How to Couples Match

So you’ve fallen in love with another medical student and your now either married or heading in that direction. With medical school coming to an end, the two of you are forced to think about the next step in terms of your relationship and your chosen profession. If the two of you are anything like us, you have many questions and concerns about your future lives together as significant others and physicians in training. This article is a brief summary of our experience in the couples match, combined with advice and words of wisdom passed down to us by some of our mentors, friends and colleagues.

Building a Foundation

Having a two physician household is a unique arrangement that can, at times, be rewarding and at other times extremely frustrating. The two of us happened to enter medical school together. Therefore, from the very beginning of our medical training, we were cognizant of “the home”. Over dinner in the early part of our first year of medical school we prioritized our lives and decided that family and relationship came first, but at any given time our patient care responsibilities could postpone family plans. Based on this notion, we began the hunt for complementary medical professions that would allow us as a unit the flexibility to run a home and keep life in order outside of the hospital. Even so, we owed it to ourselves as individuals to choose careers that would be fun, interesting and intellectually challenging. Like all first and second year medical students, we had a tentative plan including a top three list of the areas of medicine in which we were interested. We attended interest group meeting, asked a lot of questions, and spoke regularly with the career development advisor at our medical school. In the end we chose careers in Neurosurgery (him) and Anesthesiology (her).

Three Scenarios

Currently there are three matching options, The San Francisco Matching Service (SF Match or early match), the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP or regular match), and the Military Match. Residency applicants for Ophthalmology, Neurosurgery, and Neurology enter the SF match, while the NRMP covers everything else. The Military match is often mentioned as an early match, however it is not part of the San Francisco matching service. The Military match is a separate program through either the Army or Navy. Military match participants will match in December, SF Match results are determined in mid January, and NRMP match is the third week in March.

There are three situations that can play out for couples based on chosen subspecialties:

1. Early Match/ Early Match

Couples who enter the early match together are not able to link their applications. Programs will officially consider your applications separately. However, having spoken with several couples who have successfully matched together via this route, you may want to consider contacting the SF match coordinators and making them aware of your special situation. During your official interview with each program, the interviewer is not allowed to ask personal questions about your spouse or significant other. The applicant can, however approach the topic themselves. Many couples choose to mention that they have a significant other applying for a residency position in a particular department and that they would like to be considered for a position with their loved one. Such a statement basically invites the two departments to communicate with each other about your applications. Some would consider that to be a bold and courageous move and others would consider it foolish. It all boils down to your priorities as a couple.

2. Early Match/ Regular Match

One individual entering the SF match and the other in the NRMP offers a slightly different set of challenges. Once again, you are not able to combine your applications, and therefore, it is not officially a “couples match”. But you do have the option of speaking with your interviewer and requesting your application to be considered with your mate’s. In addition, the time table for this option can be somewhat tough to navigate. SF Match participants are invited to the majority of their interviews between the end of October through mid December. NRMP programs often schedule interviews from the end of November through February. With this scenario, many couples who successfully match have the NRMP applicant try to schedule their interviews (especially the important ones) to the front of the season. This allows for some overlap of interview dates. Most importantly, by the time SF match programs compile their rank list (the last week of December or the first week in January), the NRMP applicant should have already interviewed at each respective program at that institution or at medical center nearby.

3. Regular Match/ Regular Match (“the official couples Match”)

The official couples match involves two individuals whose applications are effectively linked in the NRMP. Each couple enrolls individually in the match and indicates that they wish to participate in the couples match. At the end of the interviewing season, the couple forms pairs of choices at the same or at different institutions. This provides the assurance that if one matches, then both match. This works well for specialties that accept a higher number of applicants, but for individuals entering smaller programs or specialties that will match only a couple of applicants, this can be worrisome. For example, individuals entering Plastic surgery and Otolaryngology as a couple may run into trouble having to face the very real risk of neither individual matching successfully if their applications are linked. On the other hand, we have seen individuals who typically would not be ranked highly at a particular institution match into a great position because—when considered with their significant other—have an application that appears more attractive.

Final Thoughts

1. Be honest with yourself and with each other.
2. Be truthful and speak frankly with the program directors. They will appreciate your truthfulness and candor.
3. Know that faculty talk and that your names may come up in conversations in different departments of the same institution as well as at different institutions. Many of attending physicians and program directors are neighbors and friends. Lies are a great way to make sure that neither you nor your spouse is ranked highly.
4. List goals and priorities, professionally, academically, and personally. If children will be a part of your life someday then plan accordingly.
5. Decide what to do if one person does not match. Have a back up plan. Consider transitional or preliminary year spots.
6. Do well on the USMLE Step 1 and 2. A higher score means more options. Individuals with lower scores are often still capable of eventually matching in a particular field, but their options can become very limited in the process and may mean geographical separation from your loved one.
7. Apply to many programs.
8. Consider choosing complementary career choices.
9. And most of all have fun and enjoy the ride.

We wish the best to you and your family,

Drs. Shawn and Heather Hervey-Jumper

Shawn Hervey-Jumper, MD is resident surgeon at University of Michigan Medical Center in the Department of Neurosurgery. Heather Hervey-Jumper, MD is an anesthesiology resident at University of Michigan Medical Center Department of Anesthesiology. If you have additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact them via their blog site designed to help couples match successfully and lead happy and fulfilling personal and professional lives.

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