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Science & Technology

How Speed Dating And A Nobel Prize Determines the Next Generation Of Doctors

Medical School Residency Match Day
Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo
Flickr/Creative Commons

Next Friday, over 17,000 U.S. medical students will find out exactly what kind of doctor they will become. The process is called ‘the match’, and it works more like high-stakes speed dating than a job application process. 

During the last year of medical school, much like in high school, medical students apply to residency programs across the country. The programs then send invitations to select applicants to interview at their institution.

For some residency fields such as family medicine, students may only have to interview at a handful of institutions because there are more spots than there are U.S. students applying for that field. But for many other fields, such as plastic surgery or ophthalmology, students often interview at 15 or more places in order to have a good chance at matching. The process takes up to 3 months and can cost thousands of dollars. (Students are expected to pay these costs themselves.)
After the "speed-dating" interviews are over, students submit a preference list ranking their most desired to least desired programs. The programs similarly make a list of the applicants they liked. These lists are then sent to the National Resident Matching Program headquarters in D.C. where a computer formula attempts to match students with programs. The algorithm is so intricate, Dr. Lloyd Shapley, one of the creators, won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2012 for his work.
Unlike college or job applications, the process does not give medical students an offer. Instead, each student is paired with one program.
Many students apply broadly and may list programs from over a dozen cities and states, so the wait can be excruciating.
At noon next Friday the wait will be over: medical students across the country will find out where they are going to be for the next 3 to 8 years of their lives, and the next generation of doctors will be ushered in. 

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