I did not go to medical school. I’m—barring some apocalyptic nightmare scenario where all the real doctors on earth are raptured and my Girl Scout first aid training is suddenly considered a high degree of medical skill—never going to be a doctor. I know a few doctors, sure. Still, I’ve spent the past two weeks deeply invested in the lives of future doctors, to whom I have no personal connection.
You see, it’s prime time for “Match Tok,” in which med students find out where they’re going to spend the next few years of their lives learning a specialty. Sometimes they learn they’re getting into their dream program; sometimes they learn they’ll have to scramble for a spot in any program. These videos have all the making of my favorite TikTok trends: nerds, high stakes, extreme drama, and a satisfying emotional payout.
If you’re new to the world of Match Tok, here’s what you need to know. Medical students spend four years studying and learning general body stuff. (Like I said, I am not a doctor.) At the end of those four years, they need to move on to a residency program, where they will train in a specific field, like pediatrics or orthopedics or plastic surgery. That residency part involves its own sort of bizarre application process, in which students interview at various programs around the country, then rank their top choices and submit that list to an official matchmaker entity. The programs also rank their top choices, and then a complicated mathematical algorithm figures out who goes where. (The people who designed the program that calculates the matches actually won a Nobel Prize in economics for it.)
Then, on the Monday of the week of the third Thursday in March—yes, this is a complex ritual—medical students get an email letting them know if they matched to a program. They won’t yet know which program, though. That happens on Friday, which is “Match Day,” usually in a big ceremony filled with family and friends and a lot of crying and screaming, and also, these days, iPhones raised high to document the whole thing. The result is like the highly educated cousin of Bama Rush Tok, right down to the students sprinting to claim their match envelopes. Just replace the Greek letters with medical institutions.
Fun! Silly! Joyous! I’ve actually been obsessed with Match Day content for years. Back in 2015, I came across this deeply cringey and yet still pleasantly dorky parody video from the students at Upstate Medical University—which, paired with the gazillion Bama Rush Tok videos I watched back in 2021, is probably why the algorithm is currently overwhelming my For You page with Match Day content.
As with Rush Tok, there is a storyline to be found here. I’d watch a TikTok of a student opening that fateful Monday email letting them know they had matched into a program. Then another one of them opening their envelope and crying. And maybe even a third where they’d finally announce where they are heading and what they are specializing in. It’s hard not to feel a sympathetic rush of relief and excitement watching these videos. You can visibly see years of work and worry start to lift from these young doctors’ shoulders.
The videos aren’t all happy screaming and jumping, though. There aren’t enough residency spots for everybody who applies to match at one of their choices. This year, a little under 20 percent of residents who applied did not secure a match. If you don’t match, you enter into the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, or SOAP. During SOAP, medical students spend the next three days following that Monday email applying to residency positions that are still open after the initial match. If you don’t secure a spot during SOAP, you move on to something called “the Scramble,” a free-for-all where the remaining spots still open are made public and, well, people scramble for them. (There’s also the option to wait another year and reapply for Match Day the following year.)
The whole process seems incredibly anxiety-inducing and, frankly, kind of terrible. If you’re lucky, there’s a payoff of intense, infectious joy. If you’re not so lucky, well, let’s just say these videos certainly do not make me wish I had gone to medical school. But somehow I’m now deeply invested in a woman named Savannah’s medical career. I apologize if now you are too. See you for Match Day 2023.