MARCH 19, 2010

Medical match.com? Students fixed up with residency programs

BY TRACIE WHITE

Steve Gladfelter/VAS description of photo

Matt Mori (left, in red), who was an opera singer before deciding to follow his love of medicine, celebrates the letter announcing his selection for a residency at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, a Harvard University affiliate. He hopes to someday treat tenors, sopranos and other performers in opera and theater.

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Juno Obedin-Maliver could have just won the lottery.

“Oh, my God, I can’t believe it!” she screamed, after opening the letter that held the secret to her future. Mouth agape, hands shaking, eyes wide, she repeated, “I can’t believe it.”

On March 18, at exactly the same time as thousands of other medical students across the country, Obedin-Maliver and her Stanford classmates gathered for the official Match Day ceremony to find out where they’d be spending the next three to seven years of their lives as medical residents in training.

“I got my first choice!” said Obedin-Maliver, 31, still in disbelief at her good fortune. Perhaps better than winning the lottery for a soon-to-be graduating medical student, she is headed to her first choice of residency in the obstetrics and gynecology department at UC-San Francisco Medical Center.

While hugging one friend after the next, and fanning herself to try and calm down, Obedin-Maliver managed to still call her parents. Teary-eyed and still grinning, she announced into the cell phone: “Hey, It’s UCSF. Oh ma! Yep, my first choice!”

As he does every year, Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the medical school,  welcomed the soon-to-be residents to the Match Day ceremony. What was different was that this year it was being held in the lobby of the almost-completed Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, designed for the training of future doctors on the medical school campus and scheduled for opening in the fall. Also, Pizzo noted, the ceremony was occuring at what could a historic time: “I hope today is the day our nation takes one small step toward health-care reform,” a battle that would be “part of your future now,” he said.

Most of the 90-or-so Stanford medical students who “matched” gathered at the ceremony, joined by friends and family, co-workers and professors. Often referred to as the “NFL draft” for medical students, this rite of passage  occurs every year on the third Thursday of March. It’s an emotional affair, with residency assignments determined by a nonprofit organization, the National Resident Matching Program, using a computer algorithm to align the choices of applicants with those of the residency programs.

Envelopes are handed by faculty to each of the students at precisely 10 a.m. While it is now possible to look up your assignment online, most students still seem to prefer the tradition that their teachers and their teachers’ teachers experienced.

“We’re counting down to the three-minute mark,” Charles Prober, MD, senior associate dean for medical education, said at 9:57 a.m. to the crowd of anxiously waiting students and their families as he reeled off the statistics of their graduating class.

Some 90 students matched in 19 different specialties, Prober said. Fourteen students in pediatrics, 12 in internal medicine, seven in dermatology, seven in orthopedics, six in radiology, six in ophthalmology, five in psychiatry, five in emergency medicine.

The crowd was getting more boisterous by the second, cheering loudly for their own specialties.

“The class matched in 15 different states,” Prober said. Fifty students in California and 16 in Massachusetts.

“We’re down to two minutes before opening,” Prober  said.

The crowd once again cheered, then, finally, dispersed for the handing out of the envelopes, more cheers, some tears, a fair amount of jumping up and down, and the kissing of babies.

“It’s O’Connor Hospital!” said Steven Lin, 24, both a scholar and a musician, after slowly opening his envelope. He grinned. A small Catholic hospital in downtown San Jose, O’Connor treats patients who are largely Latino, Vietnamese and low income.

Lin, an accomplished professional pianist who has raised money for charities by producing CDs and albums, is one of two students in his class who have chosen to pursue a career in family medicine. At O’Connor, he knows he’ll get the chance to treat the patients he cares most about.

“Primary medicine is in crisis right now,” Lin said. “With the shortage of primary care physicians and the health care reform debate that is going on nationally, I wanted to choose a specialty that would allow me to meet those needs. I’ll really be taking care of the entire patient, the entire family.”

Just across the room, Shaundra Eichstadt, 25, was wiping away tears, when faculty member Oscar Salvatierra, MD, professor emeritus of surgery, came over to give her a big hug. “It’s just what you wanted,” Salvatierra said.

A native of Rapid City, S.D., Eichstadt, who discovered a love of both children and surgery during medical school, matched with the plastic surgery program at Stanford. Only six more years, she laughed, and she’ll be a pediatrics plastic surgeon specializing in craniofacial surgery.

“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” Eichstadt said. “But only after coming to Stanford did I discover I wanted to be a surgeon. I wouldn’t do anything else!”

For Obedin-Maliver, her envelope also delivered news that reaffirmed her commitment to her calling: Meeting the medical needs of the underserved patient, she said, has long been a goal. And she had taken a circuitous route to this point.

“After dropping out of high school I worked as a massage therapist and then a doula,” said Obedin-Maliver, hugging her partner Jamie Lawrence, a lawyer in the Bay Area.

A New York native, Obedin-Maliver returned to school, eventually finishing at Hampshire College in Northampton, Mass. Recently, she completed a master’s in public health in research at UC-Berkeley.

“I went back to school to learn better how to relieve the suffering of the people I was caring for,” Obedin-Maliver said. “I wanted to work for social justice. I can do that now.”

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu/.

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