Tim Fife held his future in an envelope.
About two months ago, Fife and his classmates – all graduating UC Davis medical students – received their residency matches, which notified them where in the country they would go to begin practicing medicine.
All across the nation, students learned of their residencies at the same time – 9 a.m. PST. Before the clock struck nine, Fife could only look at the sealed envelope with anticipation.
Fife, 28, applied to teaching hospitals nationwide, from Texas to Ohio to California. Like many of his classmates, he was prepared to do whatever it took to achieve his career goals, including moving 3,000 miles away.
“Applying is a long and extensive process,” Fife said. “I think all together I flew almost 40,000 miles. I was on the road for two months and stayed in hotels – I had to pay for everything out of pocket.“
Eventually, all his hard work paid off – the envelope was opened and Fife was matched to Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where he will soon begin his internship in otolaryngology (specialization of the ear, nose and throat). Fife and his classmates will graduate this month, and he will head to North Carolina shortly after.
“I’m really happy the way it’s worked out,” he said. “The next five years will be a good experience.“
Making a match
But before finding out their matches, medical students first went through a complicated residency match process to find out where they would launch their medical careers.
Choosing a program is a balancing act – students want to attend the best programs in their field, but some want to stay close to home.
If students are applying to a competitive field such as dermatology or neurosurgery, they usually must apply to many programs to try and ensure they get a match, Fife said.
Initially, applicants apply to programs of interest, just as they would any other job. If the program is interested in return, the applicant will be asked for an interview.
After interviewing at a handful of teaching hospitals, the students rank the programs in order of preference; meanwhile, the programs rank the applicants.
All students and teaching hospitals submit their preferences to the National Residency Match program.
“The computer goes through and tries to match everyone with their highest possible choice based on what’s available,” Fife said. “Once it‘s done that, results are distributed.“
Location is a big factor for many medical students, as many don’t want to leave their home state behind.
“Staying in California wasn’t such a big deal for me, but for most of my classmates, I think it was,“ Fife said. “I really like North Carolina and think it’s a good fit for my wife and me.“
Although many medical students are going all over the country to start their medical training, some don’t even have to change zip codes.
Christine Osterhout, 27, will begin her four-year residency in psychiatry at UC Davis Medical Center on June 25. She is no stranger to UC Davis as she’s earned both her medical and undergraduate degree here.
“I’m excited about staying at UC Davis,” Osterhout said. “I’m happy here and hope to stay here afterwards, too.“
Staying in state played a big role in Osterhout’s decision.
“I had a hard time applying to places where I didn’t have family,” she said. “You’re so busy, so when you have time off you want to be close to family.“
More medical training
Fernando Boschini, another fourth-year medical student at UC Davis, will begin his residency in radiology at the University of North Carolina, where his sister will also be completing her residency. Boschini is familiar with the area, receiving his undergraduate degree from Duke University, so the position is a good match.
But before returning to North Carolina, Boschini will complete a one-year surgical internship at UC Davis. The internship will give him valuable training for his specialty, as image guided procedures in radiology overlap with training for surgical specialties.
Each step in your medical education gives you more and more responsibility, Boschini said.
“Your residency is a quasi-job, but it’s also an education,” he said. “You’re in charge of a patient, but someone to oversee your decision making – you always have to be under a supervising physician.“
Residency period varies with specialty and program, Fife said. A specialty in family medicine may involve a three-year residency; neurosurgery may entail seven.
After completing a medical residency, residents become attending physicians, where they have full control over medical decision-making, Boschini said.
The soon-to-be M.D.s know that their residency years will be tough, but they are up to the challenge.
“I think for all of us, it’s kind of intimidating going from being a student to being a physician,“ Fife said. “The learning curve is pretty steep, but you hope that the four years of medical school have prepared you.“
The first year of residency – the intern year – is known to be especially arduous.
“My internship is probably going to be pretty rough,” Fife said. “Most residents are expected to work about 80 hours a week, and you’re on-call taking care of patients overnight every three nights or so.“
“I am very excited to finally be able to say that I’m the doctor taking care of the patient, but I know that I’m still going to look for help,” Boschini said.
Though their internships may be trying, the students have a passion for medicine and are confident they chose the right career
“It takes a lot of hours, a lot of work and a lifetime commitment to school,” Osterhout said. “But if you want to help people and love [the medical field], it’s a great fit.”
ANNA OPALKA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgXXX.