After years of preparation, Stanford students ‘match’ to residency programs

Stanford medical students, along with their counterparts nationwide, found out March 17 where they would be doing their residencies.

Graduating medical students Grace Laidlaw, Tom Roberts and Grace Hunter compare results on Match Day after they and their peers were handed envelopes revealing where they would be spending their residencies. Laidlaw will be doing an interventional radiology residency at the University of Washington, Roberts will be at Massachussetts General in internal medicine and Hunter will be at UCSF in internal medicine.
John Green

At 8:55 a.m., as Nuriel Moghavem got up from his table to accept the sealed, red envelope with his future hidden inside, his two younger brothers punched him in the shoulder — for luck.

The neurologist-in-training, who is also passionate about health care policy and took a year off from medical school to work as a legislative assistant in Sacramento, was, for the moment, at loose ends.

“Oh yeah, now I’m nervous,” said Moghavem, taking deep breaths and staring at his shoes while his brothers grinned at him from behind.

He was one of 70 soon-to-be graduating Stanford medical students who took part in Match Day this morning at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. Thousands of other medical students across the United States were, at the same moment, also waiting to find out where they would be spending the next three or more years of their lives as residents. The scene was nerve-wracking.

“You kind of put all your eggs in one basket, and today you’re going to see if they hatch,” said Kelsey Hirotsu, who dressed up in heels and curls to find out where she would be matching in dermatology. Her parents’ flight from Ohio was delayed due to bad weather, and her mom was “freaking out,” Hirotsu said, laughing as she repeated her mom’s frenzied cry, “We’re not going to be there for the envelopes!”

Nuriel Moghavem learned that he was accepted to the residency program in neurology at Stanford.
John Green

‘Congratulations to all of you’

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, opened the ceremonies, applauding the accomplishments of the students, and congratulating them: “You’re embarking upon a tremendously exciting period in your career and your life of medicine,” he said. “Congratulations to all of you.”

Next, Charles Prober, MD, senior associate dean for medical education, took the podium to start the countdown.

“The envelopes cannot be opened, anywhere in the country, until 9 a.m. Pacific time,” Prober told the crowd of students, families, friends and advisers seated at tables in Berg Hall. With several minutes left to wait, Prober described for the crowd some of the history of Match Day.

The matching process is a tradition that dates back to 1952, with residency assignments ultimately determined by a nonprofit organization, the National Resident Matching Program. The organization uses a computer algorithm to align the choices of the applicants with those of the residency programs. It’s a roughly yearlong process for medical students who, in their final year of medical school, fill out applications in the summer, then travel across the country to interviews in the fall. This year’s students logged maybe a million frequent flier miles, traveling to a thousand or so interviews, Prober said.

Monica Coughlan (left) and Arhana Chattopadhyay talk during Match Day at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. Coughlan matched to UCSF in orthopedic surgery, and Chattopadhyay is staying at Stanford in plastic surgery.
John Green

Then with just one minute left before the big moment, Prober gave the crowd a few clues as to what was waiting inside the soon-to-be opened envelopes. The 70 students would be matching into 20 different disciplines. About 47 percent were matching into general disciplines, such as family medicine and pediatrics, while the remaining 53 percent were matching into sub-specialties, such as neurology, plastic surgery and ophthalmology.

“Sixty-six percent are going to two states: California and Harvard,” Prober said — Harvard traditionally is a popular matching spot for Stanford students — to laughter from the crowd. “Twenty-nine percent are staying at Stanford.”

‘Ten, nine, eight …’

Finally, Prober started counting down the seconds: “Ten, nine, eight ….” At exactly 9 a.m., the students began ripping open their envelopes, and the screams erupted, followed by hugs, tears and dozens of photos.

“I’m so happy, so happy!” yelled Hirotsu, who matched in dermatology, hugging her classmate and friend Monica Coughlan, both in tears. “I’m going to Stanford.” Hirotsu’s boyfriend grinned and said how hard she had worked to get to this day, adding that her parents should be arriving any moment.

Mark Gaertner poses for a photo with his girlfriend, Lyly Truong, after learning he was accepted to the residency program in neurology at UCLA.
John Green

Coughlan matched in orthopedic surgery at the University of California-San Francisco.

“I’m so incredibly happy,” said Coughlan, adding that while opening her letter, “I literally almost collapsed.”

Across the room, Moghavem took his time.

He watched as emotion erupted around the room, then with his parents and brothers gathered close around, he carefully opened his envelope with shaking hands, read the letter, nodded his head and hugged his mom. He matched at Stanford, his first choice.

“We have big shoes to fill,” said his brother, Eli Moghavem, nodding to the youngest brother, a senior in high school, who was busy uploading the news to his friends on Snapchat.

His mom beamed with pride at her oldest son, the one who said in kindergarten that he wanted to be a pathologist, who was always kind and caring and “always has to do the right thing.”

Moghevam said that making a difference in people’s lives is what motivates him. American-born but of Iranian descent, he worried about other Iranian-born medical students matching this day whose plans may have been disrupted by the Trump administration’s proposed travel ban.

“I’m fortunate. I was born in this country so I didn’t have to worry about that, although my family all comes from Iran,” he said, adding that he’s the first doctor in his large, extended family.

“I expect a lifetime of family members sending me weird pictures of their rashes,” he said.  His shoulders sagged a bit with relief and joy, and he smiled.



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