Graduating Harvard Medical School students who gathered for Match Day in the Medical Education Center on March 18 did not receive news about their residency matches from notifications on their smartphones.
Nor were there any dings or buzzes alerting them that an e-mail had just hit their inboxes. Instead, they learned about their futures in a manner more common in the past.
At noon, in unison, over 150 students all tore open envelopes that contained personalized letters showing where they will spend the next three to seven years of their medical training.
After the shredding of paper, shouts of relief and joy erupted.
Castle Society student Jackie Boehme was overjoyed that she would be staying in Boston and doing her anesthesiology residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The Envelope, Please
This year, 154 graduating HMS students matched to training programs and nine will be pursuing nonclinical training.
Just over 50 percent of the 81 students graduating in 2016 matched at an HMS-affiliated program for a portion of their training, internship or residency.
That includes 63 students—41 percent—who will participate in an HMS-affiliated program for their specialty only.
HMS students matched as follows: four in family medicine, 43 in internal medicine, six in pediatrics and 12 in obstetrics/gynecology.
Like last year, the HMS Office of Student Affairs noted that it no longer attempts to calculate the number of students going into primary care due to the inability to predict who will go into that field versus specialty care from training in internal medicine.
A New Day
Opening the ceremony, HMS Dean for Students Nancy Oriol remarked on how quickly society and the practice of medicine is changing with advancing technology.
“During the [Boston] Marathon tragedy, when you were trying to find your friends and your cell phones didn’t work, you had the brilliant idea to connect with each other on social media so you could check in and account for everyone,” Oriol said.
“You are going to bring in a new day,” she added.
Medical records are going to be connected in the cloud and doctors are going to be connected with their patients through their devices, Oriol said.
“I believe your creativity, your judgment and collective action are going to usher in an amazing new era. Welcome to the future that you are making,” she added.
Traditions and Trends
Match Day is traditionally held each year on the third Friday in March as part of the National Resident Matching Program, a system for placing medical school graduates with training positions at U.S. teaching hospitals.
This year, 27,860 medical school seniors across the country participated in The Match.
Remarking on the tradition of residency acceptance letters being delivered on paper, David Fisher ’16 said, “Match was invented in a time when the only practical way of doing it was to send letters for the school to distribute. It was impossible for it to not be a momentous occasion, and it has endured that way.”
Fisher said it would never exist in its current form if it were invented today.
The entire residency matching process began last fall, with students registering for the match and submitting applications to their individual programs of interest.
In October, the HMS academic societies offered students the opportunity to participate in mock interviews so that they could hone their presentation skills for interviews that took place with residency program directors throughout the winter.
Peabody Student Helen Xu, who matched at Weill Cornell School of Medicine in radiology, said the mock interviews helped her feel more comfortable and able to be herself during the actual interviews.
“I was told that whenever I was trying to make a point, to use more anecdotal evidence and to tell more stories and make the story more human and relatable,” Xu said.
In late February, students submitted lists ranking their choices, based on such factors as desired specialty and geographic location or whether they were applying as a couple. Their aim, of course, was to have the best chance of getting their program of choice.
Xu matched as a couple with her husband, Richard Lin, who matched in dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine.
A mathematical algorithm performs the final match, taking into account applicant preferences first and aligning them with each program’s preferred choices.
The result is that that no applicant could obtain a better outcome than the one produced by the algorithm.
Some HMS graduates will stay in the Boston area while others will be moving across the country. Locations vary as much as specialties.
Jonathan Kim, a member of the Holmes society, will be staying in Boston in the Partners program in emergency medicine at Mass General and Brigham and Women’s. He got his wish to stay in the area, where his wife works and their children are settled in school.
Castle Society student Sarah Ahmed will be joining her husband, also a dermatologist, in Dallas, for an internship year. They will then both relocate to her residency site at the University of Pittsburgh.
Something Old, Something New
Even though the final news is hand-delivered on paper, and interviews are conducted in person, most of the match process is digital.
Registration for both students and programs is through an online database; there’s even an app that students can use to manage their interview schedules and submit their rank-order lists via their smartphones or tablets.
And the way students share the news of their match varies across media and technology.
Devon Taylor, Castle Society student, shared the news that he would be doing his residency in emergency medicine at Duke University with his wife and children in Virginia via FaceTime. Other students were calling loved ones on the phone and sharing their news via social media.
Students who could not attend the Match Day ceremony were able to find out where they matched in multiple ways.
London Society student Jing Shan, who will be doing her residency in ophthalmology at the University of Southern California, picked up her friend’s letter. Others could log into The Match database at 1 p.m. to find out their match.
Even if they did miss the satisfaction of ripping open an envelope, their relief and joy at discovering where they matched was just as great.