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From Unmatched to Matched: My Success Story

As medical students, we have years of hard work behind us. We’ve logged countless hours in libraries reading endlessly, volunteering, participating in clubs, and conducting research, all while trying to continue our favorite hobbies and maintain a modicum of sanity. And then, at the end of the journey, there is the Match. The most anxiety-provoking time in our lives so far, finding out what specialty and where we will be spending 3-6 years as residents before, finally, becoming attendings.

While most medical students do find themselves with a residency position, there are still a few who receive an email that says, “We are sorry, you did not match into any position.”

In the spring of 2022, I received that very same email and my world seemed to crash down around me. But, I am writing this post for all of those who did and will receive that fateful email, to tell you all it will be okay—and the success story you envision for yourself still lies on the road ahead!

In this blog, I will tell you my story, offer my two cents of advice, and hopefully help one or two feel a little less lost along the process after not matching. Plus, I’ll give you some helpful recommendations that will improve your chances of matching into a program next year!

My Success Story After Not Matching (Plus, My Advice For Those Walking the Same Path!)

It’s Important to Acknowledge Your Feelings 

Before anything else, the first thing you will do is grieve. You should grieve. You have spent years working towards this moment and now the future, possibly for the first time, is unclear. Grieve this time of uncertainty and allow yourself grace. Do not immediately start going over your application trying to figure out what went wrong, because it will be difficult to see it with fresh eyes while emotions are running high.

Choose to Grow as Doctor and a Person 

After the initial shock wears off, you will have an almost infinite number of options about what to do next. During the year after not matching my first time around, I found that it was helpful to see this as the small bump in a long runway it is and choose to grow as a person and doctor.

If you would like to follow this same approach and are unsure about how to move forward, here are a few ideas:

1. Take a Hard Look at Your Application

Get some input from your mentors to see what they think about your application. Would it help to do a year of research, a preliminary year, or something else? If you think working on your clinical skills and making connections in a different hospital are all that you need, then a preliminary year may be the best option. If bolstering your application with research and networking at conferences will round out your CV, then that would be the best approach for you. The important part is finding the part of your application that may need the most assistance and fortifying it with additional experiences during this additional year. 

2. Network, Network, Network

Very few things are quite as important as networking when it comes to your future career. Whether it be a prelim or a research year, proving yourself to be a capable doctor for as many people as possible will get you far. Additionally, making yourself known in the department is important—attending grand rounds, journal clubs, etc. will pay dividends. 

3. Try a Hybrid Experience

You also may be able to have a “hybrid” experience. For example, you can do a research year and volunteer to shadow in clinics, which will improve your skills and help you meet new people. This is the route I chose to take. I was a research coordinator for my mentor and produced a lot of work, while also getting into the OR and clinics. Grand rounds were online for a lot of my year, but I was sure to log in every chance I could.

4. Defer Graduation 

Depending on your medical school’s policies, you may also want to consider deferring graduation. This affords several benefits, including maintaining your student status for buses, food, and workout facilities. You also may be able to do away rotations to help your chances at matching there, which depends on if the research position you take allows for that sort of flexibility. Contact your school’s registrar and advisors to see if this is an option. 

Enjoy Your Personal Life 

I want to pivot, now, away from strictly the medical aspect of this year. You will be watching your medical school friends moving on to residency, and it may be difficult to avoid feeling stagnant. My advice to you is: Reinvest into your personal life. Connect with any friends that you may still have in the area, spend time with family, date, anything to keep you feeling connected to those around you. You have spent four years nonstop studying and on the wards, now you will have the rare opportunity to socialize, go to concerts, or play that guitar that has been collecting dust. Plus, future interviewers will love to hear how you learned a new skill or picked up a new hobby during your additional year!

In my own experience, I was able to get back to music and explore parks around my city where I had not had time to hike before. It was amazing to see how keeping busy and doing new things can lessen the impact of something so difficult to process. If you are having trouble in the friend department, there are websites such as that you can explore to find organized events for just about anything. During this time, I went to a lot of breweries with people who were total strangers and have become close friends. 

Be Ready to Explain Why You Didn’t Match 

Before you know it, application season will roll around once again. It’s imperative that you can answer the question, “Why do you think you did not match?”

While my first piece of advice was to not jump into nit-picking your application right away, I do recommend evaluating your previous application at least a few weeks before interviewing (and once you have some emotional distance from it), especially if you can talk it through with a counselor. My answer personally was that I struggled clinically and needed to practice my interviewing and presentation skills.

Once you acknowledge what the problem was, you also need to share what you’ve done to improve. For instance, you could say, “I struggled clinically and needed to take the time to practice my interviewing and presentation skills. I do not regret what happened at all, however, because it allowed me to find a major passion for research, as well as teaching, and I became a tutor for Blueprint Prep!” Displaying persistence and fortitude by putting yourself out there will impress and show a great insight into yourself. 

The Key Takeaways 

Going unmatched does not have to be the end of future opportunities—rather, it can be a door closing for now and many others opening that you didn’t even see before. Take the time to enter as many of them as you can, and you will come out the other side a better version of yourself and a better doctor for your future patients.

The humility and introspection you gain from not matching may, in fact, make you one of the best residents in your future class. Drive yourself forward towards matching with your dream residency or fall in love with something completely new and find your true calling in the world that you may not have explored otherwise. Having fun and learning will make this year more valuable than any you’ve had before. I know this is hard, but I know all of you can do it! After not matching last year, I am excited to share that I was able to match this year, and I’m looking forward to using all of the soul-searching and learning to my advantage as a resident! It can happen for you, too (P.S. look up the term “kintsugi,” it will help)!

About the Author

I am a graduate of the Ohio State University with a degree in Neuroscience as well as a minor in clinical Psychology. I am currently a research coordinator at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center prior to beginning residency. I am attending the University of Pittsburgh Medical School for my MD. I am interested in the field of Orthopaedics as well as medical education, healthcare reform, and various advocacy groups. I focus on questions/testing strategy as well as taking what you learn from a book and applying it to test questions. Twitter: @LCluts