Match Day

A Behind The Scenes View

This morning, I woke up at 4 am as I tend to do. I made some tea. I sat in front of my computer to watch a bit of Grey’s Anatomy. I texted a friend, then erased the text realizing my friend was probably still asleep.

I distracted my mind from what I really couldn’t forget: Match Day was about to arrive.

Every year on a Monday morning, thousands of dental school students gather around their computers waiting for the email they have been working so hard to receive. A simple clause — “Congratulations” or “We Regret” — will determine the next steps on their professional journeys. We spend years growing in our fields, months flying from interview to interview, and days considering the pros and cons of the programs we saw as we try to compile a list of our preferences. In a mix between a magical sorting hat and a well-programmed algorithm, we trust that all our hard work will pay off. We pray for the ‘right’ match.

Until we are residency applicants ourselves, we don’t really realize that there is no one ‘right’ match, but that somehow, things always work out.

Dental hopefuls — no matter where they end up — always find their right way. Even if you don’t match, or you don’t match to the program you thought you had wanted, you will find your way. And, just the same, if you match at your top program, you will find your way.

This morning, my match left me without words. In June, I will begin my residency training in pediatric dentistry at Boston Children’s Hospital-Harvard. It takes my breath away every time that sentence passes my thoughts. I will be training. To be a pediatric dentist. At what I tend to consider my home. I am home. I am studying at Boston Children’s Hospital, and I am at home.

When I went to share the news with family and friends, that repetitive shock and awe was all I could utter. My post to the world was more simple than ever imagined: ♥♥♥ Future Pediatric Dentist ♥♥♥ — followed by a picture of my match results. There was nothing more that I needed to say, and too much that I wanted to say.

Gratitude and humility overcame me.

I knew the work before me, and the lifetime of helping children maintain healthy smiles that was soon to greet me. There was so much I wanted to say.

Because I didn’t get here alone.

The Match Day festivities hide a part of the process most people never see: the behind the scenes work. Before even nearing match day, there are fears and finger sores and piles of fake teeth. There are moments when you think you aren’t going to make it, and put one foot in front of the other until you do. There are days when you don’t have the energy to get up, but, because of how much you care for your patients, you do. There are classes where you didn’t realize dentistry could ever be so hard, but, facing any struggle, something inside of you chooses to push through.

In the episode of Gray’s Anatomy I had on this morning, the interns were discussing what they would do if not surgery. My classmates and I jokingly had that same conversation around the lunch table only two years back as our minds searched for a mental break. Most of us had a ready answer but SPOILER ALERT: we all stuck with dentistry. Even at an interview for residency, when pushed and pushed about what I would do if not dentistry, a part of me jokingly laughed to myself, ‘You know; you’re right. I must be stuck in a body that keeps going to dental school and I can’t get out! Finally, someone figured it out!’

The thing is, if you make it this far into your dental career, something deeper than surface thoughts are driving you. Some sort of passion is keeping you moving forward. Your body is possessed, in a way, but by a drive to add smiles to the world. By a drive to make a difference.

Ask yourself, at the end of a hard day, what is it that keeps you going back?

For me, it’s the patients. It’s the man who thought his teeth were hopeless, and, over time, felt empowered to keep his mouth healthy. It’s the child who couldn’t find care anywhere else, and whose family trusted me to have the patience to address his pain. It’s the parents that don’t want to admit to their daily struggles, but are willing to form a bond and eventually [no pun intended, though it is just too easy] open up. It’s all the people who leave my office with empowered, healthy smiles, and skills to take care of those smiles.

It’s all the smiles.

Dental school is not easy for most of us. It’s not meant to be. We have people’s health in our hands, and our hands in their mouths. We never take either fact lightly. We have so much to learn, and only four years to grow within the walls that offer guidance and safety. On Match Day, we are far from done growing.

And we don’t do it alone. We have our classmates joking with us and offering insight as we learn how to do crown preps. We have our professors who stay with us all through the night, and send us home because growth requires rest. We have our puppies offering warmth and our families on the phone every weekend, there to let us vent. We have all of the teachers who got us to where we are today, and all of the friends around us. We have faith when things seem insurmountable, and our own inner strength carrying us through — but even that, we learned and developed from someone around us.

We don’t get to match day alone.
First day in the clinic — Year 1 of Dental School (2015).

We don’t celebrate match day alone. Many of us don’t even open our match day emails accepting complete credit for the words on the screen. They are not our results alone. They belong to a community, a team. They belong to us all.

Those who matched and those who didn’t are all part of this community. We have all come to this point together. None of us could have gotten here alone. All of us, on this day, have so much strength and so many people to celebrate.

Congratulations to everyone today. This is all of your day to celebrate.

Nobody reaches this day alone.

Do you have questions about dental school or match day? Reach out in the comments, and follow Mirissa’s writing at her blog, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.