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Students celebrate Match Day virtually or masked, socially distanced

Physicians-to-be learn their destinations for residency training

by Kristina SauerweinMarch 23, 2021

Video by Huy Mach and Gaia Remerowski

One of the hardest parts of the past year for soon-to-be graduates of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has been not being on the front lines as doctors during the global pandemic.

But that will soon change. On Friday, March 19, the medical school’s 105 physicians-to-be participated in celebrations for Match Day, the momentous milestone when U.S. medical students learn where they will train as residents after graduation.

A few of the students preferred to open emails revealing their matches while at home with loved ones or in small meeting places with only a handful of others. But most students attended a more traditional celebration at the Eric P. Newman Education Center, in which each student took center stage, opened an envelope unveiling his or her match and announced it to the class. Pre-COVID-19, the auditorium was packed with clapping and cheering family, friends, faculty and staff. However, due to the pandemic, this year’s celebration was open only to students, who were each allowed one guest. Groups of students and their guests rotated in and out of EPNEC from nearby rooms to minimize capacity.

All were masked, socially distanced and in strict compliance with the medical school’s COVID-19 safety precautions.

“The Class of 2021 is exceptional and inspiring,” said Kathryn M. Diemer, MD, the School of Medicine’s assistant dean for career counseling and a professor of medicine who has overseen Match Day for 21 years. “They showed remarkable resilience in their response to COVID-19, from adjusting to the abrupt changes in their classes and clinicals, to mobilizing student volunteer efforts against the virus, to uniting to fight health inequalities and racial injustices.”

Shoutouts dominated each student’s moment in the spotlight. Before opening envelopes, they gave shoutouts of gratitude to moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, faculty, mentors, a preschool-age nephew, a “bubbe” who died last year, a grandfather who graduated from the School of Medicine 72 years ago, and even a pet cat and a pet dog. Loved ones sent congratulatory notes via the livestream chatroom while watching the ceremony from afar, whether that meant from inside a student’s apartment, in an empty space on campus, or farther away, across the U.S. or in Asia, Africa or Europe.

As in years past — except for last year’s virtual Match Day, which occurred early in the pandemic — students walked onto the stage to songs each had selected, by artists as wide ranging as Queen, Big & Rich, Elton John, ABBA, Rick Astley, Bruce Springsteen, the Pointer Sisters, and Tom Howe, composer of the theme music for “The Great British Bake Off.”

Some strutted onto the stage solo, others with their one invited guest. Lade Sogade had her mom announce her residency appointment. While dancing and beaming, the proud mother shared that she is a surgeon and Lade will learn to be one, too, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Grace Keane and her sister Alexandra Keane walked together onstage, just as they did two years earlier in EPNEC on Alexandra’s Match Day. “Alexandra, we’re going to be co-residents,” Grace squealed. “I matched at Barnes.” Both sisters plan to practice plastic surgery.

Preethi Kesavan told her classmates: “I actually never open any test results,” so even though it wasn’t technically an exam score, she had her husband do the envelope-opening honors. “I’m going home,” said Kesavan, who will specialize in diagnostic radiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Like her peers, class president Connie Gan said she is eager to help relieve some of the pressure burdening health-care workers since the pandemic began a year ago. “Huge stress has been placed on many health-care providers with little reprieve,” said Gan, who matched in general surgery at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland. “As a medical student, it has been tough to observe from the sidelines and not fully contribute and help alleviate the workload. I am looking forward to playing my role by taking care of sick patients soon.”

Many students said the pandemic directly influenced their career paths. “It strengthened my interest in becoming a physician-scientist,” said Jared Goodman, who matched in neurology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “I have been amazed by the rapid research response. Translating genome sequence to vaccine in less than a year is a wondrous feat of collaboration among scientists, physicians and patient volunteers.”

For Helen Liljenwall, the pandemic reaffirmed her decision to pursue a career in child psychiatry. “The past year has been stressful and heartbreaking,” said Liljenwall, who will begin her residency at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “I am focusing on the things I can control during this time of uncertainty. I am focusing on the direct impact I can make each day.”

Learning how the virus affected elderly patients, particularly those in nursing homes, inspired Sharon Abada’s decision to become a general internist specializing in geriatrics. “It made my heart ache,” said Abada, who matched in primary medicine at University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center. “Observing community primary care providers rise to the challenge of guiding their patients through an uncertain time made me want to do that, too.”

Edward del RosarioMany of the university’s multitalented medical students will stay in St. Louis for residencies at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. Others matched at hospitals throughout the United States, including Massachusetts General Hospital, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center; Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; Yale New Haven Hospital; Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.; New York University Grossman School of Medicine; University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; the Cleveland Clinic; New York-Presbyterian Hospital, affiliated with both Columbia University and Cornell University; and hospitals affiliated with Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Highlights involving this year’s soon-to-graduate class:

  • Of the 105 matched students, 25 will begin their training at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and three at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
  • Besides Missouri, the states where the greatest number of School of Medicine students will train include California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Altogether, this year’s class will be represented at hospitals in 22 states and Washington, D.C.
  • With 25 students, internal medicine reigns as the most popular specialty for residency training.
  • The next largest group of students — 24— will train in surgery, including six in orthopedic and five in neurological, and four each in plastic and general.
  • Overall, the National Resident Matching Program recorded 48,700 applicants registered and 38,106 positions offered, the largest ever. Since 1952, the National Resident Matching Program has acted as a clearinghouse to fill positions at U.S. teaching hospitals, pairing the preferences of graduating medical students with those of residency program directors. Based on ranked lists provided by both groups, a match is generated by a computerized mathematical algorithm.

Gallery: Click photos to enlarge

Photos by Matt Miller/Washington University School of Medicine

Kristina covers pediatrics, surgery, medical education and student life. In 2020, she received a gold Robert G. Fenley Writing Award for general staff writing from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and in 2019, she received the silver award. Kristina is an author and former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Los Angeles Times, where she was part of a team of journalists that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for breaking news. Additionally, she covered the 2014 Ferguson unrest for TIME magazine and, for eight years, wrote a popular parenting column for