Match Day in a time of coronavirus: Celebrating online and by phone

Prevented from gathering as a group because of COVID-19, Stanford medical students organized online events from their homes to mark Match Day, when they learned where they will continue their training.

Kristie Hsu and Victor Contreras, who met and married during medical school, both matched to UCSF — Hsu in internal medicine and Contreras in psychiatry. 
Kristie Hsu

On FaceTime, Zoom, phone calls and email, Stanford medical students celebrated Match Day, the once-a-year moment when they and their peers across the nation learn where they will continue their training.

In past years, medical students at Stanford — along with family members, faculty and staff — have gathered at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge to open envelopes together precisely at 9 a.m. Pacific time. This year, to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the students who were matched to internships and residencies simultaneously clicked open email messages from the National Residency Matching Program

“I know that opening your envelopes electronically is not what you were envisioning for this special day,” Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, said in a video message to the students. “But the reason we cannot be in the same room shows why medicine is a calling.”

At her home on Friday morning, Sarah Lindsay organized an online event with her family, friends and husband, who’s studying law in Utah. They watched as she learned that she’ll spend her internship and residency in orthopaedic surgery at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland — the city where her husband has recently accepted a seven-month legal internship. 

“I’m super excited,” Lindsay said. “I did one of my away rotations there and really loved the program.” 

Interviewing, hoping and waiting

Medical students who plan to start training in their fields of interest, such as pediatrics and neurosurgery, spend a few months interviewing at residency and internship programs around the country. In February, they submit a list of programs, ranked in order of preference, while the  programs do the same for their top candidates. The national matching program then uses an algorithm to maximize happiness — matching, as much as possible, the top choices of the students and the programs.

Phil Kim matched in dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center — his first choice.
Courtesy of Phil Kim

On March 16, graduating medical students nationwide learned whether they had been matched to a program. At Stanford, 84 students were assigned to a residency in the field of their choice. 

Phil Kim said he was relieved to learn that he had matched: He wants to train in dermatology, one of the most competitive fields, and there aren’t enough positions to go around. But on Match Day, while sitting at home in his pajamas, he received even better news: He matched to his first-choice program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

He and his wife, a primary care physician originally from Chicago, were hoping to land in the Midwest. “Pittsburgh is a beautiful city,” he said. “When I went out for my interview, I kind of fell in love with it.”

Sipping sparkling wine, opening envelopes

Couples can ask the residency matching program to ensure they will be in the same city or region. Kristie Hsu and Victor Contreras, who met and married during medical school, ranked their choices — in various cities — together. 

When Friday morning arrived, they were on FaceTime with their family members. Wearing party hats left over from a birthday celebration and sipping sparkling wine, they opened their emails while everyone watched: They both matched to UCSF — Hsu in internal medicine and Contreras in psychiatry.  

“We’re very happy to continue our learning at an equally good institution,” Hsu said, adding that her sister, who lives in San Francisco, is expecting a baby in June, and she’s glad she’ll be around for the birth. 

Contreras added that medical school has been “a long road, with twists and turns, and ups and downs.” Given the COVID-19 crisis, he said, “We’re looking forward to helping out as residents.”

After they learned their fates, the Stanford students logged into a Zoom party they had organized to share news and celebrate online. 

“It wasn’t the Match Day I anticipated, but it was really nice to have everyone there,” Lindsay said.



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