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Dr. Joseph Sirven: The Other March Madness

Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

“Dr. Sirven, how did you end up in Arizona?” my inquisitive patient asks.

“I received my match results almost 30 years ago and that ultimately led me here to Arizona,” I respond.

“What’s the match?”

You see, every third week of March, graduating medical students open an envelope that literally determines the rest of their careers. Known as Match Day, this event marks a culmination of applications and interviews resulting in a personal ranking of post-medical school training programs—called residencies— that a medical student submits to the National Residency Matching program.

Similarly, residency-training programs also submit a similar list of their top choice graduates to fill their programs. Using a software algorithm, the program pairs medical students to residencies. 

This all happens on Match Day and has been happening since 1952-- the same year that the men’s college basketball Final Four tournament began.

The match is a binding agreement so the stakes are high. And every doctor remembers Match Day as a rite of passage. 

I remember sitting in a New Orleans bar phoning my wife to tell her we were moving to Minnesota, quietly saying goodbye to Mardi Gras and Cajun cooking.

How does this affect you?  Well, this computer algorithm determines the influx of new doctors to your neighborhood every July. If you consider that most resident trainees stay in the location where they train, you can see the considerable influence this matching program has on shaping a town’s medical workforce.

As a patient, these trainees are the ones who are going to be taking care of you and your loved ones. So, theoretically the better our Arizona residency programs get…the better their top choice candidates…the higher the quality of our healthcare teams.

Just like the NCAA Tournament, March 18th is Match Day and it’s going to be madness for both college basketball fans and future doctors alike.

Dr. Joseph Sirven is the chairman of neurology at the Mayo Clinic.