The journey to becoming a doctor is no easy feat. After 4 years of medical school, students spend their last year prepping for the MATCH. A bit like a dating service, students submit applications to hospitals that offer training in the specialty they’re interested in, and in return, some hospitals invite students to come for an interview. If all goes well, the students log into the National Resident Matching Program to list their top choices for where they’d like to train, and the hospitals do the same entering their top candidate picks for a limited number of spots available. Then the computer matchmaking begins.
On its own, matching with a residency program is already a complex process. But for couples trying to match together, this adds an extra layer of intricacy, and trying to match in the same specialty makes this process infinitely harder. Wanting to live and work near one another definitely adds its own complications, but is more common than you may think.
After registering individually for the R3® system, one partner can send a ‘couple request’ to the other. This only works however, if both applicants are in the same Match. Then two applicants can link their rank order lists, in the hopes of accepting positions in the same geographic location. A couple will match to the most preferred pair of programs on their rank order lists where each partner has been offered a position.
Both fourth year medical students at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, ambassadors Edward Ng and Edie Waskel share what it’s been like falling in love with each other and emergency medicine in med school. They also give advice on how best to tackle this challenging, but also very exciting process together for this year’s Match Day.
HOW DID YOU MEET?
EN: She was my anatomy TA! I used to pretend like I didn't know something or needed help just to get her to come to my table so I could talk to her.
EW: I was originally part of the class of 2020 and was hired to help teach the Intensive Summer Anatomy Course for the incoming first years. So we met in the cadaver lab - how romantic right?
YOUR BEST MEMORY TOGETHER?
EN: So. So. So. Many. But sometimes your favorite memory isn’t always the happiest. My dad passed away recently and Edie spent so many nights over, celebrating my dad’s life with my family. Overall, for favorite memories- there’s a ton but the ones that stand out to me the most are the ones that are most important and that’s one of the most important ones.
EW: It’s probably going to be our first trip together to San Francisco. He planned everything, he really wanted to show off and go over the top. My favorite part was when he brought a ukulele and he serenaded me while we had a picnic and needless to say, that’s when he won me over.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO GO INTO MEDICINE?
EN: It all started off with my dad. My dad got sick when I was young so I grew up around ICU monitors and spent countless weekends in the hospital. . I also grew up very poor and home and food insecure. For me, I wanted to incorporate my life experiences with my passion for serving others and medicine seemed like the best fit. Now, I’m on this path to becoming a physician that cares for the underserved and marginalized community because I came from that community.
EW: My first job was as a lifeguard, and where I worked we answered calls not just to the pool but to any part of the facility. I remember answering a call to the tennis courts where an older person was found down, disoriented, profusely vomiting - just did not look good. I finally convinced that person to agree to go by ambulance to the hospital but I later found out they didn't make it. My 16 year old self could not understand why. Looking back, that was my first step towards medicine - wanting to have that base knowledge to understand what's going on and be able to adapt and act quickly to help other people.
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE THE DO/ MD PATH?
EN: When I was applying to medical school, I had options of both but ultimately decided to stay close to home and pursue my DO degree because it also fit in with a lot of my own personal views and beliefs.
EW: One of the pillars of osteopathic medicine is the interconnection of mind, body, spirit and I feel like my life naturally resonates with that pillar. I'm strong in my faith and I love keeping my body healthy and understand how much mental health can affect each of those. Once I actually entered medical school and moved up in my leadership roles, I saw just how cohesive the osteopathic family is and how committed the osteopathic leadership is to taking care of their physicians and medical students. In a lot of situations, we're the underdogs, but we're shedding more and more light on who we are to help balance that out.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET THROUGH MED SCHOOL?
EN: It takes a village. When one person goes to medical school it's not enough, it requires the love and support of a strong face of people. Additionally medical school takes grit, mature growth, and the desire to succeed.
EW: You've got to find your support group. Both inside and outside of school. I leaned on my sister a lot whenever I felt overwhelmed but you also need someone who understands exactly what you're going through. Ed and I have definitely been that person for each other at times but we both have close friends in our classes that we also go to when the going gets tough.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN MED SCHOOL?
EN: My biggest challenge in Medical School is the return of my mental health issues specifically my anxiety and depression. Luckily I've had Edie and my family to help me get through these times. Additionally, my father recently passed away in the midst of interview season and while I miss him, I know he's looking down on me and is proud.
EW: Ed and I both have experienced this now, but life doesn't stop just because you're in med school. My grandpa passed away the first day of first year, my uncle passed away at the beginning of second year, and Ed also has had a family loss recently. It's really hard to balance it all. Even the good things! I have a twin sister and she got married the first week of second year - I drove myself sick trying to make everything work! Everything turned out great, but I should have taken better care of myself, and a lot of times that's the first thing to go when busy in med school.
TELL US ABOUT THE COUPLES MATCH PROCESS.
EN: It’s honestly a pain in the butt. But essentially each partner sends applications on their own and gets interviews on their own and at the very end they create combinations that they enter into the rank list program. The algorithm then chooses the best fit based on residency programs rank lists, and a couple matches as a pair.
EW: The couples match basically links the two ranking lists of the partners so that they are now one list. I feel like Ed explains this better, but couples match is between two partners going into two separate specialties. Since we both are going into EM, we included interviews at places that have multiple residencies in the area to help our chances. After the interview process, we compiled all the possible combinations of our rank lists and entered those into NRMP (National Resident Matching Program). Most rank lists for individuals are just 1-12 or however many places that person interviewed at. With couples match, there are so many possible combinations of our rank list that it can easily reach the max amount on NRMP, which is 300.
WHAT ARE SOME DO'S AND DON'TS OF THE COUPLE MATCH?
EN: Do communicate with each other and be honest with how you feel about a program. It's important to take into consideration your partners desires, interests, and career goals - But it's also important to consider your own as well. The key to a successful couples match season and process is to work together towards a common goal.
EW: Do communicate. Do not let the other one do all the work. I have to highlight Ed- he did a great job of taking hold of the excel spreadsheets, researching programs and remembering all of them. That gave me room to help in other ways like with the summaries at the end and coming together to review what we both felt about certain programs. It’s a lot of compromise, playing to each other's strengths, helping each other in weaknesses but overall it’s also good prep for what residency years will be like.
WHERE ARE YOU HOPING TO LAND?
EN: Any residency program we match at will be where we call home, and we know that we will love it there.
EW: All the programs we looked into were great. We will be together so we will figure it out. We’re trusting the process.
WHAT SPECIALTY ARE YOU MOST INTERESTED IN?
EN: The greatest specialty in the world is emergency medicine, no other specialty comes close. Don’t challenge me on that.
EW: Emergency Medicine all the way!
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FUTURE STUDENTS?
EN: Stick to it. Medical school is difficult, but the reward is so immense that it makes all the long nights of studying, stressful times, and challenging moments worth it. To be able to provide care and emotional support for patients in need is immensely gratifying and humbling.
EW: Find a mentor. Get plugged in. Volunteer in ways that feed into who you are and your purpose. I had no idea how to navigate any of this - total first gen medical student right here! - so that’s what I did to dig in and figure things out for my career path.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED FOR IN THE FUTURE TOGETHER?
EN: I am most excited for the future with Edie, as two barring emergency medicine physicians and to begin the lifelong career of helping others. If along the way a puppy finds its way into our lives, I would not complain either.
EW: Where life is going! It’s going to be great - wherever we land. Two EM residents, hopefully with a puppy, working on social medicine issues we’re both passionate about. We’ve got some big transitions ahead of us, so I’m just excited to be going through them all with Ed by my side.