The Couple's Matching process feels more like a slot machine than a matching service.
Here is the second half of our NRMP Couple's Matching Tips for your medical residency! You can find the first five tips in Part 1 here.
This list was compiled based on our experience with the couple’s match, combined with the information we gathered from the other couples in our class. It is obviously not exhaustive, but should give you some pointers on what to think about and how to plan.
6. Pick up the phone/email after every interview invite
Getting an interview invite is exhilarating. A program has deemed you qualified (and interesting enough) to want to meet you! Plus, with every additional interview, your chances of matching significantly increase! For most applicants, you simply accept (or reject) the invite and try to fit it into your schedule. It can be stressful trying to find flights or even a place to stay on specific days, and not all schools give you time off for interviews.
Unfortunately, couple’s matching makes everything more difficult, especially interview invites. Here is how we handled everything:
Whenever my partner or I got an invite, we would immediately open up our shared calendar and look to see if anyone already had an invite in the area. If so, try to schedule your interview as close to that date as possible (see # 7).
If your partner does not have an interview at the program (or in the area), it’s time to reach out. We usually started by shooting an email off to the residency program coordinators asking about the other applicant. We felt it was best to frame it in the light of wanting to travel together instead of trying to grub for an interview. These people get hundred of emails from applicants every week, so keep it short and sweet. Here’s a sample draft of one of the emails I sent:
Hello [Program Coordinator],
My name is TwoGreenDoc and I am excited to have the opportunity to interview with the [Name of Program and Specialty]. I currently have an interview scheduled for [Date].
I am writing because I participating in the couples match. My partner (Partner’s Name and AAMC ID #) is interested in the [Partner’s specialty] program, but has not yet been invited for an interview. If possible, we would like to coordinate our visits and travel arrangements. Anything you can do to help with this process would be appreciated.
The [Partner’s Specialty] program contact is [Name of Program Coordinator]. Her/his email is [email] and the phone number is [Phone Number].
Thank you very much. I am looking forward to my visit.
Your partner should also send out a feeler email to see if they were planning on sending out an invitation. Either way, it’s always best to reach out by phone 7-10 days after sending your email. It is very easy for people to ignore emails when they have hundreds (or even thousands) of unread messages in their inbox. However, we’ve found that most coordinators respond well when you speak to them on the phone, and most will even call you back if you need to leave a message.
Obviously your mileage may vary on how successful this approach will be, but my partner and I were able to get three extra interviews this way. One interview invited occurred within two hours of reaching out, so I would definitely not recommend sitting back and waiting.
7. Try to Schedule your interviews together
This is another one of those “duh” points, but travelling together is always more enjoyable than going it alone. Although we were only able to schedule three interviews together, those were by far the best interviews I had. Additionally, we were able to get a superficial feel for the area together, which made making the rank list easier.
Although this only worked for us once, you should reach out and try to reschedule your interview even if the date you want is already full. We simply explained why we wanted to switch and the program was willing to accommodate us. It never hurts to ask, as long as you don’t nag.
8. Mention your SO at the interview
We’ve heard multiple viewpoints on bringing up your partner during the interview. Some people warned us against it, believing that program directors/faculty would not want to rely on your partner matching. Thus these programs were more likely to rank you lower, simply because you were couples matching. However, we still brought it up at every interview. Our reasoning is that we didn’t want to go to programs that will not at least superficially support their residents having some kind of family life. We did not want to train at a program that refuses to consider that their residents may have a life outside of the hospital.
The etiquette of this is similar to #5 on the first part of our couple’s matching tips. You should mention your partner at least once during the interview, without distracting from your story. Exactly how to bring them up enough but not too much is obviously nuanced, but here I will try and explain how we went about it.
During my interviews I found that the best time to bring up my SO was during the “Why this program?” question. I tried to open with the honest reasons why I liked and would fit in well with the program, and would close by stating that my partner also likes this program and we want to stay together. In the vast majority of my interviews, this response would start up a conversation that made the rest of the interview much smoother. If this question did not come up, which only happened one time, you should still bring it up at the end. Most times the interviewer makes a small note and you move on.
9. Set aside a large amount of time to create rank lists
We vastly underestimated how long it would take to make a couple’s rank list. In the end I think it took us over 12 hours and several days to finally come up with a finalized list. Then, the night it was due we spent another three or four hours double checking everything. Do not put it off, and do not take it lightly.
For the couple’s match the NRMP caps you at 700 rank combinations. This sounds like extreme overkill, (and it generally is) but you will have way more rank combinations than you would normally think. Compared to most of the other couples at our school, we had relatively few choices with strict location preferences and still ended up at over 40 combinations. A better way to put this would be that if you both interviewed at 9 programs and wanted to rank every combination (including the “No Match” option), you would end up with 450 rank combinations. Simply inputting this many matches would take hours!
We tried not to have any surprises when we sat down to make our list. My partner knew my favorite programs, and I knew hers. From that point we were able to begin the negotiations.
10. Rank every combination… and pray
One of the other couples in our class ended up matching all the way down after their 40th choice. Unfortunately they ended up being separated by hundreds of miles in separate states. Yet they were still happy to have matched, and did not regret ranking that many programs.
Why am I telling you this? Because it is very tempting to just give up after ranking 20...30… or even 40 choices. The NRMP website interface gets frustrating after checking your order list fifteen times. Although we were exhausted (and a little irritated at each other) after making our rank list, we both agree that we would have powered through and ranked every single option.
After you get through making your list, all you can do is buy some flowers for your partner to apologize for the fighting (I kid… sorta), and pray.
Oh! And the NRMP code for the “No Match” option is: 999999999
It took us forever to find it.
Did you participate in the couples match? Any tips or pointers you’d suggest? Let us know in the comments!