I am not a physician and can never fully understand the anxiety related to "match day" in medicine training.
I recently had a friend and medical school student who failed to match, and whose desire is to be a surgeon. This person showed every sign of being a good clinician and surgeon — compassion, intelligence, dedication, stamina, dexterity and many other traits desirable in our healthcare providers.
Medical schools are responding to the present and predicted increase in demand for healthcare providers by increasing seats in medical schools. The problem is slots for residencies are expanding at a much slower rate. The number of prospective residents who failed to match will do nothing but increase in this environment. Is this really good for healthcare?
Each year I sympathize with students who fail to match. There are a steady stream of medical students rotating in our practice, aspiring to be both physicians and physician assistants. My physician surgeon partner is an attending plastic surgeon at a large county hospital, and we together have a hospital-based private plastic and reconstructive surgery practice at a community hospital.
I love this part of our practice together, and feel an obligation to our community to be a part of the solution when it comes to training the future of healthcare in America.
The answer to training more physicians and other providers like PAs has to go beyond didactic training, and include ample opportunities for clinical training.
Over the years, I have developed a pretty accurate sense of students who will make quality, productive healthcare providers, and have the capacity to learn and grow as clinicians. Like in any profession, I am sure there are people who survive and pass their medical training at all levels who may have been more successful in a different profession. But I can’t believe every medical student who fails to match and go onto residency is unqualified to become a physician.
We don’t need to rehash the human resource crisis that we have in the healthcare system in our country. This has been well documented by researchers and experts in the field. It ranges from raw numbers, to maldistribution, both in specialty and geographically, in defining the scope of the problem.
Is it just me, or does it seem like a monumental waste of human resources to discard potential future physicians and healthcare providers just because they don’t "match"? The experience is pretty bleak for those in medical school limbo, and looks bleaker in future years as the likelihood of matching after not matching in the first eligible year is slim, given the constricted medical residency pipeline.
This is one problem that we have to solve in the near future if we have any hope of delivering accessible and affordable healthcare across the United States. The Affordable Care Act presents as many or more challenges as it does opportunities for change. It can sometimes seem overwhelming when all the variables are considered at the same time.
However, one thing that we can do here and now, is do everything that we can humanly do to increase the training opportunities and supply of physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. While this is just one piece of the healthcare delivery system that needs attention, it is one that I think we can do something about by rapidly and prudently expanding graduate medical education, especially in the primary-care specialties.
For my friend, all I can say is that I hope that he achieves his dream of becoming a physician and surgeon. I know that he would be a good one, and contribute significantly to the health and wellbeing of our community.
For the good of our communities across this nation, I hope we can find a way to use the untapped resource of competent, but "un-matched" medical school graduates in meeting the human resource needs of our country’s healthcare system. To do otherwise would be a tremendous waste.
This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.