MATCH MADNESS! AUC ALUMNI RECALL THE RACE TO RESIDENCY
Medical students know that graduating with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree is only the beginning. To begin practicing medicine, physicians must first complete a postgraduate medical residency of three to eight years, depending on the specialty. Attaining a residency—preferably in the location and specialty of choice—is the all-important goal for fourth-year medical students, also known as MS4s. Below, we’ll meet some graduates of American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), and hear what inspired them to choose their particular specialty, how AUC helped them through the residency application process, and what their memories are of Match Day, the famous day in March when MS4s learn their residency destiny.
Meet the Doctors
Christine S. Armstrong, MD, a 2014 AUC graduate, completed her obstetrics and gynecology residency at Beaumont Hospital in Lansing, Michigan. Dr. Armstrong is now an OB/GYN at Associated Women’s Health Specialists in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Fadel Abou Ghaida
Fadel Abou Ghaida, MD, a 2021 AUC graduate, matched to family medicine residency at HCA Healthcare/ USF Morsani GME in Tampa, Florida.
Kyle Mihaylo, MD, a 2018 AUC graduate, completed a pediatrics residency at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in Oklahoma City. Dr. Mihaylo is currently completing a pediatrics sports medicine fellowship at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
AUC’s Office of Career Advisement: Helping Students Prepare for The MATCH℠
At AUC, the Office of Career Advisement (OCA) helps MS4s through the residency application process—the OCA can even help students determine which residency specialty may suit them best. The OCA then helps students navigate the National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP®)—a placement system which medical students who wish to become licensed in the United States use to “match” with a medical residency.
Medical students start submitting residency applications in September of their fourth year. Programs start the interview process that month, and interviews continue through the following January. After positive application responses and successful residency interviews, students create a “rank-order list” of preferred residency programs which is matched against a similar list created by the programs. Students begin submitting their rank-order lists in February.
Q: What role did AUC and the Office of Career Advisement play as you prepared for The MATCH?
Dr. Armstrong: The OCA helped me with streamlining my documents as well as providing support during the entire match process. Having a match advisor was very helpful as well.
Dr. Ghaida: When I was ready to apply [to residencies], I got in contact with OCA and through their help and guidance I was able to formulate a plan that involved a new resume, personal statement, and updated letters of recommendations to formulate the best application possible. I contacted OCA multiple times during which I received coaching regarding the whole match process and the interview season in general. I am forever grateful for their guidance, which in my opinion played a major role in securing more interviews and matching to my #1 choice program… Medical school is hard, but this does not mean you can not enjoy the journey. AUC has met every single expectation of mine. I can assure you that the level of comradery I experienced during my AUC journey was unrivaled, and the support I received from staff and classmates alike was invaluable.
The long application process and years of medical training culminate in March’s Match Week. On Monday morning of Match Week, the NRMP informs applicants whether they’ve matched to a residency program. Students don’t yet know which residency (that news comes on Friday)—only that they’ve been matched to a program. Match Monday is a happy occasion for most students. In 2021, AUC had a first-time residency attainment rate of 92 percent for 2020-2021 graduates—on par with the overall match rate (92.8 percent) for medical schools throughout the United States.
Not all program positions are filled on Monday, however, and applicants who were not ]matched to a residency still have hope. The Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program® (SOAP®) provides further matching opportunities to students—and here is where the real madness begins! After discovering they haven’t been matched, students have one hour to research the remaining available positions. Students can submit up to 45 applications during that brief time. Programs receive the applications and immediately begin building interview lists.
On Tuesday, programs begin phone and virtual interviews with SOAP applicants. For the next three days, programs extend offers and applicants can accept or reject them or allow them to expire. In this way, nearly all remaining first-year residency positions open to Doctor of Medicine (MD) seniors are filled.
Match Madness culminates on that Friday, Match Day. It is one of the most memorable and consequential days in the life of a medical student. Traditionally, medical students learned of their residency placements that morning through sealed envelopes, opening them privately or sometimes announcing the contents to a gathered assembly. Today, residencies are commonly revealed through emails—as they are at AUC. However it’s done, there are smiles and tears and photos taken to remember the moment.
Q: Can you describe the feeling of finding out where and how you matched?
Dr. Armstrong: AMAZING! All of my hard work finally paid off. I matched into my #1 Program!
Dr. Ghaida: This is a day I won’t forget. The countless and sleepless nights, ups, downs, and hard work finally materialized. It was an experience that could only be described as a plethora of intense emotions and relief, knowing that all your hard work got you where you needed to be, to continue your medical training and pursue your dreams.
Dr. Mihaylo: Matching is an unbelievable feeling of satisfaction, and an experience I’ll never forget. Each of us works so hard in medical school to build a foundation for becoming the best physicians we can be, and matching feels like validation of that hard work. Matching at the University of Oklahoma was a dream, I knew it was a strong program that would mold me into an amazing pediatrician and I was thrilled when we read the email showing where the next three years would take us.
