Medical students go through many rites of passage over the course of their long educational journey to becoming physicians. From preschool on, they’ve participated in several commencements and graduations, thesis defenses, awards presentations, white coat ceremonies and more.
But few, perhaps, have quite the same immediate, life-altering impact as the Match Day ceremony.
“I hope HMS will be part of your life wherever you go, because the connections you’ve made here will be lifelong connections" - Edward Hundert, HMS dean for medical education
As the clock struck noon on March 16, members of the HMS Class of 2018 tore open envelopes in the TMEC atrium to learn what the next step in their professional lives would be.
Inside each envelope, a few lines of text on a piece of paper revealed where the soon-to-be graduates will spend the next several years of their lives as resident physicians, and also in which specialties they will be training.
“I’m feeling on top of the world. This is a surreal moment. I didn’t expect to be emotional, but this is emotional. My dream came true. So many of my friends’ dreams are coming true,” said Castle Society student Elorm Avakame after finding out that he matched with his first-choice program in pediatrics-primary care and community health at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“These are people I’ve become family with over the past few years, and it’s awesome to see this moment happening for everyone at the same time,” said Avakame, who is also a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership.
Months ago, Avakame, his classmates, and tens of thousands of other medical students submitted applications and interviewed at hospitals across the U.S. that offer residency training in the specialties that most interested them.
They ranked their preferences through the nonprofit National Resident Matching Program, which uses computer algorithms to place students into residency spots.
Accompanied by friends and family, 169 HMS students were welcomed to Match Day by Fidencio Saldaña, HMS dean for students, who kicked things off with a Native American proverb: “Looking behind, I am filled with gratitude. Looking forward, I am filled with vision. Looking upwards, I am filled with strength. And looking within, I discover peace.”
“On behalf of HMS, I want to thank all you students for all the years of hard work,” Saldaña continued, praising the resiliency and flexibility of students who participated in the recent transition to a new MD curriculum.
Saldaña led the class in a moment of silent gratitude and reflection for the patients they’ve seen and all the people who helped them get to where they are today, before ringing a bronze bell that signaled the start of the ceremony.
Students then received their envelopes.
“This is by far the most personally important ceremony, because this effectively decides the next several years of our lives and where our trajectories in medicine will go,” said Castle Society student Maria Duarte, who applied for residency matching as a couple with Holmes Society student Andreas Mitchell.
“I think I feel more excitement around Match Day than I felt any time in college or earlier in medical school,” Mitchell said. “It’s because this is a big step that we’re taking together as a couple, and because I think I’ve grown a lot as a person during medical school. This is a big life step.”
Anxious, nervous and excited before the ceremony began, Duarte and Mitchell were overjoyed after learning they had matched together into their first-choice program in internal medicine at University of California San Francisco.
We love the program, love the people at UCSF. We wanted a new adventure, they said between hugs and hurried text messages to friends and family to share the news.
Duarte and Mitchell aren’t alone in now having to prepare for a long move across the country. A quarter of the class—43 students in total—matched into California programs.
Most of their classmates won’t have to travel as far. Almost half will remain in Massachusetts to spend part or all their of residency in training programs at Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals.
“This is a time where everything we’ve done before now—graduating high school, college, getting into medical school—was leading to this moment,” said Holmes Society student Tracy Makuvire, who matched into the internal medicine program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“I’m extremely happy to have matched with several of my classmates, several close friends who I will love working with,” said Peabody Society student Ray Parrish, who matched into the internal medicine program at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’ll be a wonderful experience, and I’m so thankful to everybody here that’s made it possible over the past four years.”
Other members of the class will disperse across the country for residencies at hospitals in Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis, Albuquerque and elsewhere.
A total of 71 students, the largest proportion of the graduating class, will be training in some form of primary care, including family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. Others will train in specialties such as plastic surgery, neurology, dermatology and radiology.
“We’re very happy because this is where we wanted to end up as a family,” said Derek Peters, an MD/PhD student in the HST (Health Sciences and Technology) program, who matched into a surgery and interventional radiology program at Duke University Medical Center.
With his wife and two young children, Peters is ready for the move to North Carolina. “We’ve been in Boston for the better part of a decade, so this will be a big change. But we’re super excited.”
With graduation only a few short weeks away and their residency programs starting in June and July, Peters and his classmates won’t have much time before they are full-fledged physicians, applying all that they’ve learned at HMS to caring for patients in their training programs.
But Match Day and graduation are far from the end of their HMS journey.
“Our gratitude to all of you for what you’ve done for our school,” Edward Hundert, dean for medical education, said to the students just before they opened their envelopes.
“I hope HMS will be part of your life wherever you go, because the connections you’ve made here will be lifelong connections. For many of us, thinking back to our own Match Days and going off to become residents, it’s our classmates who we remember best,” he continued.
“One of the most gratifying things for me is to be available to you, to still be here for you, whether you stay in this area or [go to] another part of the country. If you ever need anything, never hesitate to get in touch,” Hundert said.
“We have a saying that Match Day is proof of the old adage: the reward for a job well done is another job,” he joked.