A guide to the couples match
Before we dive right in… give yourself a huge pat on the back! You’ve made it to the final year of medical school and are starting the most exciting phase of your medical career--RESIDENCY!
We will be posting general residency application advice and tips for interviewing, but, if you’re couples matching and need some specific advice, you’ve come to the right place!
Did you know that any two applicants can participate in the couples match? Well, whether you’re 2 applicants who are married, in a relationship, siblings, best friends, or even mortal enemies, you can participate in the couples match! If you are thinking about couples matching, it is super important to have a conversation about it well before the time comes so there are no surprises or confusion about what it entails. The couples matching process requires that both partners make sacrifices along the way and may even require you to work a little harder than if you were matching on your own. All that being said, it’s totally worth it, even if we are a little biased…
Know your competitiveness
This will take some introspection and likely help from a mentor if you have one. We would highly encourage you to set up a meeting with someone you trust, like a mentor or your specialty's program director and discuss your competitiveness together. Bring a copy of your CV, personal statement (or even an outline of ideas), and STEP scores to give them an objective view of where you stand. Once each partner has done this, sit down and realistically come up with an estimated number of programs to apply to. The AAMC has resources that provide a likelihood of matching based on the number of programs applied to with your given stats. This information can be used to estimate the number of programs needed before reaching a point of "diminishing returns." However, we believe that this often underestimates the number of programs applicants in the couples match should apply to.
Better to over-apply than under-apply
As med students, we tend to go overboard (it’s in our DNA right?!). For those not couples matching, we would say that if you feel confident in your competitiveness for your specialty, you probably don’t need to go crazy applying to over a hundred programs and can be more selective (take this advice with a grain of salt for your particular situation). For those in the couples match, we would definitely err on the side of caution and over-apply rather than under-apply (within reason). We especially recommend this if one of you is applying to a very competitive specialty or is less competitive for their specialty than the other. It will be more expensive, but it’s better to make the investment up front rather than have to re-apply and potentially lose another year of earnings. It is much easier to cancel interviews due to scheduling conflicts than it is to request an interview at a program you did not apply to in the first place. However, please make sure to cancel interviews in a timely manner so spots can be opened up to other applicants who are anxiously waiting for interviews!
We’d recommend each using Google calendar to input all of your interview dates so that you can keep track of who is traveling when and where and share the calendars with each other. We also had a spreadsheet with all of our programs/interview dates and color coded the overlaps (whether they were the same program or within driving distance of one another). This especially comes in handy when you and your partner receive interviews at different times. Specialties like orthopaedics and dermatology tend to send out interview invitations later in the season and it can be difficult to coordinate if the other partner receives interviews early. In this case, you may end up having to go on interviews that your partner does not ultimately get invitations to (this is pretty inevitable but do your best to be strategic).
*Tip: keep notes (whether in PowerPoint form, added to the master spreadsheet that you share, or in a notebook) on different programs after you interview with them! When you rank it’s helpful to have something to reference instead of just relying on your memory about specific programs.
Do your research
FREIDA is a great resource for looking at programs. You can input each partner’s specialty and see which programs exist in which city and see where you can overlap as a couple. Make sure you know all the cities that have multiple programs--for instance, large cities that have multiple programs in each respective specialty (i.e. Houston, Chicago, NY, LA, etc) are very couples match friendly. There are so many match opportunities in cities like these, especially if one partner likes one program and the other prefers another program in the same/nearby city! There are plenty of ways to be creative in this process. We used FREIDA to help us find programs and then even if they were technically in different cities, we would map them to each other and see if it was possible to live in between, etc. For instance, in TX, if one partner was in Galveston and the other was in Houston, you could live in between and just opened up another couples match option for yourself!
Emailing programs for an interview
Some people find this to be controversial, but from our experience, we are ALL for it! There are two ways to approach this: either the person who received the interview invite can send a thank you email for the invitation and mention that their partner is applying to "X" specialty, or the partner awaiting an interview invitation can email their respective program informing them that their partner has received their interview invitation with "Y" specialty. We personally handled it both ways and most of the time had success. Our philosophy--there is no harm in asking for an interview because the worst case scenario is nothing changes and you don't get an interview and best case scenario, you will! We each received multiple interviews this way and were so happy that we did it. Remember, you have nothing to lose! *Tip: Check out our email template attached at the bottom of the page.
Communicate with each other
Make sure you are completely transparent with your couples match partner and share your thoughts about each program and location. Remember, there are sacrifices that will be made but make sure to lay everything out on the table so there are no surprises or resentment later on. There will be times where one partner likes one program and the other does not like that program. Sacrifice, compromise (or whatever you want to call it!) is an important part of this process. Trust us, the last thing you want to happen is for one partner to feel like they didn't get their say in one of the most important decisions.
Check out our post on ranking programs in the match. A huge piece of advice for whether you are couples matching or not is the following: rank in the order that you like the programs, NOT in the order that you think you will match with them. The match algorithm works in favor of the medical student so do not try to outsmart it because you will only hurt yourself. On the NRMP website, there are excellent videos that explain the specifics of ranking, which we would encourage you to check out. The ranking discussion will likely be the longest discussion of this process and you will likely have many iterations of your list. The time spent discussing these ranks is critically important, and we never regretted enjoying some wine while discussing our rank list!
Hope this helps!