Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Match: Against the Grain

Rockstar by Nickelback
Against the grain should be a way of life. ~ Chad Kroeger

In case you don't recognize the name, Chad Kroeger is lead singer and lyricist for the Canadian rock band, Nickelback. In case you've ever wondered, the name comes from the days of Kroeger's day job, working at a Starbucks. When giving customers their change, he used to say, "Here's your nickel back." This post, however, isn't about him, the band, or their music.

It's about going against the grain and, yes, it's also about the residency match.

Specifically, it's about making counter-conventional choices, being counter-intuitive, and contrarian when pretty much everyone else is doing otherwise. The kicker here is time. It's perception creates pressure no matter how much of it we've accumulated. If you're a fourth year medical student, your time card is already punched with eight years of higher education and now you're looking down the corridor at four more in residency. You're in debt up to your eyeballs, thinking about marriage and family, and the bloody clock is still ticking.

Mom and dad want grandchildren but they also want us to be happy, so no rush, just remember, they're not getting any younger. As if we needed to be reminded. Exit counselors at school inform us about interest on loans, repayment options, and the effects of managed care on physician income. Like we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into when we started this whole thing. Throw in the Match and it's enough to make a person reach for the Macallan and a glass -- wait, forget the glass, just hand me the bottle.

Into this mess walks a friend of mine who is intentionally taking a year off before starting residency. It's a gutsy move. She's taken a look at what she's been doing and decided to salvage the time and clear her head. She wants 12 months of real life before playing doctor another 48. What most students fantasize about, she's going to do. Her plan is still under consideration; she may do research or simply get a job at Starbucks. The point is to learn what it's like to live outside the rarefied air of academia. I say, Bravo.

You'd expect that response, coming from a guy who's spent most of his life getting the experience she's after. But this isn't about self-justification. I like her. I like her a lot. She's her own person and I value that tremendously. I value her willingness to trust her instincts and respect her own judgment. And, speaking as someone who's been where she's going, I feel confident in saying she'll be a better doctor because of what she's going to learn.

So, maybe you don't match this week, despite everything you've done and you've done everything you could. There's no question this is a loss, but it can also become something more. It depends on what you do with the time. A person doesn't have to be a medical student to run into brick walls that can neither be gone around, under, over, or through. As they say, been there, done that, got the T-shirt to prove it. What makes the difference is how well we go against the grain and turn the luck of the draw into a choice. What we do with it then, of course, is, as always, up to us.

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