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Match Day goes virtual

Gabrielle Redford, Managing Editor
Stacy Weiner, Senior Staff Writer
Patrick Boyle, Senior Staff Writer
March 20, 2020

As the nation grapples with COVID-19, medical schools take a moment to celebrate more than 30,000 students who matched to their chosen specialty.

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Students at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School gathered in the online videoconferencing platform Zoom to share Match Day announcements
Students at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School gathered in the online videoconferencing platform Zoom to share Match Day announcements.
Courtesy of Melanie Sulistio, MD/University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

For four years, students at the nation’s medical schools have been planning for and working toward Match Day — the day they find out where they will spend the next three to seven years training in the specialty of their choice.

It is a day that has traditionally been marked by elaborate celebrations at schools across the country, with students, faculty, family, and friends coming together to share in the joy of an occasion that some say is even more momentous than graduation.

Today, with an increasing number of people becoming sick and dying from COVID-19, and with groups of 10 or more discouraged from gathering in one place, medical schools have canceled their in-person ceremonies and replaced them with virtual ones.

And so, at noon ET today, in Zoom rooms and on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, students celebrated with close family, uploading photos and videos of the big reveal, while faculty posted their own reflections and highlights of the last four years. The National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP®) also sent out mass emails to students at noon — a change from the previous practice of sending those emails at 1 p.m. ET.

“Today’s crisis puts America’s need for well-trained clinicians in stark relief,” says AAMC Executive Vice President Atul Grover, MD, PhD. “While we know the traditional celebrations must be postponed, we congratulate the more than 30,000 doctors who matched today; they enter health care at a time none of us could have imagined when they began this journey. Our new colleagues will be a critically important part of the teams driving clinical care and discovery forward at the nation’s teaching hospitals.”

NRMP® reported that, in this year’s Main Residency Match®, 93.7% of U.S. MD seniors matched to first-year residency positions.

Here’s what Match Day looked like at a few schools.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

Christy Henderson, MD, and her husband pose in front of a banner provided by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School for this year's virtual Match Day
Christy Henderson, MD, and her husband pose in front of a banner provided by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School for this year's virtual Match Day.
Courtesy of Christy Henderson, MD

As in the past, the moments before the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School’s Match Day reveal were filled with a drumroll — but this year, it was made by an electronic drum in a Zoom meeting hosted for the 225 matching students. The students were also able to swing by the school on a staggered schedule to pick up Match Day T-shirts, cookies, and background signs to feature in photos and videos for virtually sharing the real joy of the moment. In addition, Melanie S. Sulistio, MD, the school’s associate dean for student affairs, provided tips for celebrating remotely, such as contacting mentors to share the good news. “The students appreciated all these efforts,” she says. “They had such great attitudes, saying, ‘We know this time [of the outbreak] is so much bigger than us. We are so grateful that you are thinking of us and trying to make the day special.’”

University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson

Gift boxes from the University of Arizona that included Match Day envelopes and some school memorabilia
When administrators at the University of Arizona School of Medicine learned that Match Day would be entirely virtual, they assembled gift boxes that included Match Day envelopes and school memorabilia. Students picked up the boxes on a staggered schedule.
Courtesy of Tanisha Price-Johnson, PhD

Like many schools, the University of Arizona had big plans for its students on Match Day. Those plans changed at least three times in the last 10 days, but what didn’t change was a desire to honor the students for all their hard work and dedication over the last four years. “In the midst of all this uncertainty, we want to take a moment to celebrate this very meaningful occasion with our students,” says Tanisha Price-Johnson, PhD, executive director of admissions at the University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson. When the decision was made last week to make the celebration entirely virtual, the school quickly put together gift boxes in the school’s colors with each student’s name on it. The boxes were filled with the coveted envelope and a variety of school paraphernalia. The 125 students then picked up the boxes this week (one at a time) and opened them today at 9 a.m. (noon ET), posting their reactions on an Instagram account created just for the occasion. 

Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine

As COVID-19 spreads, many parking lots across the country have been turned into sites for testing patients. But the parking lot at the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine was a site for celebration as more than 40 students picked up their envelopes in a Match Day drive-through. “Students have a lot of emotional attachment to the envelope,” explains Adrian Jones, JD, Wertheim’s associate dean of student affairs. “They want the physical experience of opening it, and they want it as a memento.” So, after extensive planning around precautions — the two deans involved wore gloves, for example — about a third of the school’s 120 fourth-year students were waiting in their cars shortly before noon. Faculty and staff who couldn't attend the students’ special day "were devastated," says Jones, but they could extend their heartfelt congratulations via video.

University of Massachusetts Medical School

The past week has been a whirlwind for Sonia Nagy Chimienti, MD, vice provost for student life and associate dean for student affairs and her team at the University of Massachusetts Medical School: creating 30-second video snippets from faculty, putting together flashback videos of the last four years, creating an Instagram account and uploading those videos, and reaching out to each of the school’s 135 fourth-year students to inform them of the new Match Day plans. But it was all worth it to be able to celebrate these students and their achievements. “We wanted students to be able to see and hear the words of congratulations from the faculty and staff who have shepherded students during this journey,” Chimienti says. “When there’s a situation such as this, where there are challenges and fear and a lot of people who are suffering, we still want to celebrate these students who have worked so hard to be here and who will be on the front lines in just a couple of months. Our students are ready and committed to serving the public.”

University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine

Match Day celebrations at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Medicine kicked off on schedule — not in a big room on campus, but in homes across the state. The school had considered a shortened ceremony with each student bringing just one guest, but that got scuttled this week when the state banned public gatherings of more than 10 people, says Wendy J. Grant, MD, associate dean for admissions and student affairs. She notes that, because UNMC College of Medicine is a state school, many of its 128 matched students are Nebraska natives with families nearby, so they opened their match email notifications back home or with family members who came to Omaha. Others planned to celebrate with one or two classmates. “We can’t underestimate the importance of this day,” Grant says, putting it on par with graduation. “This really shapes the rest of their lives.”

The CUNY School of Medicine at The City College of New York

“This is really historic for us,” says Erica Friedman, MD, interim dean at the CUNY School of Medicine at The City College of New York. The medical school opened in 2016, making this its first Match Day ever. She says that, because many of the 44 graduating students are from the city and live with their families rather than on campus, it made sense to hold the celebration online to avoid having students commute to the school by public transportation. Shortly before noon, Friedman convened a meeting of matched students on Zoom so they could open their notices together and share the moment with each other. “This is truly a time to celebrate,” Friedman says. “At least they are with their families.”

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