Earlier this year, I stood amidst a crowd of my medical school classmates. We anxiously checked the time on our watches and our phones, even though the clock in the atrium worked just fine. The seconds were passing too slowly.
At noon, a bell rang. We rushed to sets of tables, where faculty handed out envelopes with our names on them. Inside, folded pieces of paper informed my classmates and I where we will complete residency training after our medical school graduation. It was Match Day.
Every year in the United States, an algorithm run by the National Resident Matching Program sorts tens of thousands of graduating medical students into teaching hospitals for residency training. The results are released simultaneously in March to medical schools and students nationwide.
It's a high-stakes process determined by a computer program—but what about the human side of the equation?
I ripped open my envelope and read the bolded text, breaking out into a smile. I had matched into a psychiatry program in California.
I couldn’t have been happier. I’ve always wanted to live on the West Coast, and four years of residency training in the Bay Area will be the start of something different. A new time zone. A new city. A new life for me.
Others were less thrilled by the news of my match. My mother wept when she heard, crying out “We’re losing you to the West Coast!” One of my siblings chimed in, “It was nice knowing you.”
I’m not sure it’s really hit me yet, just how far I’m moving away. According to Google Maps, it’s 3,130 miles. But that number hardly captures the distance. I grew up in Massachusetts and, after college in upstate New York, returned to Boston for medical school. I’ve always considered the Northeast to be my home.
Leaving it will be hard. Moving across the country, I'll break so many connections from my youth. I’ll leave my family behind, my childhood house, the streets where I learned to ride a bike. I’ll leave behind the gymnasium where I first asked a girl to dance and the field where I played my first game of baseball. My internal navigation system—knowing the maps of city subways and the tastes of favorite lunch spots—won’t help me anymore.
I’ve tried to distract myself by tackling the mundane tasks of moving. I’ve finalized my employment contracts and filled out medical school graduation forms, listed my belongings on Craigslist and changed bank accounts. I’m searching online for an apartment, reading about buildings and neighborhoods.
Yet as the date of the move comes closer, my mind wanders. Will I be happy there? Am I moving to the West Coast for good?
I wonder when I’ll see the autumn leaves of Boston again, when I’ll next walk along the banks of the Charles River. I think about watching baseball without the Red Sox, what winters are like without snow.
Yes, I’m scared. I don’t know what lies ahead. But another part of me is excited, more so than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s an opportunity to explore the country, the start of an adventure.
Soon I’ll pack my bags and set out for San Francisco. My heart swells when I imagine driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and looking up at those beautiful orange towers above. I’ll train as a doctor along the shores of the Pacific.
There’s so much I want to do. There’s so much I want to see. I want to visit the Redwood forests and touch the waters of Lake Tahoe. I want to drive to the wind farms in the California desert and climb the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Yosemite calls. The Pacific Coast Highway waits.
A phrase from the 19th century comes to mind. Academics debate its origins. Many attribute it to the newspaperman Horace Greeley. Others argue the journalist John B.L. Soule wrote it first. I’m not sure who deserves credit, but the immortal words echo in my head.
“Go West, young man.”
It’s time I do.