Resident Roundup: Katherine Lee, M.D., MSPH

By Katherine Lee, M.D., MSPH


I did not match at the No. 1 program on my Match list.

Match day is a pivotal moment in every medical student’s path. In their last year of medical school, students apply to and interview at residency programs in their specialty. Each student makes a list of programs in order of preference with their No. 1 program as their top choice. Residency programs do the same, making a list of students. Using a Nobel Prize-winning algorithm, The Match® processes these lists to match students and programs. A month later, students find out if they matched and which residency program they will be attending. Some do not match at all.

While The Match was created in response to a highly dysfunctional residency application process, The Match can be a tough day. It is a unique experience to put out so many applications, interview, and receive at maximum one option back.

On my Match Day, I was sad and embarrassed. I wondered what I had done wrong. What had I said or not said? Did I seem uninterested or, worse, incapable? My wonderful friends and husband let me brood but later shepherded me to a night on the town to celebrate our time together and imagine what came next. At the end of the night, I thought about the physicians and staff at Duke who I had met and who had seen something in me, enough to vouch for my spot on their list.

The sting of what seemed like rejection from my top choice, as well as my fear of inadequacy, became less and less over the next few months. I arrived at Duke Family Medicine months later with the usual excitement and nervousness of anyone starting their residency. But those feelings still were rooted in a small, nagging part of my brain.

During our first day of residency orientation, Dr. Will Bynum, now our program director, flooded us with information that I no longer remember. I do remember his comment, “From now through the rest of your careers, you represent Duke Family Medicine.” His words sank in that I belonged with Duke Family Medicine and Duke Family Medicine was hitching its future to me. As I processed my new role and responsibility, those negative feelings began to lose their hold on that corner of my mind. In the coming months, they would fade away.

Over the following months, I grew exponentially as a physician. I had my first rapid response. I cared for hundreds of newborns. I delivered babies. I guided patients and families through end-of-life care. I learned guidelines, how to read images, how to perform procedures. Patient introduced me as their doctor. Interns came to me for help. Students showed off skills they learned from me. I fixed some of the problems that patients brought to me.

Throughout residency, I was built and claimed by my Duke family. My co-residents, faculty, and clinical and administrative staff around me have made me belong every step of the way. My department, the hospitals and clinics where I work, and even other specialties support and challenge me to grow each day. This is the Duke Family Medicine and Duke Health where I matched. Perhaps my whole career trajectory changed because of it. Perhaps I would be exactly the same at any another program. I will never know, and I do not care anymore.

To the 4th-year medical students who are awaiting The Match this year, let me offer a sincere congratulations. You have worked so hard, adapted so quickly, and an incredible number of you poured yourselves into serving your communities and supporting one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. You have accomplished all this in a time when you have been more isolated and had to be more self-sufficient than classes before you. Please recognize your accomplishments and resiliency. These skills will carry you far.

Make your list the best you can with the limited information you have. When Match Day comes, you are allowed whatever emotion you feel. Know that wherever you match, that program is lucky to have you. You are months away from meeting your newest family and putting down roots in your newest home. They will be there during your best and worst days. You will grow there. And in a few years, you will look back and see how far you have come. The Match is one day among the thousands of days to reach it and thousands more to follow. Chin up, be proud, and keep going.

Katherine Lee is a third-year resident with the Duke Family Medicine Residency Program. Email with questions.
Editor’s note: Duke Family Medicine residents guest blog every month. Blogs represent the opinion of the author, not the Duke Family Medicine Residency Program, the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, or Duke University.