Six Steps to Win the Scramble

You applied through the match for an internship or residency- great job!  Now, 8am on match day has come… and gone, and you are without a matched position.  You still want to do an internship or residency, and there are programs which did not fill all their positions.  What do you do now? Now you Scramble.

The Scramble is the informal term for the process following 8am on match day.  All unmatched applicants scramble to find good positions while programs with unmatched positions scramble to find good applicants.  It is an absolute mess and a travesty of a system. Pharmacy has a two-step matching process to avoid the chaos of a scramble, but veterinary medicine, as always, lags behind.  

It can be an emotional blow to not get matched, but realize that not matching does not mean you are a bad applicant.  The vagaries of the match mean that good programs and good candidates go unmatched every year. Scrambling to pick up an open position is a normal part of the process.  Heck, I scrambled after I didn’t match for a surgery residency and ended up having a terrific career. If you decide to scramble, you can maximize your success with six steps.

Step One: Be Prepared.  I’m sure your application packet is superb because you have followed the advice on this blog.  Nonetheless, the match is capricious, and even the best candidates may find themselves unmatched if they didn’t find a good fit or were too restrictive in their selections.  Be ready for not successfully matching by answering these questions:

  1. Do you still want to do an internship/residency?  If you are disheartened by not matching where you wanted to go, are you still excited at the prospect of going SOMEWHERE?  Decide this beforehand- don’t be wishy-washy in the middle of the Scramble.
  2. Are your materials ready and updated?  Is your CV and letter fully up-to-date?  Can you send them off today with a high degree of confidence they reflect your current state of mind, ideas, and experiences?  If not, get them ready.
  3. Have you looked at all the programs to which you didn’t apply but would consider?  If there’s a position unfilled somewhere, do you have to do research to find out about that position or are you poised and ready to go?
  4. How do you feel about going into a program that is not quite what you wanted?  If you wanted to do a surgery residency, would you ever consider something else for a year which may position you better to apply next year?

If you are prepared mentally and practically, then you may be successful with the Scramble.

Step Two: Don’t wait.  Email programs with open positions at 8:10am on match day.  You can get this list from your institution’s VIRMP administrator.  If you wait a day or, god forbid, a week, most open positions will be filled.

Step Three: Be decisive.  Contact programs with open positions and attach your letter and CV in that initial email.  Tell them why you are reaching out to them. Not just because they have an open position, what you would be excited about if you got to work there?  If you get an offer, you need to be prepared to accept or decline it on the spot. Programs won’t wait for you to decide, because their second choice may be gone by the time you decide to decline.

Step Four: Cast a broad net.  Don’t just send your materials to the top 2-3 places you want to go.  They may fill up with someone else, and by the time you look around, your top 4-6 places may be already filled, too.  Send a message to every open position where you would be happy immediately after the match results come out. Realize that, at this point in the process, there is no more official ‘ranking’.  Just as with the match, though, you need to be prepared to accept any program which gives you an offer. If you get an offer from a place you’re willing to go, but not excited to go, go back to planning in #1.

Step Five: Be attentive.  Don’t send an email and fail to follow up.  If you don’t hear back, a polite follow-up the next day is appropriate.  Most positions get filled in the first few days after the match results come out.  If they reply with, “Thank you, we will be in touch in the next 2 days”, send a follow-up on the second day.  You need to be present without being pushy.

Step Six: Be at peace.  The Scramble is frustrating, intense, and emotional.  Be prepared for the possibility of not finding anything.  Be prepared to commit to a program and have them back out at the last second.  Have contingency plans laid out so you are ready whatever the outcome.

It’s always frustrating to fail to match.  I failed to match for a surgery residency and scrambled.  I even applied for transfusion medicine fellowships and similar programs.  Ultimately I thought, “I can go do anesthesia for a couple of years (residencies were 2 years then) and then go into surgery!”  Here I am 20 years later, perfectly content in anesthesia. As always, the key is to be honest with yourself.

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