Medical students learned on March 19 where they would be heading for their residencies.
March 22, 2021 - By Tracie White
Shortly before 9 a.m. Friday, March 19, Steven Losorelli, who’s in his final year of medical school at Stanford, blared Daft Punk, sat down at his computer and waited for the email that would reveal where he would pursue his childhood dream of becoming an ear surgeon.
“Typically, there is a big ceremony,” said Losorelli, referring to Match Day, when medical students nationwide open envelopes at the same moment — 9 a.m. Pacific time — at their schools to learn where they’ve “matched,” or been accepted, for residencies.
This year, most of the 99 Stanford medical students who matched opened emails, rather than envelopes, at home because of the pandemic. Many joined faculty and staff on Zoom at 8:30 a.m. for a virtual celebration organized by the School of Medicine’s Office of Student Affairs.
“This is probably the happiest day of my academic year, getting to celebrate your accomplishments,” Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, told the students.
The students grinned and looked excited. Some parents hovered in the background. A few held babies. A kitten sat in one student’s lap. A dog yapped.
‘The first true COVID class’
Completing medical school during the pandemic has resulted in many firsts for the class of 2021, said Neil Gesundheit, MD, senior associate dean for medical education. “This is the first true COVID class. You were forced to sit out last spring and reshuffle your schedules. You were the first class to be vaccinated against COVID. For many of you, your residencies will be the first time in a hospital. … We applaud your resilience, class of 2021. Wherever you match, you will be agents of change.”
Also speaking via Zoom, Susan Knox, MD, PhD, associate dean for academic advising, gave a sneak preview of some of the specialties in which students had matched: 17 in internal medicine, 10 in psychiatry, nine in ophthalmology and eight in emergency medicine. Students matched in a total of 21 different specialties.
At 9 a.m., the remarks ended, emails were opened and mostly muted Zoom celebrations broke out. Silent laughter, smiles, a few hugs and kisses between family members. Students held up posters announcing, “I matched at Harvard” or “I matched at Stanford!”
“Now you can start looking for a place to live,” Gesundheit said. “Now you have a clear-cut answer for where you are going to be next year.”
Holly Elser, who matched in neurology, said she’d been on pins and needles, waiting to find out where she and her husband would be moving next year.
“It could have been Philadelphia or New York, LA or Chicago,” she said. When she clicked open the Match Day email from the National Residency Matching Program, she discovered she’d been accepted to her first choice, the University of Pennsylvania. She was thrilled.
“I was sitting on the couch with my husband and two dogs,” she said. “Right before opening, I was nervous but excited. Regardless of what happened, I was just so excited to know for sure and to be able to plan for the next few months. I was just so happy with the results. So delighted.”
A tradition since the 1950s
The matching process is a tradition that dates back to the 1950s, with residency assignments determined by a nonprofit organization, the National Resident Matching Program. The organization uses a computer algorithm to align the preferences of the applicants with those of the residency programs. Traditionally, students begin applying for residencies in the summer before their final year of medical school, then travel nationwide in the fall for interviews. This year, due to the pandemic, most of those interviews were conducted virtually.
“I did all my interviews from home,” said Jeffrey Kwong, a medical student who interviewed with 15 different programs during the fall in orthopaedic surgery. He said he didn’t miss the travel that would have been required during a more traditional year. He woke early Friday morning to phone calls from friends on the East Coast wishing him good luck.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said after opening his Match Day email. “I’m going to UCSF for orthopaedics. I immediately ran into my parents’ room and said, ‘I’m going to UCSF in ortho!’ We are all ecstatic.”
A similar scene played out at Losorelli’s home as he and his girlfriend stared at the computer screen at 9 a.m., waiting to see where he would match for a residency in otolaryngology.
“We were definitely amped up,” said Losorelli, who added that he was too nervous to join the Zoom event. With the music playing and his nerves on edge, he clicked open the email to learn that he had matched at Stanford Medicine and would be staying in Palo Alto to complete his residency training. Losorelli, who was born without an ear and underwent numerous surgeries to reconstruct it, will soon be able to do some of those same surgeries himself at Stanford.
“I immediately called my parents,” he said. “My dad was like, ‘I knew it.’ He cried. Then he put his Stanford flag up on the garage. I was surprised but so excited. I went to Stanford undergrad, medical school and now residency. This year has really reinforced that doing medicine brings so much meaning to our lives. I’m so excited to be staying at Stanford.”
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