we can probably do a better job of supporting our peers who, despite being highly motivated and successful learners deserving of a residency position,  have never felt more at fault in a system that likely has its own contributing faults; who feel as if their match results define everything about who they are and strips them down to mere vestiges of their former selves;  and whose visions of the future are seemingly forever obscured by a the output of computer algorithm.







Leave a Reply