March Madness: Med students meet their destiny at center court

By Kristen Holland Shear / March 21-27, 2011

A drum roll sounded as the final seconds ticked off the electronic scoreboards and more than 200 fourth-year UT Southwestern Medical School students stood, anxiously awaiting news of where they’d launch the next phase of their training as residents. The event, which took place on the basketball courts of the Bryan Williams, M.D. Student Center, was national Match Day and — as usual — was not without drama.

The students erupted in cheers as their mentors started handing out sealed envelopes containing their destinations. Screams of joy immediately began to echo throughout the gymnasium. Some students jumped up and down and pumped their fists.

“I’m going to Mayo,” screamed Rebekkah Warren, an M.D./Ph.D. student from El Paso.

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Photos: Match Day 2011

Well-traveled students ready for next stop

Ms. Warren, who matched in general surgery but hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, said she can’t believe she’s really going to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“It’s going to be cold but I’m excited,” she said. “I’m ready. I feel like this school supports its students and prepares us well to go on and start our careers. I loved every minute of my time here.”

Dallas native Cordelia Nwankwo shrieked with delight and ran to her family as soon as she opened her letter. She matched with UT Southwestern’s obstetrics and gynecology program.

“I loved every part of my rotation in Ob/Gyn. I loved delivering babies, helping women, every part of it,” she said, clutching a bouquet of roses from her family. “This is my calling.”

According to the National Resident Matching Program, which aligns students’ preferences with the preferences of participating institutions, this year’s main residency match was the largest in history, with more than 23,000 slots and 24,413 U.S. medical school seniors.

Organized by a computer algorithm, more than 66 percent of those seniors matched to a first-year residency program. The number of first-year residency positions increased slightly from last year to 23,421.

UT Southwestern students placed particularly well, said Dr. Angela Mihalic, associate dean for student affairs.

“The excitement in the room was palpable. After getting to know the students over the past four years and witnessing their transformation into clinicians, it is so fulfilling to share in their success,” she said. “Many of the faculty commented that it brought back fond memories of their own Match Day. I consider it a great privilege to be able to play a role in their education and support them along the way.”

Local, national trends

Dr. Mihalic, also an associate professor of pediatrics, noted that UT Southwestern students seemed particularly interested in radiology and internal medicine. Nationally, fewer than 1 percent of students expressed an interest in radiology and 19 percent chose internal medicine. At UT Southwestern, the numbers were 8.9 percent for radiology and more than 22 percent for internal medicine.

Dr. James Wagner, associate dean for student affairs, said, “Match Day represents a fruition of many years of focused, diligent work toward the goal of becoming a physician. Matching with a residency is the last big step toward this goal.

“Once again, our students have made the campus community as well as their family and friends very proud,” said Dr. Wagner, also an associate professor of internal medicine. “A large number have matched in very competitive specialties at auspicious residency programs. I think it is safe to say that all students graduating this year have very bright futures; it is reassuring to know that they represent the future of medicine today.”

The news couldn’t have been better for Nicole Vera, who was born in Houston but considers Quito, Ecuador, home. She matched at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, in family medicine. Her fiancé, Brian Mathes, currently is enrolled at New York University Law School, so the move will put them in the same city.

“I wanted to be there because Brian is there, but I did an away rotation in October and was impressed with the program’s commitment to the Spanish-speaking community in Washington Heights,” said Ms. Vera, who speaks Spanish fluently and has lived all over the world. “I sensed a strong bond between the faculty and residents there that made me feel especially comfortable becoming part of such a program.”

Going north

Salt Lake City native John Astle is also headed north. After opening his envelope, the future pathologist knelt down to show the letter to his 8-year-old daughter, Caroline. The married father of four said that he’s excited to be going to Connecticut.

“We are thrilled to find out that we’re going to Yale,” he said. “It is a great program, and we are looking forward to moving to New Haven."

Isha Lopez couldn’t contain her excitement over her upcoming move.

“It’s the most awesome day ever,” said Ms. Lopez, who received word she will be an intern next year at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, her hometown.

Ms. Lopez, who earned her undergraduate degree at Houston Baptist University, will then return to UT Southwestern to complete her residency in dermatology.

“This is perfect,” she said after high-fiving a fellow graduate. “I’ll be in Houston for a year and then finish out here.”

Also relieved was Emily Adhikari, who attended Match Day with her husband, Dr. Soumya Adhikari, and their 3-month-old daughter. Dr. Adhikari is a pediatric endocrinologist at
UT Southwestern and Children’s Medical Center Dallas, so the couple really hoped that Mrs. Adhikari would match with UT Southwestern’s Ob/Gyn program.

“Obviously, we’re very happy,” Mrs. Adhikari said after opening her envelope.

Dr. Adhikari, director of the pediatric clerkship program at UT Southwestern, said Match Day is always exciting.

“It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work that the students put in,” he said. “It’s extra special this year for some unique reasons, but it’s always exciting.”

Lin Lofley and Robin Russell contributed to this report.