“How Can You Ever Repay That Gesture?” (Psalms 116:112)

Today, March 15, 2019, is National Match Day for all American medical students and residents. All medical students participate in the National Match Program. In the spring of every year, on the same day and time, all fourth-year medical students will learn where they will spend the next few years of their life, hopefully within their desired medical specialty and training program. A computer program matches the applicant’s rank listing of programs and matches it to the training program’s rank listing. If all goes smoothly, the applicant’s highest ranked program will match the program’s top choices and the applicant will become a resident at that training program. There are two caveats. There is an option to do a couples match. With this option, two individuals may link their application together, hoping to be placed in the same training program or in different training programs in the same city so they may be together. If the applicants are of equal class ranking, this is usually not a problem, but there is another caveat. If the desired specialties are very competitive, it may result in one or both of the applicants failing to match. Dermatology is one of the most competitive specialties and even applying as a solo applicant, there are many who may not match. When one or both applicants are applying in competitive specialties, the chances of failing to match are increased. A few days before the National Match Day, the deans of all medical schools and residency training program directors are notified of any students who did not match. A frantic scramble results and hastily arranged interviews are conducted either by phone or flying to hospitals that still have unfilled positions, to interview in person.


Many years ago, I had the honor to meet a medical resident applying to our dermatology residency program. Poised, intelligent, and effusing a vivacious personality, she had all the right qualifications to be an excellent dermatologist or a physician in any specialty that would be fortunate to accept her application. As I perused her letters of recommendation, one immediately stood out. The dean of her medical school recounted an incident that occurred in the prior year with this resident, then a medical student. Unfortunately, this medical resident did not match in dermatology and she and another student, who also did not match, were both called into the dean’s office. They were both near the top of their class in ranking and both were attempting to match in dermatology. However, the other student was also doing a couple’s match and her partner was attempting to match in an equally competitive surgical subspecialty. The dean explained the situation and informed both of them that there was only one dermatology spot open in a hospital in another city. He solemnly told them that ordinarily, it would not be a difficult decision to decide who to select to interview, but because both of them were equally ranked, he had a difficult decision and was unsure how to decide between the two of them. Without hesitating, my resident spoke up and volunteered. “Please allow my friend to interview. She is doing a couple’s match and it is much more difficult for both of them to match in their specialties. This hospital is in a city where her partner has already matched in his program.” In spite of sincere pleading from her friend, this resident remained firm in her decision, allowing her friend the opportunity to interview for this dermatology position which she eventually was offered. For the next year, instead of living her dream and beginning her dermatology residency, this resident spent a year in research and was now interviewing once again.


When I met her for her interview with our program, I told her how inspiring her story was, recounting what a tremendous sacrifice she made on behalf of her friend. She was a bit embarrassed by my praise and said, “I believe everything in life has a purpose. It will all work out if it is meant to be.”


She ultimately matched at a very prestigious dermatology program in a city close to her family. She met her future husband there and is now a renowned professor of dermatology. It did all work out!  As this year’s National Match Day was now upon us, I shared this story with my current dermatology residents. After listening to my story, one of my residents, in awe over what she just heard, addressed our group. “How can you ever repay that gesture?”


With an alacrity that surprised me, I responded, “By being the best physician you can possibly be, always putting the needs of your patients first, and always being thankful for what this other person did for you.” My residents all nodded in agreement.


What can I offer the LORD for all he has done for me?

Psalms 116:112 (NLT)


When someone unselfishly sacrifices their ambitions for your benefit, most of us would have an earnest desire to repay that person for their kindness. Like this inspiring example of this resident, we could honor the sacrifice of the other by endeavoring to do one’s utmost in their profession and to live a good moral life. But what can one do to repay what God has done for us? How can we repay God who took the initiative to restore the relationship broken by man’s sin? What can we do to thank God for sending His only Son to die on the Cross as a substitute for my sins? How can a finite human thank an infinite God?


The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Psalms 51:17 (NLT)


We repay God’s gesture of love, grace, and mercy by always acknowledging that our very existence is because of Him. We come before Him with a broken heart to confess and repent of our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We can never repay God but we can always thank Him, every moment of our lives.


Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.


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