Where did you match?” echoed through the halls of many a medical center last June, as prospective rheumatology fellows found out where they were going for their subspecialty training. Ever since the ACR adopted the match, a computer-based system of pairing fellowship applicants with training programs according to the preferences of both, “Match Day” has been a heavily anticipated day for applicants and program directors alike. Before this system was in place, training applicants received fellowship offers over a non-uniform timetable. As a result, they often felt pressured to accept training positions before knowing the range of opportunities that might be available to them.
Professionalizing a Chaotic Process
According to Walter G. Barr, MD, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, director of the rheumatology training program there, and chairperson for ACR’s Committee on Training and Workforce Issues, the match was adopted to provide an orderly and fair selection process. “The match has professionalized a chaotic and unregulated selection process that for too many years did not serve the best interests of applicants or the training programs,” he says.
The match has been in operation for two years, and so far the results have been encouraging. “I was definitely glad rheumatology had one application, one deadline,” says Peggy Wu, a first-year rheumatology fellow at Northwestern Medical Center. “Because I only had one deadline, I was able to visit and interview at every program [I was interested in] without the pressure of having to make a decision until later. … [I had] time to even revisit some programs to make an informed decision. And I ended up where I wanted to be.”
Program directors concur that the experience to date with the match has been excellent. According to Michael H. Pillinger, MD, associate professor of medicine and pharmacology at the NYU School of Medicine, director of the rheumatology fellows’ training program there, and chairperson for the ACR’s Training Resources Subcommittee, the technical aspects of the matching process went smoothly. “Ninety-four programs participated in the 2006 match, compared to 88 in 2005. Ninety-six percent of the fellowship positions were filled in the match, and the few programs that had unfilled positions after the match successfully filled their training programs with well-qualified candidates.”
After preparing the application, the potential fellow electronically selects training programs to which to application is to be sent.
David Daikh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, director of the rheumatology training program there, and chairperson-elect for ACR’s Committee on Training and Workforce Issues, agrees. “Participants are following the procedures and rules appropriately,” he says. “The match is a real step forward for rheumatology.”
A Multitude of Applications and Timelines
Before the match was instituted, the process was more involved and time-consuming for residents and program directors alike. “The old ‘system’ amounted to every program having its own rules/applications and interview schedule,” explains Carlos Lozada, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, director of the rheumatology fellows’ training program there, and chair of the Electronic Residency Application Service/Match Task Force.