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Match Day arrives with anxiety and excitement for med students

The nation will get a good look this week at the future faces of medicine. Friday is Match Day, the high-pressure equivalent of Draft Day in pro sports, when medical school seniors find out where they will be doing their residency training. The students found out Monday whether they matched at all.

After residency programs learn Monday how many of their positions were filled, unmatched graduates get offers Wednesday for unfilled positions and have just two hours to say yes or no.

“I understand it's viewed with trepidation, but it's also an incredibly exciting time for the students,” said Mona Signer, executive director of the National Resident Matching Program.

After last year's match, there were 528 seniors who did not initially land a slot. Physician organizations and others have cited this as evidence that the U.S. faces a shortage of residencies and that Congress should boost graduate medical education funding. Signer said most of those students eventually found a program.

There were 61 residency positions that went unfilled last year, Signer noted, and many students don't get into the specialty they wanted. “Everyone can't be a dermatologist or an orthopedic surgeon,” she said.

“The fact is there are more positions in the match year after year,” Signer added. “But that's totally different than saying the positions are allocated correctly for future healthcare manpower needs.”

States also are competing. Many doctors start practicing in the same geographical area where they trained. Given the scramble for primary-care physicians, Florida, New Jersey and other states have increased GME funding to lure future doctors to their borders with more slots.

New York, in particular received a disproportionate share of GME funding, George Washington University researchers pointed out in a November Health Affairs report. New York had more medical residents than 31 other states combined and received almost 20% of all GME funding while 29 other states received less than 1%, the researchers found.

(Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, disagreed with the study's conclusions that concentrating GME in New York leads to physician shortages elsewhere. “We have shipped doctors all over the United States,” Raske said. “To believe they are landlocked in the place they trained is incorrect.”)

Last year, 18,156 U.S. medical school graduates vied for 26,392 first-year positions. This year's figures aren't available yet, but there typically are up to 8,000 more positions than U.S. grads; the extra slots are filled by U.S. residents and foreign doctors from international medical schools. Roughly 48% of the 26,392 residency positions were for the primary-care specialties of family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics

Match Day has turned into a national social-media event with letter-opening ceremonies and students' reactions being captured in photos and videos that are then posted on med school websites and Facebook pages.

Many schools create photo montages set to popular songs, and Signer said schools are encouraged to post pictures and videos on the NRMP Facebook page.

Minutes after they learned if they had matched, many med schools used twitter to announce their good fortune using the hashtag #Match2014.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks

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