So You Didn’t Match. Now What?

Last Updated on March 14, 2023 by Laura Turner

Last year, over a thousand American senior medical students, failed to Match into a residency to advance their training. That’s almost 6% of all senior students. Over eight thousand total applicants failed to obtain a residency by the Friday of Match Week. If you are one of those thousands then now what? You may be in shock, disappointed in yourself. Maybe ashamed to tell other friends and colleagues. And you’re probably wondering: is my career over before it even took off?

It’s 11:00 AM on the Monday of Match Week when you receive this highly anticipated email. You open it and read the first words: “We are sorry, you did not Match to any position.” You want to be alone now, and don’t want to talk to people. How did this happen? You try to scramble and participate in the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP), but after a very stressful week and multiple rounds of applications, you came up empty-handed.

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Do you still have a shot to get a residency? Here are five tips to consider if you find yourself in this unfortunate position.

Five tips if you did not match a residency.

  1. Figure out why you did not Match in the first round

    There must be a reason why you did not Match into a residency program. Some of the reasons are easily reversible and can be avoided when you reapply. You may have written a poor personal statement, used weak recommendation letters from attendings who did not know you well, or applied for residencies in a narrow geographical area. You may not have had proper interviewing skills or did not rank enough programs. Many of these can be fixed if identified. Ask someone you trust for help correcting them. Other reasons are set and you will have to work with what you’ve got. If you failed one of the USMLE exams or had a low score, you have to face this upfront. You cannot run away from it, and it cannot be fixed. Address the issue firsthand in your personal statement, and explain to the program directors why they should still take you as a resident.

  2. Pass the USMLE Step 3

    This is the last one of those unpleasant but necessary licensing exams. Passing the Step 3 exam will give the program director one less thing to worry about and enable you to apply for your state medical license. If you are a foreign medical graduate, then completing Step 3 will enable you to apply for a high-skilled workers visa (H1b) sponsored by the hospital in addition to the physician exchange visa (J1) sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Getting a relatively high score on Step 3 can make you more competitive in the eyes of the program director and partially compensate for scoring low or failing one of the other Steps.

  3. Network with professionals in your desired specialty

    As medical students, most of us do not have many chances to attend national conferences, or get to know specialists or residents in our desired specialty, because we are busy with clinical rotations, and the cost of traveling may be prohibitive. However, attending local, regional, or national association meetings of your chosen specialty is a priceless opportunity to network. Giving an oral presentation or presenting a poster of your research from medical school would be the perfect chance to get more exposure within the specialty. However, just attending, even if you are not presenting your work, will help make you more aware of the current advances in your desired specialty and enable you to meet someone from a program you are interested in and introduce yourself.

  4. Take a year for research

    In 2016, nearly half of residency program directors cited research experience as an important factor they look for when considering applicants to interview. Taking a year or two to do research may have a tremendous impact on the profile of any applicant. First of all, working with a mentor in your desired specialty enables you to demonstrate how interested you are to continue in a career in that specialty. In addition, presenting your work at national or regional conferences enables you to shine and be noticed by physicians and program directors working in other hospitals. While research usually pays a salary that is lower than clinical positions (or the salary may be non-existent if you are a volunteer researcher), a single connection you make can be the one that gets you a residency position and starts your career as a doctor.

  5. Obtain an advanced degree

    Obtaining another degree, while expensive and possibly more time consuming, can set you apart from other residency applicants. Doctors can obtain one of several master’s degrees that are helpful for their future career. A Master of Public Health (MPH) is a favorite among doctors and usually consists of two years of full-time studying. An MPH exposes you to a wide approach to medicine from an epidemiological point of view, utilizing biostatistics to impact decisions regarding the health services in the community. Another useful degree is a Master of Business Administration (MBA). While an MBA is not typically prepared for healthcare workers or physicians, specific classes exist for physicians. Obtaining an MBA can enable the future physician to work in leadership roles in healthcare organizations as well as nonclinical positions related to medicine, such as in venture funds. A Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), another possibility, prepares you to work in a variety of medical fields ranging from healthcare economics to hospital management.

Failing to Match into a residency can be one of the toughest professional events in your career. However, it can also be a great chance to grow and prosper if you use the time between Match cycles to sculpt yourself into a better physician for yourself, the residency, and your patients.

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While it is painful if you fail to match, you can recover. Good luck on your journey.