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COVID-19 cancels Match Day 2020: Now what?

Residency Match Day is one of the biggest moments in a young physician’s career. Every year since 1952, The National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP®) or The Match®, has determined where more than 30,000 graduating medical students will spend the next four to seven years in residency. 

The months leading up to the event require hard work and sacrifice. Most students begin the application process almost a year beforehand, selecting specialties and submitting paperwork in September. Between October and February, students interview at their desired programs and rank each according to their preference. 

Once the interview process ends, preferences go into a Matching Algorithm that selects where students will end up. The official announcement comes on the third Friday of March, when medical schools’ alert students to their placements.  

The coronavirus pandemic and a Match Day unlike any other

Match Day 2020 came and went on March 20 with little in-person fanfare. The reason? The novel coronavirus or COVID-19.  While there’s always a risk of disappointment on Match Day––2019 data compiled by the NRMP found that only 47 percent of medical students received the top pick on their rank in order list––this year was especially challenging.

A day usually filled with high-fives, hugs, kisses, and handshakes wasn’t just postponed. In many cases, administrators cancelled it altogether or decided to stream celebrations online. 

Some of the medical schools that cancelled their in-person Match Day celebrations were the University of Washington, Stanford University, and Columbia University. Others, like New York University and Baylor University prevented family and friends from joining or split students into smaller groups.

Though disappointing, in the interest of public health, and the CDC’s March 10 recommendation to “consider adjusting or postponing large meetings or gatherings,” as well as President Trump’s March 16 request, to cancel or postpone any events with 10 or more people, the decision makes sense. 

Med schools get creative to celebrate their students

Instead of stopping celebrations altogether, dozens of medical schools made last minute adjustments to keep Match Day special, even in a time of social distancing. Some med schools live streamed their Match Day celebrations via videoconference technology like Zoom. Others, like the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University (RFUMS) streamed their Match Day celebrations on Facebook live. 

Professors and medical school faculty also worked hard to make Match Day 2020 a success. Sarah Wood, associate director of student affairs at The University of Washington School of Medicine, told The Hospitalist she included motion graphics, gifs, and photographs in Match Day announcements to make the reveal more festive. 

To bolster connection and help those affected, NRMP asked students to share photos and videos of their own Match Day celebrations using the hashtag #Match2020. NRMP uploaded all posts featuring the hashtag directly to its tagboard encouraging a sense of community and hope.  


Medical school graduation ceremonies also affected

Match Day isn’t the only event affected by the spread of the coronavirus. Many medical schools are now wondering whether in-person graduation ceremonies will take place. Some schools, like Stanford, have already cancelled in person “traditional” commencement ceremonies in lieu of virtual events. Other schools, like Butler University, have decided to cancel graduation altogether. A decision that’s resulted in online petitions to reschedule later in the summer. 

A smaller group of schools are still holding out hope, but with “shelter in place” orders in effect for the foreseeable future, it’s increasingly likely that graduation ceremonies will end up postponed, cancelled, or moved online. 


The United States Medical Licensing Examination suspends Step 2 Testing 

The effects of coronavirus extend to medical testing as well. On March 17, the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE) announced it would close all testing centers in the United States and Canada until at least April 13. Given the fluid nature of the situation, many expect a further extension in the coming weeks. 

This decision affects any physician preparing to take the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills test. To assist physicians worried about eligibility, USMLE released a statement on its website saying it “plans to extend eligibility periods for all examinees who currently have a scheduling permit with an unexpired eligibility period with an end date in 2020, regardless of the country in which they are testing.”

The novel coronavirus is having unintended effects on almost every aspect of our lives. We’ll be monitoring the situation here at DocCafe and continue to provide updates as they become available. 

COVID-19 cancels Match Day 2020: Now what?
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.