AMBOSS Algorithms: The Perfect Match (Part I)
The Couples Match
Matching into a residency program is one of the most critical components for a physician, ultimately determining where they will work, sleep, eat and live for a crucial period of their medical career. Regardless of specialty, the matching process is extremely stressful, requiring medical students to apply to multiple programs, schedule away rotations, travel for interviews and determine how to rank their options. For those in a relationship, incorporating another person into the process can turn into a logistical nightmare!
Since the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) does not offer a combined application process for couples, each student must create their own separate application and interview. Evan Kuhl, a PGY-2 emergency medicine resident at The George Washington University, went through Match with his wife, Elsa. According to Evan, “many residency programs don’t even know you are couples matching unless they read through your application in its entirety. Advisors at your school may not know the ins-and-outs of couples matching, so don’t rely solely on them! Be proactive and seek guidance from other couples that have successfully matched. We learned to never assume residency programs know you are couples matching and to seek programs that advertise as ‘couples friendly.’”
Couples Matching Suggestions
Evan suggests several tips that may help you if you’re seeking to successfully match with your partner:
- It’s OK to reach out! If your partner is invited to interview at a specific location, you should contact your own corresponding program and make sure they know you are couples matching. Towards the end of the Match, I implemented this more frequently, and typically had a positive response. Also, as you go through the Match process you will almost certainly find that there are many programs and cities where you will get great training and be happy, so although it is good to stress your number one pick, you should consider your rank list more broadly. There are many great programs out there, and matching at one of your top 5 choices should make you proud.
- Define your own objectives. Our main goal was to stay together, but each couple should consider how to define their own success. For many, living in two separate cities and meeting on the weekend is OK, especially in some specialties that are more difficult to match into. For us, the process itself brought us closer together and was a key to learning to depend on each other as well as provide constructive feedback. Having a successful match is about building your future together.
- Consider how you will answer interview questions. You will be asked about marriage, kids and family life, so be prepared! Your goal is to demonstrate that matching was a joint decision by two people in a strong relationship. Some programs have become risk-averse due to match mishaps in the past, and may actually lean against ranking a Couples Match if they feel uneasy about the possibilities of future drama. If a program is not willing to reach out to another department to help you, this should be a red flag.
There were quite a few couples in our medical school class who matched together, and luckily most were stationed in the same city or region. Unfortunately, breakups do happen, and I have met a few residents with significant others who have transferred back home or to other programs.
- Be organized. Starting early with organization was really helpful - we created an Excel sheet of all the possible programs we were interested in, using resources available on the Emergency Medical Residents’ Association (EMRA) website and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) website, as well as basic Google searches for radiology and emergency medicine programs.
Keep this as a shared document that you update continuously, and use it as a reference and ranking document. I found it was helpful to include scheduled interviews, the name of the program, location, NRMP code, distance from home, number of spots in the program, Doximity ranking, cost of living, interview date, rating and any notes deemed useful based on your impression of the program.
- Enjoy the traveling. Whenever you can, spend an extra day in a new city exploring or traveling. The matching process can be exhausting and you spend almost all of your time stuck inside fluorescent-lit conference rooms and hospitals. Take some time for yourself and enjoy the places you might be living in!
- Access useful resources. When we started the Match as a couple, there was little to no information about the process. We were not even 100% sure how our rank lists worked until we submitted them. While this was tough, there are more and more accessible resources that can help. At the time, the best information we found was on the NRMP website, as well as the University of Washington website, which we found during a random Google search. I would recommend staying away from forums such as StudentDoctor.net, as you cannot verify who is posting and websites such as this typically represent a very small minority of applicants who have a broad variety of experience.
- Build relationships. I highly recommend building relationships with a faculty mentor within your own department, as they can provide information about other programs in the region as well as contacts at other programs. Faculty mentors can identify programs which may suit your personality well, may have contacts for away rotations and can write excellent letters of recommendation.
- Approach the Match honestly. The Match is already stressful enough, and can be even more so as a couple. If you are both ‘settling’ at different programs for each other, this can cause animosity and future relationship problems which will quickly come to the surface. You should have a frank discussion about matching together months before the application process starts, and this discussion should continue over time. Don’t gloss over your concerns about programs or cities you do not want to be at.
This is Part I of our IV part series on matching. Stay tuned for more tips and resources from AMBOSS on the matching process. In the meantime, if you are looking for more information on couples matching, see the NRMP guidelines.
Did you apply for the Couples Match? Share your experiences and advice with AMBOSS by contacting Olivia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evan Kuhl is a PGY-2 emergency medicine resident at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, where he works with his wife, Elsa Kuhl, a PGY-2 radiology resident. His website provides helpful information for pre-med and medical students. Outside of the hospital, Evan can be found on Instagram.