What if you don’t match? 3 things you should do

This coming Monday, medical students participating in the 2017 Main Residency Match will find out whether they matched with a program. Those who get the unfortunate news that they did not match and who are then unsuccessful in obtaining a position through SOAP, the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, might wonder what their options are for keeping their dreams of a career as a doctor alive. A physician who has worked with unmatched applicants explains how to make the most of the coming year and improve the odds of matching the next time around.

Margarita Loeza, MD, is a family medicine physician and chief medical information officer at Venice Family Clinic, a community health center in Los Angeles. For several years, she has hired unmatched graduates to work with her in clinic. She has seen firsthand, in both those graduates and her peers, the steps applicants can take to make themselves more attractive to residency programs.

Dr. Loeza offers this advice.

Stay in touch with your medical school. “Some [unmatched applicants] will be embarrassed, hide out and not tell anyone, but they ought to do just the opposite,” Dr. Loeza said. “Stay in touch with your dean and others at your medical school and ask them for help.

“Also, get involved in a research project. Look for mentors at your medical school who are working in the field of medicine you want to work in and volunteer to help.”

Find a job in a clinical setting. “You have to get a job that helps you keep your clinical skills so you don’t forget medicine,” Dr. Loeza said. “Programs are going to want to know how you kept your clinical skills current, because you sat out a year.”

But the work does not have to be in direct patient care. Dr. Loeza hires unmatched applicants to work as electronic health record trainers for the clinic’s hundreds of volunteer physicians, residents and medical students.

Take the USMLE Step 3 exam. “Passing it will make you a more competitive applicant the next time around,” Dr. Loeza said. “You have to prove you know medicine, that program directors don’t have to worry about you. There have been residents who start intern year and they don’t pass Step 3, so their program is short a resident doctor. That’s a big loss for the program and creates more work for your co-residents. They will be more likely to take an applicant that already passed Step 3.

“You have to take Step 3. If you don’t, you probably won’t match the second time around. I have two students right now. One took Step 3 and passed it, and he got 14 interviews the second time around. The second student didn’t take Step 3 like I asked him to, and he got only one interview invitation. I think he’s not going to match again this time.”

More help is available

Dr. Loeza also suggests, when the time comes, taking a different approach to applying and interviewing.

“The Match process and the interview process are expensive, but the second time around, you’ll probably have to apply to even more programs,” she said. “You might also have to apply to more than one specialty.”

The AMA Residency & Fellowship Database™ (registration required), also known as FREIDA Online®, enables unmatched students to research residencies from more than 10,000 programs both during and following SOAP. Access is free, but extra benefits are available to AMA members.

In addition, the AMA provides resources to help recent medical graduates obtain their medical licenses, study for licensure exams and support legislation to increase the number of graduate medical education positions.