Match Day at any medical school, in any year, is a special day. It brings a long-awaited moment when a graduate’s dreams are realized after years of hard work, when students learn where they will be spending the next phase of their medical training.
But this year, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, members of Harvard Medical School’s graduating class were able to gather in person for Match Day, making it an extra special occasion as they ripped open envelopes at noon to learn where they matched for their residencies.
“I’m thrilled. I’m so happy with my match. It’s a joy to do this with my classmates and with our families,” said Sam Doernberg, who matched in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Doernberg, his sister, and his parents joined scores of other students and their family members and friends in a crowded and noisy Tosteson Medical Education Center atrium on March 18 for the traditional bell-ringing that signaled the official release of match information from the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).
For the past two years, because of the pandemic, HMS students participated in the Match Day ritual via videoconferencing, sometimes far removed from family, friends, and classmates. This year, they were able to attend in person or join remotely, connecting to the ceremony via large computer screens placed in the TMEC atrium.
The roar in the atrium was a cacophony of elation as students, family, friends, faculty, staff, and fellow students crowded the hall and atrium balconies to celebrate.
When HMS Dean for Students Fidencio Saldaña rang the bell signaling it was time to open envelopes, a cry erupted from the gathered throng, and the happiness in the room seemed almost palpable.
“As you know, the pandemic was a very isolating time for us, without friends and family,” said graduating student David Bunn, who matched in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “To be able to share this with friends and family, to share with my close HMS friends, who are also my family, it means everything.”
“We’re so happy to be here together, to close this out the way we started, together,” said Juliet Musabeyezu, who matched with Brigham and Women’s in obstetrics and gynecology. “We’ve gone through so much.”
“It means everything to be celebrating with classmates after not being able to see them for two years,” said Edgar Garcia Saiz, who matched in pediatrics and urban health advocacy at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“It’s a lot. It’s been so long since we’ve all been together. We’ve worked so hard,” said Josie Francois, who matched in psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s.
Each year, tens of thousands of medical students across the country submit applications and interview at hospitals across the U.S. in the hope of matching with a residency program in the specialty that interests them. They rank their preferences through the NRMP, which uses a computer algorithm to place students into residency spots.
The NRMP is a nonprofit organization sponsored by several national medical societies to provide an orderly and fair way to match graduate medical applicants to U.S. residency positions
This year, the 158 graduating HMS students matched to 145 clinical residencies, with 10 students embarking on nonclinical careers and three entering Massachusetts General Hospital’s oral and maxillofacial surgery program. Although students will travel to all parts of the country for their residencies, close to half, 48 percent, will remain in Massachusetts for their clinical training, while 12 percent matched in California and 8 percent matched in the metropolitan New York area.
The largest group, representing 30 percent of graduating HMS students, matched in internal medicine, with the next largest group, at 10 percent, matching in pediatrics.
“It is really very special to be able to gather as a community to celebrate the students’ achievements,” said Saldaña, who thanked the HMS IT department for making it possible for all the graduating students and guests, whether in the atrium or online, to be able to share in the excitement and joy.
And for faculty, as much as for students, it was special to be together again.
“This is an exciting moment for me, to be able to actually see the students and to hear the students. This is what it’s all about,” said Joan Reede, HMS dean for diversity and community partnership.
“It’s absolutely fabulous. We’ve missed each other so much. It’s a long time coming,” said Jenny Potter, HMS professor of medicine and advisory dean for the William Bosworth Castle Society.
Class president Derek Soled addressed the students shortly before the matches were revealed. He invited his classmates to go back in time to 2018, when he and several other students stood on a TMEC balcony and watched that year’s match ceremony, trying to imagine what Match Day would be like when their turn arrived. He congratulated this year’s “newest minted resident physicians.”
“Regardless of where the letters and envelopes send us, I am confident that because of our training here, in the learning studios and hospitals, we are prepared to take care of patients at the bedside and beyond, as leaders in medicine,” said Soled.
Dean for Medical Education Edward Hundert congratulated the students, but also reminded them of the responsibilities that lie ahead, invoking the memory of Paul Farmer, a beloved faculty member who died suddenly in February.
Farmer, a renowned physician and pioneer in global health care, used to say that HMS students were his “retirement plan,” according to Hundert, because they would carry on the important work of providing care for all people around the world.
“The thing that Paul always inspired us all to think about is that every patient you interact with, every staff member in the hospital, everyone you meet is equally part of your family,” said Hundert. “So, I think in light of his passing, if everyone can remember, no matter how busy you are as an intern or resident, and for the rest of your career, as you walk into a patient’s room ... as you go through that door, think to yourself, ‘If this patient were a member of my family, what would I do next?’ And then walk through that door."
Photos: Steve Lipofsky