Sunday, March 15, 2009

Match Day: a book review

At the heart of Mr. Eule’s novel Match Day, about three female medical students who go through the infamous residency match, is the concept of sacrifice. I think we female physicians, especially those of us with families, understand better than anyone what it means to make sacrifices. And as Match Day reminded me, so do their families. The novel describes in detail the sacrifices that women must make for the sake of their careers or for families which they might not even have started yet.

You can tell even without reading the back flap that Mr. Eule is a journalist because the novel is sprinkled with factoids about match day and residency. A lot of it was information I already knew (my class was the one that got punished by the results of the catastrophic urology match screw up), but some of it was new to me. Sometimes the book felt more like an expose on match day than a novel about three women, but either way, it was a very entertaining read. And now I can honestly say I know everything I ever wanted to know about the history of the residency match.

The scene that hit closest to home for me was when Rakhi, an intelligent young woman applying for internal medicine, is debating giving up her dream residency in order to be in a program closer to where her husband wanted to go to graduate school. Even though the rest of the book deals with more serious topics such as palliative care, this above all was the scene that brought tears to my eyes. Because when I submitted my match list for residency four years ago, it was not the one I had dreamed of. I gave up my dream residency for my other dream: to finally live with my husband. It was a sacrifice that I never regretted, but reading Rakhi’s familiar story brought back some bittersweet memories.

Unfortunately, as we all know, sacrifice does not end with match day. Intern year and residency, as the novel describes, is also filled with sacrifices. We give up our free time, our family life, and allow ourselves to be treated like dirt on the side of the road in order to realize our goal of becoming a physician. If you can get out of residency with your personal life intact, you can consider yourself lucky. One line that stuck in my head was about a surgery program that had a divorce rate of “over a hundred percent”, since one resident got divorced twice. You can’t make this stuff up.

The other highlight of the book was author himself. As a resident who is married to a man who isn’t in medicine, it fascinated me to get inside the head of a doctor’s husband. What’s it like to be Dr. and Mr.? How do they put up with us?? I only wish that Mr. Eule had dedicated more of the novel to himself, as the opportunities inside his own head were few and far between. But maybe that’s a topic for his next book.

I had the privilege of corresponding with Mr. Eule in the interest of asking some questions for the purpose of my review. I got a thrill out of the fact that his writing in the emails sounded exactly like his writing in the book. And what an incredibly nice guy, who clearly adores his physician wife. Here were some of the questions I asked him and his responses:

Q: You wrote a book about women who are becoming doctors. You are a man who is not a doctor. Explain.

"That's exactly the point. I was an outsider to this world, suddenly thrust into it. These key moments and decisions would affect so many lives, including my own. But I was also a journalist who knew how to dig into a story to find answers to all of the questions I had. Often, it is the outsider who sees the issue and topic most clearly. (You'll notice, for example, great books written about Presidents are often not by Presidents.)"

(There goes my dream of becoming President and writing a successful book about it.)

Q: Who do you feel is the intended audience for your book?

"I like to think that there are several audiences for the book: mainly anyone interested in doctors (anyone who has ever known a doctor); friends and family of medical students and residents, interested in this strange and demanding world they've only seen from afar; as well as those beginning their careers in medicine, beginning to make these key decisions. At a time when media stories about health-care and the quality of medical care in America are a constant, understanding the process by which doctors are selected, trained and groomed in this country seems more relevant now than ever."

Q: Since your book is called Match Day, why did you decide to include the stories from intern year in the book? Was this your intention prior to starting the book?

"Match Day is a play on words. There are multiple matches occurring in these people's lives at this time-- matches with career and matches with spouses and families, in particular. Yes this was my intention-- I was excited by this crucial turning point in all of their lives, when these people go from student to professional, and I wanted to follow these people as the first year of their career played out to show how things turned out after the Match and how they changed from student to doctor. Medical students often don't realize the impact these moments and choices will have on the rest of their lives."

Q: What are your top five tips for non-medical husbands of female physicians?

"It's hard to give tips for such a diverse group as that. I recognize people are very different. For me, a few things that have made this difficult time more bearable are: trying to remember to have patience, keeping a sense of humor, recognizing the amazing sacrifices my wife is making, realizing how many people she is helping, and reminding myself that she's human. That, and giving her some space after a 24-hour call shift!"

Q: How do I get my husband to write a book about me?

"Hahaha. Have him drop me a line and we can talk about it."

Thanks for your offer, Brian, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s a mathematician, so the best I might get is a theorem named after me.

MiM Editor's note: We'll be giving away 10 free copies of this book on our Match Day Topic Day this upcoming Wednesday, so stay tuned! While we received two copies of this book for the purposes of reviewing it for our site (second review to come), we are not otherwise compensated for these reviews and are under no obligation to provide a positive review.


  1. Thanks for the review. I can't wait to read this book. And will definitely come around on Wed for the give away.

    With my own Match Day right around the corner, it is difficult to think about all the implications of all the decisions I have made so far. I'm scared, but excited, for this next stage.

  2. Wow this book looks interesting. Thanks for the review!


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