Advice for Medical Students from AUC Alumni
AUC is proud to have more than 7,500 alumni all over the United States, Canada, and beyond. Some have gone on to become chief residents, department chairs, program directors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and community advocates. Who better to turn to for the inside scoop and sage advice than our own AUC-produced MDs?
Q: What inspired you to apply for your residency specialty?
Dr. Armstrong: I first became interested in OB/GYN during my third year clerkship. It was my first rotation of third year! My first day as an MS3 [third-year medical student] started out on the night shift. I had an amazing intern that allowed me to participate in my first delivery and the rest is history. I have a strong passion for women's health and narrowing maternal health disparities. Additionally, OBGYN is a perfect mix of office and surgery and I love that I can take care of women from puberty through menopause!
Dr. Ghaida: Starting my third year core rotations at Danbury Hospital [Connecticut], I was placed in a Family Medicine outpatient clinic. There, I was able to understand and experience the essence of Family Medicine as I watched my preceptor [mentor or physician instructor] address a variety of complex medical cases from psychiatric to rheumatological. I also watched my preceptor cover inpatient floors and deliver his patients. [My physician preceptor] was "that doctor" who saw patients from all walks of life, of all ages, and took care of entire families. He was able not only to be a healer but also a confidant to his patients, which in turn inspired me to be "that doctor" too.
Dr. Mihaylo: I love working with kids—they’re fun, silly, and Pediatrics hardly feels like work! But more importantly, I am a part of a team that truly cares about giving youths top notch care; and then a bonus is that we can also be their role models and positively influence their lives for years to come.
Q: Do you have any advice for medical students who are planning to apply for your specialty?
Dr. Armstrong: Collect LORs [letters of recommendation] from EVERY rotation, even if you may not apply for that specialty. It helps when we see that students are overall well rounded. Also make sure to honor your OBGYN (or all rotations!), as well as secure a Sub-I [sub-internship] at a program where you would like to match, ideally before applications or during the early interview season.
Dr. Ghaida: If you are an aspiring Family Medicine physician and want to match into the program of your choice, whether due to location or quality of training, I advise you to show early interest in the field through research, posters, and case studies… Family Medicine programs are more prone to interviewing and ranking medical students whose applications are geared towards Family Medicine specifically and have shown a real desire to pursue this field.
Dr. Mihaylo: Be passionate about helping kids in any way you can. If you remember to put them first, you’ll discover some amazing opportunities along the way. I was fortunate to be surrounded with opportunities to get involved, such as volunteering with the kids at Player Development SXM [St. Maarten]. In the end, I think those kids ultimately taught me more than I taught them, but the memories of our time together is something that constantly motivates me to work harder. By being involved in the youth in the community it also gave me unique opportunities to tell a different story—something that really helped with applications, scholarships, and ultimately interviews.
Q: What do you wish you knew about your specialty before you started?
Dr. Armstrong: OBGYN is much more than simple obstetrics and gynecology. There is a strong primary care aspect as well which I believe is unparalleled in any other field.
Dr. Ghaida: I would strongly urge any and all of you to build relationships with attending physicians and residents during your clinical rotations, because these will be your stepping stones to success, whether through interviews offered, LORs, or MSPEs [Medical Student Performance Evaluations]. I personally experienced the impact of evaluations on the interview trail, when MSPE comments of Family Medicine preceptors were always brought up.
Dr. Mihaylo: I wish I knew that it really is a journey, the person you start as, is not the person you finish as. I learned along the way that it really isn’t about the name of the school, or the score of the test—but rather about constantly pushing to become a better doctor. That each step is a stride of progress, and that once you fully commit to going, if you fully commit to who you want to be, the rest will work. I learned in medical school that surrounding myself with people who were smarter than me would push me to study more. I learned in residency to be the first there, the last out, and to always take the tough cases. I learned in fellowship that it was my responsibility to know my specialty better than anyone else. And now, as I come to the end of my journey I can look back and say that it only mattered that I started, and that I pushed to be the best doctor I could be.
How the Numbers Stack Up
In 2021, 304 AUC MDs matched across 17 medical disciplines. Of those, 95 matched to family medicine residencies, 18 secured residencies in pediatric medicine, and six AUC MDs matched to obstetrics and gynecology. Have a medical residency in mind? The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) lists more than 135 medical specialties and subspecialties available for graduating physicians to pursue, and each one has its own residency path. Investigate the possibilities, consider how the specialties may fit your abilities, aspirations, and expectations—even your habits and personality. And when you think you know your path, check out the AUC MD program, gather your application materials, and apply for admission to American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.