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Resident Match Day Diaries: The snowfall that made everything clear

A sick little boy takes delight in a sparkling snowfall, and a medical student's path reveals itself.

Vidya Viswanathan takes a rare study break.
Vidya Viswanathan takes a rare study break.Read morePeggy Peterson Photography (custom credit)

Editor’s note: Friday is Match Day, when the National Resident Matching Program tells medical students where they are going to be continuing their training. So it’s a very big deal in Philadelphia, the “city of meds and eds.” This week, soon-to-be graduates share their thoughts on reaching this milestone.

Almost exactly a year ago, there was a blizzard in the forecast and I had to go to work.

The junior medical students had the day off, since the snow was predicted to be intense. This told me that I had taken another step up in the medical hierarchy. But I also felt a tug of annoyance — I had to go in on a snow day!

When I entered the hospital, its usual noise was muffled. I visited the room of my patient: a toddler who had been on my floor for weeks after leaving the intensive care unit. Every day I saw him, he barely left his bed, where he glumly played with a few toy cars. He rarely smiled.

When I rounded that day, I mentioned the snow to his mother. Her eyes widened in surprise. She didn’t know it was snowing because she hadn’t left the hospital in days, and the blinds remained closed.

This is the reality of being hospitalized. Hours blend into days and sometimes months, making the outside world less important.

I walked over to the blinds and opened them, letting in light and the perfect image of snow coating the roof of the neighboring building, with snowflakes continuing to fall softly. Then I heard a sound I had never heard from my patient, over the many days I saw him in the hospital.

He was laughing. He began to clap as he laughed, and repeatedly kissed his mother’s face, refusing to let her go.

Later, on the computer, I adjusted his medications and I finished signing my notes. But I knew the reason I felt even more satisfied at work that day was not just because I optimized his medications — it was also because I helped him find brief joy in an unimaginable circumstance.

I had started medical school already drawn towards pediatrics, the creativity and surprises that come with working with children, and the culture of treating the whole patient, assessing socioeconomic circumstance and family or school relationships in the definition of care.

Still, it was hard to choose just one field. I racked my brain over the decision. Will I miss treating adult patients? Will I miss doing procedures? Will I miss the fast pace of the ER or the labor and delivery room?

In that moment when I opened the blinds for my patient and his mother, I realized that even if the other specialty choices were interesting to me, I would miss pediatrics too much if I left it behind.

As I’ve gone through medical training, I’ve leaned heavily on the power of creativity and reflection to lead me to be a better version of myself. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make this decision by data points and spreadsheets. It was going to be by reflection on who I am and what I value.

It has been the same leading up to Match Day; in interviewing at pediatrics programs and comparing them, the “gut feeling” factor is what most influenced my rank list. That doesn’t mean the decision has been easy — just ask my husband how many times I have debated the merits of my rank order — but I have allowed myself more comfort with uncertainty over time. Let’s hope that in a few years, when I have to decide what I’m doing after residency, I’ll be even more attuned to what works for me in terms of decision-making.

Until then, every time it snows, I can’t help but smile, remembering my patient, and stopping to think about the small things that can bring joy.

Vidya Viswanathan is a fourth-year medical student and aspiring pediatrician at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the founder and president of Doctors Who Create, an organization encouraging creativity in medicine.