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Fear and Hoping in Medical School: Finding More Than A Match

February 14, 2019

Like many successful Doctors of BC initiatives, Find Your Match (FYM) started from a place of need: medical students wanted more information before making the important decision of choosing a career. Based on this feedback, the FYM event was created to bring together medical students and doctors from a wide range of specialties to discuss career paths in a relaxed setting. Now in its fifth year, FYM events are held at all four UBC Medicine sites and attended by hundreds of medical students.

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The first of three events was typical with students hungry for knowledge and food, and volunteer doctors eager to help. As is usually the case, I found the students to be inspiring, engaging, energetic, intelligent, and thoughtful. There were the usual questions about meaning, variety, collegiality, autonomy, lifestyle and challenges, but this year there was also a sense of apprehension, mostly related to changes in the Canadian Resident Matching System (CaRMS.)

I’m not one to start a story with “in my day,” but in my day there was a reasonable ratio of residency positions to applicants. Certainly there was strategy about where to apply and how to rank, but there was a feeling of reassurance that there would be some position in some program that would lead to something different but often in some place good. (Or at least lead to years of funding that would carry over to another program.)

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Today there are increasing numbers of medical students going unmatched after the first round—202 last year—a situation exacerbated by the added competition of hundreds of international medical graduates who are eligible for the second round. Further, those who remain unmatched re-enter the following year, causing an exponential increase of applicants relative to positions. Without commenting on legalities, the repatriation of Canadians and the case of others medically trained abroad, it is clear that this stress is felt by medical students who are pressured to choose a career path early in their studies in order to remain competitive for future matches.

Medical school is difficult enough while balancing learning, rotational service, sleep deprivation, personal growth, and self-care. The added occupational uncertainty seems cruel and at odds with the implicit promise that graduating medical students will have resident doctor employment.

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Medical students are the future of our profession and I am glad that Doctors of BC provides them with free membership, disability insurance throughout all four years of their student training, and access to the benefits and services available to all Doctors of BC members. But we also have to advocate for a fairer process towards residency because when it comes to supporting medical students, hope for a better tomorrow is the best match of all.


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