Few milestones loom larger in a medical student’s life than Match Day, when graduates learn whether they have placed in a residency program, setting the stage for the final phase of their training.
Match Day this year fell on Friday, March 21, when residency matches for thousands of fourth-year medical students around the country were released simultaneously at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
In Albuquerque, most of the 75 graduating UNM School of Medicine students gathered in a ballroom with family, friends and faculty members at the Marriott Hotel in Uptown to await the news.
The tension was palpable. Buffet tables were laden with breakfast burritos and beverages, but many of the match candidates were too jittery to eat.
“I’m probably more nervous than most of my classmates, just because I have a lot riding on where I end up,” said Geneva Tranchida, a 26-year-old Rio Rancho native and member of the BA/MD program.
Tranchida’s husband John graduated the program last year and matched with an anesthesiology residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., but spent a preliminary year at UNM. She wanted to stay near her husband, listing Mayo, the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and UNM as her top three match choices in orthopedic surgery.
“I’m really nervous,” she said a second time. “I couldn’t finish my breakfast this morning.”
Tranchida touted the virtues of the BA/MD program, which enrolls a diverse group of native New Mexicans in a combined undergraduate-medical school curriculum. “I had a great med school experience,” she said. “I feel like I got good basic science background and I got really great clinical skills training from UNM.”
Dustin Hillerson, 28, was looking for a strong cardiology program in a large, well-funded institution when he listed University of California, San Francisco, University of Michigan and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas as his top three picks.
“All of the advice I have had is to get training in other places and kind of mix it up and see how things are done elsewhere,” Hillerson said. “My mentors helped me pick places based on the quality of the cardiology training.”
Drs. Veena Raizada and Ann Gateley particularly supported his aspiration to pursue a career in cardiology during medical school, Hillerson said. As a first- and second-year medical student, he got to shadow physicians and observe cardiac catheterization and echocardiogram procedures.
Wherever he serves his residency, Hillerson said, he plans to return to Albuquerque to practice when he’s through. “I love it here,” he said. “The goal is to come back.”
Erika Maestas also intends to practice in Albuquerque after completing her residency in internal medicine. “I think I really understand the patient population here,” she said. “I can relate to them well.”
Maestas, 28, listed Loyola University in Chicago, the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland and the University of Colorado, Denver, as her top three picks. “I’m excited, “ she said. “I feel like everything I’ve worked for is finally here, so I’m ready to start.”
Dr. Craig Timm, associate dean for undergraduate medical education in the School of Medicine, took the podium to share some thoughts on the match process and its implications. For one thing, it signals a major accomplishment – the transition from medical student to medical practitioner.
“It is pretty exciting to finish up medical school,” Timm said. “It is a huge achievement.” He noted that of the 75 students, 34 percent had indicated that they plan to eventually practice in New Mexico.
Seated at a table in the rear of the ballroom, Dr. Eve Espey, the former associate dean of student affairs in the School of Medicine, mused that some of the graduating students were destined to be disappointed (five did not receive a match).
“There’s going to be some unhappy people here today,” she said. “It’s a tough time.
As the clock wound down, Dr. Sheila Hickey, Espey’s successor as associate dean, paid tribute to a venerable Match Day tradition when she jumped the gun 10 minutes before 11 a.m.
“By my watch,” Hickey announced, “It’s 11 o’clock.”
The students rushed to a table laden with gift bags, each of which came with a sealed envelope containing the match results. Tearing open the flaps, some cheered and others burst into tears – whether of joy or disappointment, it was hard to tell.
Soon, students were trading hugs and match results with their friends. Others pulled out cell phones to let friends and loved ones know how it had all turned out.
Geneva Tranchida was accepted by the University of Minnesota – her second choice. Minneapolis is a 90-minute drive from Rochester, in southern Minnesota, she said, but it was better than spending three years in a different state from her husband.
Dustin Hillerson discovered he is headed to Michigan, his second choice. He was relieved nonetheless. “I thought I bombed the interview!” he confessed.
For Erika Maestas, winning a match with her first choice – Loyola University – meant she would get to live in a city she loves, and where she happens to have a good friend. “I’m excited,” she said. “I’m still in shock.”
According to Amanda Cornelius in the Office of Medical Student Affairs, this year’s graduating class of 38 women and 37 men matched in 22 states, from New York to Washington to Florida.
Twenty-seven of the students will remain at the University of New Mexico as residents in anesthesiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, radiology and surgery.
The remainder will venture out of state to join residency programs at such prestigious institutions as Stanford University, the University of Washington affiliated hospitals, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.