Right now, soon-to-be medical school graduates from across the country are preparing for the Match, readying themselves for March 17 and the news of where they’ll get the chance to complete their medical training.
All of it, Dr. Hal B. Jenson said, is part of a consistent “sophisticated and robust system” that has supported the transition from medical school to residency for some 60 years. But, he added, the implementation of the Match, and the rules and regulations that govern it today, “have changed significantly” compared to when he earned his MD degree in 1979.
Dr. Jenson would know. During the 10 years he served on the Board of Directors for the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), including a stint as chair of the Board from 2013 to 2015, he led the implementation of what is now known as the “all-in rule” and led the workgroup that brought about eliminating the Scramble in 2012 and transformed it into the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP).
“We all felt this was a matter of fairness to make all residency positions available to all medical students,” Dr. Jenson said recently of the impetus for the all-in policy. “The Scramble was … unregulated, unmonitored, and unorganized. SOAP brought an organization to that and worked to the benefit of the unmatched students, and also to the benefit of the unmatched programs.”
Each year, as WMed welcomes a new class of resident physicians and fellows, Dr. Jenson said he continues to see the benefits of the changes he helped foster during his time in leadership with NRMP.
The all-in rule, he said, has resulted in more openings for residencies for qualified medical students. SOAP, meanwhile, has made it more likely that medical students who fail to initially match with a residency will find a program for their medical training that fits them well, as opposed to simply taking any position they find, he said.
“SOAP gives you more time to consider your options,” Dr. Jenson said.
Even with the significant changes to the Match, Dr. Jenson said the level of competition that exists today for residency and fellowship spots is similar to the type of environment he stepped into as a graduate of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He said that while there are more students today competing for residency positions, “there are also many more spots.”
After he graduated from medical school, Dr. Jenson aspired to be a pediatrician and wanted to pursue genetics, a field that was just emerging at the time. The rank list he compiled for the Match was based on what he believed were the highest-quality training programs.
He completed his residency at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He said he began his residency with an eye on pursuing a genetics fellowship, but that eventually changed.
“I realized I really liked it when patients got better,” he said.
The revelation prompted him to change course and, after residency, he completed a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at Yale University School of Medicine. Later, he was a visiting fellow in molecular biology at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Cambridge, United Kingdom. He was able to merge his interest in “patients getting better” with molecular genetics by becoming a physician scientist in a career that combined pediatric infectious diseases with laboratory research in molecular virology.
Dr. Jenson said his experience can serve as a lesson and a reminder to medical students and resident physicians that it’s okay to change course in the field of medicine if it is in pursuit of one’s passion.
“There are an incredible breadth of opportunities in medicine and students shouldn’t have a fixed idea that they know exactly what their life is going to be like because it could end up very different,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s impossible during medical school to really understand everything about all of those opportunities, but you make the best informed choice you can.”
In order to find the best residency, Dr. Jenson said medical students should talk to their mentors, as well as physicians who are doing the work in the specialty and subspecialties they want to pursue in residency and fellowship. He said it’s also important to seek advice from current resident physicians who have recently gone through the Match and will be knowledgeable about the many programs they visited for residency interviews.
When it comes time to compile and submit a rank list – a task many medical school students across the country will complete this month – Dr. Jenson said it is important to “aim high,” but to also have a backup plan if a top choice does not pan out. He said students also should only rank programs located in places where they are willing to live and work.
“In the Match, especially, you must have a backup plan because you know that some specialties are going to be more competitive than others and you also know that some locations are going to be more competitive than others,” Dr. Jenson said. “You have to know enough about yourself that you don’t just settle on one possibility.”
At WMed, members of the inaugural Class of 2018 are just one year away from submitting their rank lists for residency. With that date and next year’s Match Day quickly approaching, Dr. Kevin Kavanaugh, a longtime associate professor of Medicine, was recently named as the medical school’s new assistant dean for Career Development.
As an assistant dean, Dr. Kavanaugh serves as another career advisor for medical students and provides guidance and direction for residency and career planning, among other duties. The Scholar-Advisors and individual mentors also help medical students with career advising.
Dr. Jenson said Dr. Kavanaugh will play a key role in helping WMed’s inaugural class and all future graduates navigate the Match and find the best programs for their medical training.
Looking ahead to 2018, Dr. Jenson said the goal for WMed’s Class of 2018 and the Match is simple – a 100 percent match rate.
“At the end of SOAP, we want 100 percent of our students to have matched to a program they want to train in,” he said.