Match Day Marks Emotional Rite of Passage for Medical Students
It was the moment that many fourth-year students had dreamed about since before they even applied to medical school – the moment that would dictate the next step in their careers, where they will live and what type of doctor they will become.
At the stroke of noon on Thursday, March 19, 187 graduating medical students, along with their families, friends and faculty mentors, held their collective breath as — on cue from Dean Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD — they opened the envelopes informing them which residency program they will attend for the next three to seven years.
As the anticipation mounted, Howard J. Federoff, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health sciences, took the opportunity to congratulate the students and to wax nostalgic.
“You’ll remember this day forever. In fact I can remember 26 years ago, to this day, when I learned where I was going,” Dr. Federoff said. “It [will leave] an indelible impression on everything from this day forward.”
This rite of passage, known as Match Day, is observed in simultaneous ceremonies at medical schools across the country yearly, on the third Thursday in March.
According to Mitchell, about 44 percent of this year’s graduating students were matched with the country’s top 25 residency programs, and 13 percent with the top 10 programs, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. As in previous years, about a quarter of the graduating class will remain within the Georgetown University Hospital system.
Mitchell said that approximately 40 percent of graduates will do their residencies in primary care, representing an increase from last year. Interest in primary care has sagged somewhat in recent years as students, confronted with rising debt upon graduation, have turned to more lucrative specialties.
Georgetown medical students, he said, stand out no matter where they end up because of their superior clinical skills, and their commitment to the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, or care of the whole person.
“They will know you by your skills, and they will know you by your value. But I want them to say: Who is that? Where are they from?” Mitchell said.
The match process, which typically begins at the beginning of the fourth year of medical school, entails the expected applications and subsequent interviews, but culminates in this ceremony where they learn their fate at the same moment as all their classmates.
The outcome is computer-generated, in that both the students and the residency programs submit their top picks to a third-party, centralized matching service, the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP). The NRMP’s computer matches applicants to programs using an algorithm that takes in to account both sides’ top-ranked choices. Both the applicant and the residency program are then contractually obligated to abide by the computer-generated match.
Students huddled with their families and friends as the seconds ticked down to noon.
“I am nervous. I didn’t think I would be, but I am,” said Justin Poltak (M’09), whose parents and girlfriend surrounded him in the crowded auditorium. Upon opening the envelope, Poltak learned he had matched into his first-choice program – a residency in anesthesiology at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine.
His parents, Ronald and Anne Poltak, broke into relieved and teary grins. Justin, they said, would be the first medical doctor in their family, and they couldn’t wait to share the news with his 91-year-old grandfather.
“Every minute of today has been something new for us. We’ll be calling all over the country to tell people,” Ronald Poltak said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, students and their families enjoyed a lunch hosted by the office of Medical Alumni Programs and the Georgetown University Alumni Association.
By Lauren Wolkoff, editor, Georgetown Medicine