March 6th started out like most other days; I got up and got ready for another Monday at my externship in Chicago. I checked my e-mail and the results of Optometry Residency Match (ORMatch) had been emailed to me. I was excited to see which contact lens residency I got matched to but I saw an “unmatch” message instead.
Unfortunately, there was not much time to wallow in self-loathing because the post-match process was starting in a few short hours. So here is how I got through this ordeal and tips for others who may experience this in the future:
1. Stay calm
This was particularly difficult to do, since every fiber of my being wanted to focus on my emotions. While I knew it was normal to feel emotional, it was not going be helpful in figuring out my next step. Furthermore, I knew I could still get a residency!
2. Look at the residencies that did not match
Just like there are potential residents that do not match, there are residency programs that do not match either. ORMatch publishes the list of available residencies shortly after the match results are released. This allows those who did not match to try to get one of these unfilled positions. Even though this list is set to be released only a few hours after the initial match release, it felt like an eternity to wait that long. I held out hope that a contact lens residency did not match and I could scoop up the position like a ninja. However, when the list was released, there were no contact lens residencies to be found. I felt defeated and it seemed like my dream of a contact lens residency was up in smoke. This led me to an important crossroads.
This is a personal decision for everyone and it involves whether you would be happy doing a residency in another location or in another specialty. If there is no specialty on the list that stands out to you, think about why you wanted to pursue a residency in the first place and what specific aspects of residency programs appealed to you. For me, I still wanted to pursue a residency primarily to open up career opportunities for the future, especially since I am still unsure on what path I want my career to go. I felt like almost any residency could accomplish this, so I decided I still wanted to pursue one. The aspects of residencies that I liked the most were the ability to customize the experience and teaching opportunities. This helped to keep me focused and grounded as I continued my search.
4. Keep an open mind
When your choices are whittled down, it does not pay to be picky about the location or the title of a particular residency. Read the program descriptions carefully. You might be surprised at what the programs offer. In my case, I was surprised by the number of programs that offered contact lens experience built into the program, including VA hospitals.
5. Act fast and stay vigilant
Once you decide you are even slightly interested in a residency program, e-mail the program director immediately. Have your CV/resume and an unofficial copy of your board scores included in the e-mail since they will ask for it if they are at all interested. Do this ASAP because the positions can fill up within a few hours. Sometimes it is not the best candidate that gets these positions, but rather the one who responds quickest to e-mails and makes the fastest decision.
Thankfully my story has a happy ending. I was fortunate enough to be offered three residency positions from different sites on Wednesday afternoon and accepted a Family Practice position at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. I will still get everything I wanted out of a residency including experience with contact lenses, teaching, and the ability to customize it to my interests. As a bonus, I will have opportunities to perform procedures in the state with one of the best scopes of optometric practice in the United States! So if you do not get the residency of your dreams, do not despair. There are always other opportunities and you might be pleasantly surprised!