The Match: A Guide for the Big Day

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

It’s almost here! The day you’ve been waiting for! Before we talk about how to get yourself prepared for this momentous day, let’s reflect back and acknowledge all the hurdles you’ve already jumped over to get to this point. You deserve to celebrate already!

Your spouse finally decided on what they “want to be when they grow up” and chose a specialty. You both have spent countless hours researching programs and selecting where to submit applications. You survived several months of travel and interviews. Then you both agonized over which programs might be the best fit, while also thinking about the ideal place to live for the both of you. You looked into the program offerings, while also considering the lifestyle opportunities of the location. You’ve even pictured yourself there. Does it seem like you’d fit? Putting together a rank list of programs is no small feat!

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And you did it! You and your spouse made the hard decisions and submitted your list. Now you wait. These several weeks can feel like months. Your nerves are likely on edge. The biggest question is, “Did we match?” and then, “Where?” Since those questions cannot be answered until the Big Day, here are some ways you can prepare yourself in the mean time.

#1: Find some peace

The Match process tests all of our resolves. There is no way you can plan for residency before you know where it will be. Then add in your spouse trying to “be cool” while possibly freaking out about the possibility of not matching.

The biggest thing you can do right now while you wait is to seek peace where it lives for you. When you start to worry or feel anxious, where can you seek solace? Is it with your community of friends and family, in exercise, or in a hobby? If you’re a spiritual person, how might your faith help keep you grounded? Do mental reminders help? For me, whenever I felt the anxiety rising, I would tell myself, “Trust. I trust that we will go where we need to go and all will be well.” It sounds simple, but when you can’t do much other than seek out community and connection or change your mindset, use the tools you have available to help keep yourself in a place of calm and confidence.

#2: What to expect on Match Day

Did you match? You’ll find out via email at the beginning of Match Week (unless you’re doing early Match, or are military, in which case, you’ll already know!). It’s a straight yes or no. If your spouse didn’t Match, there is no need to panic. You have options. Many applicants are able to work with their programs to find a placement for at least their intern year. It may not be ideal, but not all is lost. If you did receive that much anticipated “yes,” you’ll feel relieved but possibly even more anxious because the big change is getting closer and closer. Here’s what you can expect:

Four days of the most anticipation you’ve probably ever experienced beyond your wedding day, or the birth of a child. You will be emotional and feel scattered. Give yourself some grace and be present with the process. Not many people outside the medical community will understand, so find your medical pals and lean in.

For the actual Match Day, programs all do the unveiling a little differently, but most have a similar basic process. After some speeches, you’ll receive your envelopes and wait for the countdown to noon to open them. Some programs might have the students come onstage to receive their envelopes individually, so the timing may be a little different. If you have your envelope in hand, you can go back to your seat to open it or step outside for privacy.

The feeling of that moment is intense. There will be a nervous excitement and the room will feel electric. The countdown will start, and when the envelopes start ripping open, you’ll hear shrieks, cries, and gasps. Prepare to cry, no matter what. It’s just too intense of a moment to not totally lose it! Bring lots of tissues.
Don’t forget to take pictures! You’ll be so caught up in the moment, which is wonderful. Just remember to try to capture a bit of it. Maybe one before you open the envelope with your spouse’s name on the front, one of the letter after you open it, and one with the “Match sign” they’ll have either in the room or just outside (if your program has one).

Inside the letter, be prepared for it to look very official with normal size print. I personally somehow got it in my mind that we would open the envelope and it would just say the program in gigantic 40-point black font. Nope. It will be a regular letter and you will have to search for a minute before you find where the program is listed.

If this whole process is too much for you, you can always opt to skip the event and read the email you’ll receive at noon on Match Day stating your Match location.

#3: What to wear?

It depends on your program, but it seems like most people wear business casual attire: men in slacks and a collared shirt and women in dresses, skirts, slacks, or blouses. It’s fun to be a little dressy for such a big day where lots of pictures will (hopefully) be taken!

#4: Family or no family?

For some, Match Day feels like a bigger deal than graduation. Families may want to be there to support you and be a part of such a big day. You may definitely want family there, or feel a bit unsure about it. The concern is: what if you match into a program that you’re not entirely happy about? Will you want to share the shock of the moment with your family present? Will they understand, or would you feel like you’d have to pretend to be happy?

Bottom line is that you want to share the moment with your spouse and everything that comes with it. The shock or excitement, the hope of a new place with new opportunities, and the possibilities for the future. The weight of that moment when you open your envelope is so great. Claim it for yourselves the way you want it. Just your spouse and kids if applicable, or with family present too.

Here are some options to consider:

Option A: If you don’t want family there, be honest but kind about it. Explain that it’s a big moment for you as a couple and it’s something you want to share together. If they are insistent about being present, offer to meet them after the Match when you’ve had a chance to process.

Option B: Let your family come, but step outside the room with your spouse so you can open it in privacy.

Option C: If you want your family there, embrace having them present. Let them know that it will be an emotional moment and tell them how they can support you. They won’t always know what to do, so help them help you make it the best moment possible.

If you have family at Match Day, or a group of medical spouses you’re close with, consider putting together a celebratory lunch or dinner for after the unveiling. See if you can find a somewhat casual spot, so you don’t have to make a specific reservation. Some couples might not feel like going out, but for those who do, it’s a fun way to stay connected to your current community a little longer before you dive into planning for your next one.

#5: Rejoice or not

I will go out on a limb and say that the only way you and your spouse will be 100% happy with your Match, is if you both are completely thrilled with your first choice, and you get it. For most, that won’t be the case, so I want to prepare you for some disappointment. Even if your spouse gets their second choice, it’s still their second choice. It’s like they went on a date and their first choice said, “Nah, I’ll pass.” You still get a great option, one you’re both probably equally excited about, but it’s still second choice.

Your spouse is an incredibly intelligent person who has probably gotten used to being one of the “the best” so they will feel a bit of sadness in being passed over. This is not to make you sad, it’s to free you from expecting that it will be all happiness. There will be some type of grieving, and that is okay. It’s part of the process.

Some grieving takes a bit longer, especially if you both are unhappy with where you matched. You might struggle to accept it. If you do find yourself in this situation, the hardest part will be being supportive. Your spouse will look to you for comfort and reassurance that it will be okay. They feel the weight of this decision and that it doesn’t just affect them. They feel responsible for how happy you’re going to be in this new place.

You don’t want to pretend everything is fine if you’re really upset too, it’s just important to remember how much influence and control you have over this situation. If you show you are disappointed but are confident that you will make it work, your spouse will feel a great sense of relief. Our minds usually have a habit of finding everything that’s “wrong” with something and focusing on it. The best way through this is to identify the positive aspects of where you are going. What opportunities might there be? What things can you look forward to?

Now what?

Celebrate! You matched! Tell the world! You might be staying in the same city or moving across the country, but it’s exciting nonetheless. You can now start learning about your new city (or thinking more long term in the city you’re already in) and start really looking at neighborhoods, places to live, and offerings and activities. If you have the opportunity, you may want to visit your new city to house/apartment hunt and get a feel for your new home.

I will close with a quote that I always turn to whenever I’m moving to a new place. “If you look for the good, you’ll find it.” Moving and change aren’t easy, but know that you can find happiness no matter where you are! Good luck in the Match, and may the odds be ever in your favor!