M&M Rounds: Didn’t Match for a Residency

During M&M rounds, we will examine some fictitious cases and evaluate the facts and consider some solutions to these problems.

Mark Ashes is a 32-year-old Hispanic male presenting for not matching to an exotics/wildlife medicine specialty for the third time through the VIRMP.  He has wanted to be a veterinarian being paid to work with charismatic megafauna since he entered vet school.

Mark went on a trip to Africa during his undergrad years and was immediately smitten.  He decided he wanted to be a wildlife veterinarian.  He applied to veterinary school and was accepted on his second application cycle.  During vet school, he participated in all the exotic/wildlife club activities and elective courses offered.  One summer during vet school he went abroad to help in a wildlife capture program.  His grades were fair because his focus was on non-traditional species, so he didn’t have a lot of patience for learning “regular” medicine.  He had a class rank of 40/130.

In his senior year, he did multiple externships at zoos and exotics practices throughout the US.  He applied for exotic animal internships through the VIRMP with letters of recommendation from three exotics specialists.  He did not match on the first go-around, did not Scramble, and decided to enter into private practice where he would get to do a fair bit of exotics work.  He applied the next year for an exotics internship through the VIRMP and was accepted.  Thereafter, he applied for an exotics/wildlife residency but did not match.  Since then, he has continued working in small animal/exotics practice and applying to exotics/wildlife residencies.

My treatment for Mark is very much my own opinion, and others may differ- I welcome your comments!  My treatment is for him to find a zoo where he can volunteer to work with them and drop his dream of being paid a decent salary to work with charismatic megafauna.  This would achieve his goal of working with those animals while acknowledging the reality that he is very unlikely to get a residency in wildlife medicine.

The match rate for wildlife medicine is one of the lowest of any specialty – 3% for exotics and 9% for wildlife as of 2021.  Wildlife medicine had 97 applicants for 9 positions and exotics had 83 applicants for 3 positions.  Not impossible, but statistically poor, particularly for someone who has already failed to match.

I think the learning issues for Mark’s case focus on what you do during vet school and how you choose your specialty.  Mark didn’t do any research, and his grades weren’t great because he was so focused on his species of interest.  If he had focused on being a more general veterinarian, he may have done better.  Pursuing a rotating internship before a specialty internship may also have improved his application.  Specialty choice is also incredibly important.  Obviously, you want to do what you enjoy doing, but I believe most people would be happy doing a wide variety of disciplines.  I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon and I am incredibly happy in anesthesia.  One of my colleagues trained to be an equine internist and is very happy in anesthesia.  There are many routes to happiness.  If you focus too closely on a single outcome, you may be limiting your options for happiness.  Consider the match rate for your specialty.  If you aren’t one of the absolute top candidates in the country, you may never be able to get that residency.  Another path may bring you greater happiness.

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