The number of cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continue to grow in the United States. As a result, universities are taking extreme precautions to curb the spread of the disease. Duke University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard University are among many schools that have cancelled all in-person classes. Other universities including Brown University have banned all school-sanctioned events with large gatherings. Match Day is approaching on March 20, 2020, leaving medical school administrators with the difficult decision on how to balance the celebration of their medical students’ accomplishments with the public health.
Match Day is when more than 30,000 graduating medical students find where they will spend the next three to seven years training in residency. The National Resident Matching Program in conjunction with the Electronic Residency Application Service is a standardized and carefully coordinated process to match students with residency training programs. It was designed to level the playing field between students and residency programs when applying to residency.
Typically, during the summer of fourth year, medical students select the specialties they wish to apply to and compile an application which is sent to residency programs in September. Applicants interview at programs from October through February. After interviews are completed, applicants and programs rank each other according to their preferences. A matching algorithm is run, and applicants find out if, but not where, they placed on the third Monday in March (March 16th in 2020). For those that did not match, they begin an intensive Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program to try and gain last minute placement. On the third Friday of March (March 20th, 2020), at noon, medical schools around the country hand envelopes to their students with their placements. Students open these envelopes surrounded by their peers and family in a celebration known as Match Day.
Students at multiple large medical schools, including The University of Washington, Brown University, Stanford University, and Columbia University, have reported outright Match Day celebration cancellations due to coronavirus. Many other schools such as New York University, Case Western University, Baylor University, and Harvard University have not outright cancelled Match Day but have placed restrictions on the celebration, such as barring family and friends from joining and splitting up students into smaller groups to avoid large congregations.
Students have mixed feelings about the precautions. Reddit user PresBill expressed their disappointment: “I want [my parents] to have the opportunity to come and watch and take pictures, which is all my mother really wants. The idea of not having one…celebration with all my classmates and family is really making me anxious.” Student Doctor Network user throwaway1000000 noted that students “can still go home and celebrate with friends and family.” They continued, ‘[m]atching itself is a big deal. A ceremony is just to make it a little sweeter.”
According to a guide published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on March 10, employers should “consider adjusting or postponing large meetings or gatherings.” Harvard Provost Alan Garber told the Harvard Gazette that “The close physical proximity that promotes social interaction in classrooms, dining halls, Houses, and dorms becomes a liability when our community is threatened by a serious contagious disease… we have updated our guidance on nonessential meetings or events to strongly discourage any gathering of 25 people or more.”
However, some medical students question the logic of Match Day event cancelations given that they are still participating in clinical rotations. Student Erica Concors expressed her frustration in a tweet, saying “Can someone explain why my #MatchDay2020 #Match2020 was cancelled but I am still working in the ED and other clinical settings where there are innumerable risks for my getting exposed to #COVID19?”
Other Medical School Events Cancelled as Well
In addition to ceremonies for Match Day falling victim to public health concerns, many schools are cancelling “Second Look” weekends planned for newly admitted medical school matriculants. These weekends provide students with a chance to view the medical school campus again, meet with potential medical school peers, and for those students lucky enough to hold multiple acceptances, to determine if the school is the right fit for them.
Some schools, including Harvard and University of Washington, are moving to an online or virtual second look event in lieu of an in-person event. However, some students expressed concern that it would be more difficult to determine medical school “fit” without the ability to meet in person. Student Doctor Network user FutureDrBeepBoop worried that “…in-person you can definitely vibe and intuitively know where you belong. I am really concerned about virtual 2nd looks because this won’t be possible.”
Additionally, though most schools have already completed their interview processes for their class of 2024, Albany, Einstein, and Ohio State have all reportedly cancelled in-person interviews. Albany and Ohio State reportedly moved to remote interviews. Einstein, located in New York City, informed applicants that their interviews would be rescheduled, potentially also using a remote interview format as well.
Students at many schools have started to plan unofficial celebrations or are working with administrators to reach a compromise such as diverting funds for graduation celebrations. However, many students have the nagging concern that graduation too will be cancelled. Reddit user SoundCampaign posted that they are “… worried we won’t even have a graduation after all our hard work. And my family bought tickets/hotels for grad already. This overhype or [SIC] Corona is getting out of hand!”
Student Doctor Network Executive Director Laura Turner commented “Whether there will be formal festivities or not, the matching medical students should be proud of their hard work to reach this stage in their career. This is a new chapter in the lives of these new physicians and their families.”
A crowdsourced list of the cancelled and altered Match Day events can be found on the SDN Forums.