Residency roads open for medical students

By Lin Lofley

Seniors from Obstetrics and Gynecology
The seniors from Obstetrics and Gynecology take a fun group photo with Dr. Steven Bloom (right), department chair.

Zainab and Zehra Farzal have been “this close” all their lives. They grew up in Plano, now live in Frisco, attended Southern Methodist University together before being accepted into UT Southwestern Medical School. It took Match Day to separate them, but you won’t find any sadness.

“We were prepared,” said Zainab, who matched with the Otolaryngology-Research program at University of North Carolina Hospitals, in Chapel Hill. “All our lives we’ve known this day was coming, and it’s a happy day.

“We won’t be that far from one another,” added Zehra, who matched in Neurology with Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. “And our specialties are in the same area of the body, so there is that.”

“We couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Dr. Anwar Farzal, their father, who led a family delegation that included five siblings, all SMU graduates – three in Engineering studies – to the March 18 event.

The Farzal twins were among 232 fourth-year medical students who matched in their chosen specialties, and whose next steps toward a medical degree will take them to June 1 Commencement ceremonies at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.

“Match Day is my favorite day of the year,” said a smiling but occasionally teary-eyed Dr. Angela Mihalic, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, and Professor of Pediatrics. “It is the culmination of four years of hard work, struggles, incredible growth, and amazing joys.

“This journey that is their medical education has transformed these incredibly bright, caring, and uniquely gifted individuals from diverse backgrounds into a common goal of caring for patients,” Dr. Mihalic said. “The Class of 2016 has made an impact on my life, and I am thrilled to witness the ripples that each student’s care and compassion will have on the thousands of people whose lives they will touch and whose suffering they will alleviate throughout their careers as physicians.”

Students, friends, faculty, and family members on the floor of the gymnasium in Bryan Williams, M.D. Student Center created a festive atmosphere as the sharing of information neared. The envelopes were handed out at 11 a.m., and within an hour the crowd had thinned out.

Namrah Siddiq
Namrah Siddiq (right) celebrates.

Namrah Siddiq of Richardson, who matched in Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, was headed out to dine with her family. Learning that she was staying in Dallas, Ms. Siddiq said, “I can’t believe it. It just feels so amazing – so much joy.”

Adebimpe Wakilat Oyowe, who matched in Neurology at the University of Alabama Medical Center-Birmingham, shared the moment with her husband, Bawo, and 7-month-old twins, Ariah and Leila, who were born just after Ms. Oyowe started her fourth-year studies.

“It was tough at times, but I have a husband and family who are very supportive,” said Ms. Oyowe, a Spelman College graduate who will graduate with both Ph.D. and medical degrees. “I have always been interested in Neurology, and many of our family members are in the Atlanta area, which is only a couple of hours away.”

David Harker will be staying in Dallas, with an initial year at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, and the balance of his residency in Dermatology to be served at UT Southwestern. That’s not bad for someone who had a number of interests when he entered medical school, and none of them were dermatology.

 “I had done a lot of basic science research as an undergraduate in Genetics [at Brigham Young University], and when as an MS1 I heard of a Dermatology project where they were looking for someone to do research, I submitted my CV and was selected for the project. When I got into Dermatology, I determined that I really liked it.”

 Mr. Harker, who met his wife, Monica, at BYU, said they have really enjoyed living in Texas and had hoped that they and their two small children – Blake, 3, and Claire, 8 months – could continue on here. “It’s awesome,” he said of his match. “It couldn’t have been a better outcome.”

Oviea Akpotaire, meanwhile, was happy to be staying in familiar surroundings after matching in Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern.

“I think that I’m most relieved just knowing where I’m going,” said Mr. Akpotaire, who earned a degree in Bioengineering at Rice University. “UT Southwestern is a great institution. It’s a new beginning, the start of my ‘real’ career in medicine.”

He and his partner, a Dallas pharmacist, had already discussed the possibility of relocating, but the match made that moot. He even likes the size of Dallas: “I grew up in Houston, which is more spread out than Dallas, but I keep things pretty close. If it’s not within 10 minutes of where I am, I probably am not going there.”

Jeff Okonye, a Houston native who studied neuroscience at UT Dallas, is surrounded by family at Match Day.
Jeff Okonye, a Houston native who studied neuroscience at UT Dallas, is surrounded by family at Match Day.

Family considerations worked out for Jeff Okonye, a Houston native who earned a degree in Neuroscience at UT Dallas before coming the UT Southwestern. Mr. Okonye matched in Pediatrics at UNC Hospitals, and “it was definitely my first choice. They have a great program, and they’re active in pediatric advocacy.

“Plus, my brother plays football at Wake Forest, so I’ll be close by,” he added with a smile.

For at least one year, Radiation Oncology matches Yuanyuan “Faith” Zhang and Xin Cai are New York bound. Both MSTP students are heading to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center – Ms. Zhang for her transitional year before returning to UT Southwestern, and Mr. Cai for his entire residency training.

“It’s been an amazing learning experience,” Ms. Zhang said of her seven years on campus. “When I returned to my medical studies I was worried I had forgotten everything, but everyone here is so helpful and supportive.”

She grew up in China and finished her first two years undergraduate years there before earning a degree in nutrition science at Cornell University. She then spent two years at The Rockefeller University in research before enrolling at UT Southwestern.

Mr. Cai, who attended Harvard College before going for both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, said becoming familiar with a new set of classmates proved easier than anticipated when the MSTP candidates returned to their medical studies in 2014.

“I think we fit in really well,” he said. “You have to make new friends along the way, but everyone is focused on improving individually and as groups, so your goals are the same.”

Among the hundreds of parents watching Match Day with great interest was Dr. Bruce Meyer, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs, and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and his wife, Dr. Christie Little, UT Southwestern Class of 1985. They were elated to see their daughter, Caitlin, match in Psychiatry with the Brown University Psychiatric Hospital, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Ms. Meyer, who plans to specialize in pediatric psychiatry, was gleeful to be joining such a renowned program. “I can’t wait to get started,” she said. “Pediatric Psychiatry is a smaller field, and I want to learn all I can in my residency.” A Cornell graduate who attended high school in Worcester, Massachusetts, she’s familiar with New England, “and I love it there.”

Asked how he felt about his daughter joining a different specialty than his own, Dr. Meyer remarked it was, in fact, he who had “left the family business.

“My father, Dr. George Meyer, was a psychiatrist on faculty at UTHSC-San Antonio, and my grandfather also practiced psychiatry, so she is following in their footsteps.”

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Dr. Bruce Meyer holds the T.C. Lupton Family Professorship in Patient Care, in Honor of Dr. John Dowling McConnell and Dr. David Andrew Pistenmaa.