Match Week 2017 is upon us, the time of year when medical school graduates find out if they've achieved a residency match — and hence, whether (and how) they can move on with their medical careers.
A week of deadlines and applications, acceptance and rejection — culminating in Match Day on Friday, March 17, 2017 — Match Week is a career-defining event for the many aspiring physicians throughout the United States. And for that reason (and others), it's as much a time of anxiety as it is excitement. (Check out the 2017 Match Week schedule here.)
Describing Match Week as "an occasion of both relief and concern" in a 2015 article for the Locums Link Blog, Staff Care Vice President Phillip Miller describes how the number of U.S. medical school graduates are outpacing the number of available residencies, thanks to the "cap put on residency funding by Congress in 1997."
That imbalance between the supply of potential residents and available residencies is still a cause for concern, despite the fact that the number of first-year post-graduate (PGY-1) positions has risen every year since 2004. "The number of applicants registered for the 2016 Match reached an all-time high of 42,370, an increase of 1,036 over 2015," as noted by the National Resident Matching Program (a.k.a. NRMP, a.k.a. "The Match"), the non-profit organization that organizes and runs residency matching in the United States.
Although these rising numbers are a "relief," as Miller points out, there remains a very real concern that, "despite the high number of positions filled, several hundred U.S. medical school graduates" do not match. Worse, this number is cumulative; each year it's joined by unmatched residents from the prior year who still "did not secure a residency."
And the anxiety that this causes isn't limited to medical school graduates, but also "those who follow physician supply trends in the United States," as Miller notes.
"For students who have spent four years in college and four years in medical school (racking up an average debt of over $160,000 in the process), the prospect of not matching is a grim one," writes Miller. "For those who believe the nation is in the midst of a growing physician shortage, the fact that U.S. medical school graduates may not be able to find residencies is discouraging, to say the least."
Match Week 2017: Some States Expand Residency Matching Opportunities
It's been two years since these words were written, yet the issues behind them are more prevalent than ever. America's residency matching program is increasing a flashpoint for controversy. Noting that residency matching is a controlled process that's exempt from antitrust laws (by congressional mandate), The Atlantic's Ryan Park notes that it's also “the sole avenue to being a fully licensed medical doctor in the United States.”
“Just as an enterprising entrepreneur cannot form an independent baseball team and challenge the Yankees for a spot in the A.L. East, an aspiring doctor has no legal right or ability to negotiate the terms of his or her entrée into the medical profession,” Ryan writes.
The residency matching process has been in place since the 1950s, yet current pressures have brought new attention to it. Specifically, the nation's physician shortage has caused some states to expand their residency programs to help add more doctors to their ranks. Last year, Georgia, Texas and Arkansas increased "their number of medical residencies" under the premise "that doctors are more likely to remain in the states where they train," report's PBS' Michael Ollove.
On the other end of the spectrum from local doctors, the current political climate is causing concern that foreign-born physicians may be in shorter supply. Educators and hospital administrators are saying they're “under intense pressure to reject qualified international medical students applying for residencies in the United States," because the current presidential administration's immigration policies "may bar the students from entering the country," notes the Boston Globe's Michael Levenson.
With all this in mind, there's no doubt that Match Week brings relief, "particularly to those medical school graduates who were matched to the programs of their choice," as Miller concludes. "But it also is a time to consider the cap on residency funding that is inhibiting physician supply. How many medical school graduates will have to be turned away before the cap is lifted?"
Medical students, residents and fellows, what can you tell us about your feelings regarding this year's Match Week? And physicians, do you have any memories or stories to share about your own past Match Week experience? Share your stories with us on social media with a #MatchWeek hashtag! You can find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube.
For more insight and advice for medical students, residents and fellows, don't forget to sign up for our New Physicians Program for regular tips, info, and career-building tools, straight from the experts at Staff Care.
Resources for New Physicians
And residents, you may be able to boost your career portfolio with some unique locum work opportunities: We invite you to search all available locum tenens jobs here, or contact us directly for more information.