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In a Matter of Seconds, Everything Changes for Katz School of Medicine Fourth Years

POSTED ON March 20, 2019


With 15 minutes to go, the Lewis Katz School of Medicine’s class of 2019 began spilling out of a nearby auditorium in matching cherry-colored shirts and into a Maurice J. Stone, MD, Commons that was already packed with family and friends.

The second- and third-floor balcony railings suddenly filled in, too, and the music was turned up to a thumping club-level, making the bass as palpable as the students’ anxiety over what was to come.

Welcome to high noon on Match Day 2019 – the exact hour and day when all fourth-year medical students across the country open a sealed envelope and learn where they “matched” for their residency. It’s one of the most important—and emotional—days in a student’s journey to becoming a physician.

As Match Day has grown in prominence, so too has the fanfare surrounding it. This year’s event was live-Tweeted, Facebooked and Instagrammed, as well as documented by several photographers and a video crew. In fact, Modern Healthcare used Katz’s event to showcase Match Day nationwide.  

In an instant, envelopes are torn open and hundreds of lives, including the students’ families, head off in a new direction for the next several years.

Sisters Tara and Rachel Jennings (who are two-thirds of identical triplets) braced themselves for the likely prospect that they were going to be separated for the first time in their lives.

“We went through this process very independently,” Rachel said. “At the end of the day, when you’ve put in four years of work, you have to do what’s best for yourself.”

Tara spent the night before with her fiancé, a third-year medical student at Penn. Their tentative plan was for him to follow her wherever she goes. Turns out, he won’t need to relocate very far because Tara, who will specialize in dermatology, matched at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.

Rachel will have to travel a bit farther. She matched to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville for emergency medicine.

Across the commons, Mahmoud Elrakhawy and his parents, who had flown in from Illinois for the occasion, were hoping he’d be reunited with his brother, an otolaryngology resident in Buffalo. Turns out they’ll be separated by about a three-hour drive while Mahmoud completes his five-year vascular surgery residency at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Match Day is filled with highs and lows, but for many, like Mahmoud, it’s a subtler shade somewhere in between because the destinations in those envelopes are also tied to factors completely unrelated to their medical careers.

Amber Lindsay held hers in her arms: three-year-old Addison, whose great grandfather in Wisconsin would love to see move closer to home when Amber graduates in May. He got his wish when she matched with the internal medicine program at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, her first choice. Her grandfather seemed even more elated by the news than Amber did.

Similarly, Dovber Hecht hoped to place in either Philadelphia or Los Angeles largely because he has some family in both cities. And with two young sons, three-year-old Jonah and one-month-old Marty, support is essential.

“Medical school makes being a dad and a husband difficult,” he said, about an hour before opening his envelope. “Being a resident is only going to make it more difficult. But my wife is amazing. So, wherever we end up, we’ll be happy.”

Elation! Dovber placed at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He’ll train in internal medicine, the most popular specialty for the class of 2019.

A few seconds after noon, some in the commons erupted in screams and some cried and hugged. Many simply smiled with relief. Now they knew. In a couple of months, their next chapter begins.