Since this fall, I've been a bit concerned about the lottery process for third year rotations. There were four places I was willing to be happy about going out of ten possibilities. The downside was that those four places had less than 25% of the student slots. I had a strong first choice that would allow me to spend much more time home with K while the others would keep me living within 2 hours of him. Every time I thought I had a strategy for lottery day, I would check the list again and find myself discouraged at the likely outcome of the strategy. My future rested on a single ping pong ball.
I fully acknowledge the ridiculousness of that statement though. It isn't my future, it isn't anything more than a place to spend a year learning to be a physician. Yes, I was concerned about the quality of the education offered but that is extremely hard to determine from my seat in the classroom. So much of a clinical experience depends on the specific physician, resident, nurses, etc. I will be working with and the attitude and skills I present to them. Dr. Jones might be a terrible fit for me but a great match for the student in the next seat, but we have no way to figure that out and are left stressing over the details of location, housing options, call schedules and things we really shouldn't care this much about.
The lottery room opens and everyone heads over to their first choice site and ping pong balls go in the bucket. 1 seat is removed for the loser lotto, and my choice has 7 seats to fill with 10 balls in the bucket. I'm nervous and messaging madly with K who is peering in a window because he's not allowed inside yet. Ball after ball gets pulled and then we're done, 7 happy students. My ball is still in the bucket. Wait! My ball is still in the bucket.
There is a quick second round which is irrelevant because there are only two locations with seats open outside the lottery and those two are nobody's second choice. I joke around with the first year students running the lottery and accidentally find the girl who will be pulling the balls in the loser lotto, making sure to tell her that she's "looking" for #58. Now, K gets to come in to help me decide where to go when my ball finally gets pulled. I still have options, there are five seats left at the four places I was willing to go. All the balls go into the bucket.
Before I even realize that we've started, they pull the first ball. #58. K looks at me and wonders why I'm not moving. I'm waiting for them to realize there was a mistake, or it is a joke, or I'm not really sure what. I get my first choice spot, crushing the hopes of the two other students who wanted it - including the friend I've sat next to in class for two years. I leave feeling happy about my luck and upset for those still in the room, there isn't anyone in there I don't know well. Even though the story ends happily for me, it still feels like a terrible night and a painful way to make a difficult distribution of students across clinical sites.