Letter perfect: Fourth-year medical students celebrate Match Day

By LaKisha Ladson 

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More than 220 fourth-year medical students at UT Southwestern ripped open envelopes on March 19 that revealed where they’ll spend their next years of physician training and in what specialty.

Match Day marks the end of four years of medical school and the start of a student’s career as a physician, but some students can’t help but think back to the beginning.

A native of Kenya, Ali Maawy started from scratch in the United States, even though he had attended two years of medical training in his country. He worked his way through a junior college, into an undergraduate program and then into UT Southwestern.

ms4 match day

David Kroll (right) leads the charge to the mailboxes on Match Day, followed by Uma Mudaliar (center left) and Andrew Nik (left, working his way through the crowd) and their fourth-year medical student classmates.

“I was away from my family and all by myself,” said Mr. Maawy, who was matched with the University of California, San Diego, Medical Center, where he will pursue training in general surgery. “Now I feel like I’m part of a family.”

Match Day also made Andrew Nik of Dallas remember his start. He vividly recalled the first-year White Coat Ceremony, when students are called onstage and given their lab coats.

Four years later, he and members of his family snapped pictures and shot video before students ripped the banner from the mailboxes containing the treasured correspondence.

Mr. Nik, like Mr. Maawy, said he was more excited than anxious about where he would end up. At 11 a.m., he and his classmates took the traditional march down the student center steps to the mailboxes.

Some walked, some ran, some let their children open their mailbox for them.

Mr. Nik opened his own envelope.

“For the first time I felt a little nervousness,” he said.

His nervousness was short-lived, however. He was accepted into the neurology program at UT Southwestern, his No. 1 program choice.

“UT Southwestern is ranked among the top hospitals in neurology, and the faculty is excellent,” he said. “I’m proud that I will receive my training here.”

More students then ever participated in this year’s Match Day, according to information from the National Resident Matching Program. The program matches the students’ preferences with the preferences of the program to which they’re applying. Matches are orchestrated by a computer algorithm.

Dr. James Wagner, associate dean for student affairs, said medical school class sizes are growing, and an increasing number of international students are participating.

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 “The number of residency programs are increasing, but not at the same rate as Match Day participants,” Dr. Wagner said.

Indeed, the National Resident Matching Program reported that the number of this year’s participants – 29,890 nationwide — is a 4 percent increase over last year’s, but the number of first-year residency positions increased only slightly, to 22,427.

Despite that, UT Southwestern students placed well, officials said.

“Our students did absolutely fabulous,” Dr. Wagner said. “We’re very, very proud of them. They made it into great specialties and great programs in those specialties. It’s a very, very good year.”

Dr. Angela Mihalic, associate dean for student affairs, agreed: “I strongly believe that their success is largely due to UT Southwestern’s dedicated and talented teaching faculty, first-class clinical training and specialty advisers who provide individualized career counseling.”

Dr. Mihalic noted that this year’s class was especially interested in radiology. Nationally, less than 1 percent of students expressed interested in radiology, while at UT Southwestern, that number was 8 percent.

John Fang matched in radiology at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“Going through my rotations, radiology seemed to have the broadest impact in the practice of medicine over all the different subspecialties,” he said.

Mr. Fang said he and other classmates discussed the large number of students in this class pursuing radiology careers.

“That’s the big mystery really,” he said. “We don’t really know why exactly so many people this year in particular decided to apply for radiology, but the success of our match leaves little to be said of our decision.”

The Match Day experience is one that students are not likely to forget, say those who have gone before.

“Students begin the first year with only rudimentary understanding of medicine and have only made it past the decision to be ‘a doctor,’” said Dr. Mihalic. 

“Match Day marks a milestone in their development, when they can then answer the question of ‘what kind of doctor?’ As a faculty member, what is most rewarding is to see the remarkable growth that occurs through the process of a student’s medical education.”

This year’s Match Day marked Dr. Mihalic’s first year in her current role, but she is a 1995 Southwestern Medical School graduate and participated in a Match Day 13 years ago.

“Witnessing the experience brought back a lot of very fond memories of my classmates, my time in medical school and the butterflies that I had right before opening my mailbox,” she said.

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