Office of Communication & Public Affairs

03/16/07

Hugs and high-fives as medical students meet their ‘match’

By TRACIE WHITE

Steve Gladfelter/VAS
  Med student Sofia Meraz celebrates with husband Mario, a registered nurse, and 3-year-old daughter Cecilia after finding out that she'll do her residency in Anaheim, Calif.

Sofia Meraz went into labor with her baby during final exams between her first and second year of medical school. So when it came time in her fourth year to open the envelope that held the plan for her future medical career, it was only natural that she hugged her 3-year-old daughter Cecilia to her side while they opened it together.

“Yeah!” Sofia said, her hands shaking as she held up the letter, grinning at her husband Mario. “We got Anaheim!” She was jubilant over getting her first choice—medical residency training at a Kaiser hospital in Orange County near her parents.

Howls of delight, tears of relief and a general overflow of emotion erupted at the same time in the crowd of about 150 who showed up for the School of Medicine’s annual Match Day ceremony March 15. At Match Day, members of the graduating class open the envelopes that tell them where they’ll be starting their careers as physicians.

“We’re going to Disneyland!” said Sofia’s husband, Mario Meraz, a registered nurse dressed in his surgical scrubs who took a two-hour break from his shift at the operating room at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City to watch his wife open the envelope. Sofia, an immigrant from Mexico who came to the United States when she was 14, will be doing her residency in the family medicine program at Kaiser Orange County.

Often referred to as the “NFL draft” for medical students, this year’s Match Day celebration took place at 10 a.m. in the medical school’s Fairchild Auditorium. As part of the annual tradition, medical schools across the country held similar events at the exact same time.

Steve Gladfelter/VAS
 

Leroy Sims hugs fiancee and fellow medical student Melissa Enriquez after learning that they'll do their residencies in Los Angeles.

“Everyone will be hearing within minutes of each other,” said Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the medical school, as he addressed the nervous crowd just before the envelopes were distributed. “In about 15 minutes, everyone will be very, very happy. But don’t forget you still have to graduate.”

This year, 17,000 med students at U.S. schools, including 68 from Stanford, participated in the Match Day residency assignment process. The assignments are made by a nonprofit organization, the National Resident Matching Program, using a computer algorithm to align the choices of the applicants with those of the residency programs.

Medical student Melissa Enriquez had persuaded herself she wasn’t the slightest bit nervous right up until the moment she was handed the envelope.

Then she realized, “‘Oh my god, my future is in this envelope!’” she said. Hugging her fiance and fellow medical student Leroy Sims, she had just found out both of them would be headed to Los Angeles. She’ll be joining the radiology department at UCLA and Sims will be joining emergency medicine at Harbor UCLA. The two, who met in medical school, requested a couples’ match.

Steve Gladfelter/VAS
  Proud mom Ruth Edgerley smiles after reading her daughter Laura's "match" letter. Laura will be doing her residency at Stanford.

Across the room, similar dramas unfolded all over. “Oh my god, that was so exciting!” screamed medical student Laura Edgerley. She’d just found out she’d be joining the emergency medicine division at Stanford for her residency. Her parents were overwhelmed.

“She did it!” said her teary-eyed mother Ruth Edgerley as she hugged Laura’s father, Jim Edgerley.

Medical students started the match process last year, when they interviewed at different medical training programs. Then, in February, they submitted a ranked list of where they would like to go, while program administrators submitted their own ranked listings. Next, it was all a matter of mathematics as to who went where.

At Stanford this year, 85 percent of the students received one of their first three choices and 100 percent of the students who had geographic mobility matched at one of the elite training programs as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, said Neil Gesundheit, associate dean for advising.

The list of overachievers graduating from Stanford this year is long. Medical student and Olympic gymnast Amy Chow found out she’ll be starting her residency in the pediatrics department at Stanford. Chow, who competed in two Olympics, winning a gold medal in 1996 and a silver medal in 2000, said she’s found a new calling working with children.

Steve Gladfelter/VAS
 

Medical student Ashley Laird holds hands with her husband, Dan Arnold, at the Match Day ceremony.

Joshua Spanogle, who has written two medical thrillers including Isolation Ward while at the medical school, found out he’ll will be joining the dermatology department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

And Sofia Meraz, mother and almost medical school graduate, is thrilled to be going home to Los Angeles to be near her parents.

“It was an exhausting process, emotionally draining,” said Meraz later in the day after the adrenaline of the morning’s festivities had faded. Meraz said starting a career as a family medicine physician is the culmination of a long-fought-for dream.

“No one in my family went to college,” Meraz said. “My parents didn’t speak any English. I helped take care of my dad at home. He has pretty advanced diabetes. That’s how I decided I wanted to become a doctor.”

At the end of the day, 3-year-old Cecilia, still excited about helping to open the envelope, told her mom, “I’m so proud of you!”

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