Well, yesterday at 5:30 was the day. The day CaRMS applications went in. The application web station closed. The future is basically in the grasps of a computer system and program directors.
CaRMS is the Canadian Residency Matching Service. AKA the determiner of my future. I know it sounds extreme, but the basic premise is that we put all of our information – our lives for the past four years, reference letters and some letters talking about “how much I want to do x for the rest of my life and go to school y” – and then eventually in early March, we find out where and what we will be doing for the next 2, 3, or 5 years of our lives. Its not actually that simple, but that is what it feels like. Actually, what happens is that once we submit all of the aforementioned information and select what programs and cities we would like to train in, program directors from those programs review it all and then sometime in later December/early January, we get invitations for interviews. Then follows a three-week interview period in which all of the candidates travel about marketing themselves. Next, the schools rank all of the candidates and the candidates rank the schools/programs they want. Magically, just a few short weeks later, the computer (what I think of as a magical giant supercomputer, like one of the ones in sci-fi movies circa 1980) spits out our “match.” Thus, we call it “match day.” Residency applications are kind of like an epic dating game, if you may.
Nobody actually understands the full system. Well, the people in CaRMS world do. Otherwise, we all grasp at straws to understand the “algorithm” that chooses our future like a giant computerized fortune cookie. I feel like after much reading of the computer system and talking to people who have gone through the process, I understand. However, my family and non-medical friends… Not so much. But, who can blame them. Patrick gets it. For the most part. My Dad has read the CaRMS website almost as much as I have and listened to me explain it countless times… I’d say he gets it. That is about it. Everyone tries, but no matter how many times I explain, there are still people saying things like, “but if you want to go to Dal, then you’ll get in” or “when you move to such and such a place” or “what do you mean you don’t know where you will be come July 1?”
Its not that we don’t have say in the whole thing. The algorithm is in favor of the candidate, but still… It doesn’t feel that way. Especially when this match has a lot of impact on our futures. And when the risk is that you could not match – basically have to re-apply to left over positions – and potentially end up in a program or place you don’t desire.
I want to be an oncologist when I grow up. One route I am looking at is competitive… 21 seats in Canada. 19 of those seats are English. Apparently, the trend is that those who make it their first choice and are legitimate candidates – aka not serial killers or total idiots and do have experience or evidence of interest in the field with some good grades and references – match…. So they say. It is still really competitive and its not just that simple. Its disheartening that there is a chance of not matching. My second route is also fabulous and slightly less competitive with more seats, but nonetheless not a cakewalk. I would be extremely happy that way too. All of the programs are excellent and where I know I would fit in and would be extremely happy. I like some more than others, which is to be expected. Any one of them will put me in my “happy place.”
Now, there is an interesting level of paranoia that goes along with these applications, given their weight on our futures. We all have been having anxiety attacks about our applications. There are days where any one of us can be convinced we are never going to match, or that we are unworthy of certain seats. The thought of our personal letters being to dull or too outlandish or heaven forbid, containing some sort of error. Then, there is document assignment. The black box where we actually say what school gets what letter and form and such. I checked my list obsessively… three times per session at least twice per day since completing my application a full week early. The strange thing is that despite being done, the workstation continues to open until this past Friday at 5:30 local time. Thus, until that time, I checked three times per login at least three times daily. I did find one mistake. The wrong personal letter to a school. That fed my OCD and increased the checking. There is no official “your application is done,” thus we all felt fairly disconcerted with regards to our submission status. Apparently the office got a million calls from people asking how to know things were in. I guess they are going to alter the system to provide some sort of assurance next year, but that doesn’t help us.
Now, the web station is closed. The stuff is being distributed to program directors. It is out of our hands for the time being… Sort of. I had two nightmares about accidently applying to wrong programs and such. But its done. Now it is time to wait for interviews to come in.
I think I am lucky, though. Being a Christian definitely gives me a slightly different perspective on the whole process. Despite my comments about the computer system being in control, I know that God truly is. That is a comfort… most of the time, though sometimes my fear does get the better of me. The thing is, we have to trust that God is preparing a place for us. There, He knows where we are going to wind up. He knows who I will work with/for. He is preparing a job for Patrick. He has a church family and friends for us. That is what is getting me through this whole thing. The tough part is there is still so much uncertainty, so much pressure. If it weren’t for God, I don’t know how I could be so at peace with it. I don’t even know how I would get through this process. I am fairly sure the anxiety would kill me. Even the application process. I feel God gave me words to say in my personal letters and He helped me to write honest letters to all of the programs, despite some of them not being as high on my list as others. I don’t feel its fair to the programs to lie about my desires and goals, but it is dangerous to say bluntly, “I kind of like your school, but really don’t want to go there.” I think He showed me ways we could fit in any of them and reminded me of my passion that drives my practice.
Despite the turmoil that CaRMS has caused, I have survived the first hurdle and will continue to persevere under the pressures of the residency application process. The waiting game begins… I will just keep repeating “Give all your worries to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT)