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Medical Students Anxiously Await Residency Fate at Match Day

Ioana Patringenaru | March 19, 2007

Match Day (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Melanie Hayden, with her 7-month-old son, Cyrus. They're headed to Stanford.
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Amy Chen and Bryant Sheh were getting married in three days, but they still didn’t know where they were going to live next school year. Melanie Hayden held her 7-month-old son close while she waited to find out where they would be headed this summer. Matthew Bengard flashed back to the days when he was waiting for a letter from the Peace Corps after graduating from Stanford.

The four of them and about 100 other UCSD medical students in their final year of study would find out the location of their residency training programs Thursday morning at 9 a.m. It’s called Match Day, when medical students learn their fate at the same time all across the United States.

Chen, Sheh, Hayden and many more gathered in the School of Medicine’s student lounge, where white envelopes with the letter matching them to a specific program waited on a long table. Chen and Sheh kept their cool. They had applied only to programs in Los Angeles and Irvine, so they knew they could live together. Others fidgeted. Some hugged classmates. Their professors tried to reassure them while they waited for the fateful 9 a.m. hour.

“We’re all incredibly proud of you,” said Maria Savoia, vice dean of Medical Education “Just know that whatever these envelopes say, it’s good for you and you will do well.”
Finally, 9 a.m. “This day is all about you and your envelope, mano-a-mano,” said associate dean Jess Mandel, inviting students to open their letters.

The table was mobbed. Chen and Sheh opened their envelopes almost at the same time. They smiled as they showed their letters to each other then kissed. “Awesome,” Sheh said. Not only would they be married next school year, but they would also go to the same hospital, Olive View, at the University of California, Los Angeles. He will work in internal medicine, she in ophthalmology.

Match Day (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Amy Chen shows her match letter to her fiance, Bryant Sheh.

“It was our No. 1 choice,” Chen said. “We’re definitely excited,” Sheh chimed in.

The two were headed back later in the day to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they grew up and where they now will be married. Preparations for the wedding, which will take place at a winery near Palo Alto, kept Chen so busy that she almost forgot Match Day, she said. She and Sheh set the date last year and didn’t think it would become too stressful, she added. “In retrospect, we should have had the wedding a week after.”

Chen and Sheh also toured the room, catching up with classmates. “Where are you going,” was the question on everyone’s lips. Most were happy with their destinations. Annemarie Selaya and Loren Sacks will stay here at UCSD, as resident pediatricians. “This is right where I wanted to be,” Sacks said. Their colleague, Teresa Munoz, was less cheerful. UC Davis was at the top of her list. She will go to the Fresno campus of UC San Francisco instead. “I’m a little bit disappointed,” she said. "But I know I'll get a good education."

A few, including Hayden, found refuge outside after opening their letter. The student lounge got too crowded and loud for baby Cyrus, Hayden explained. She held the little boy, decked out in blue baby scrubs, in her lap, while she talked about her destination. She is headed to Stanford, one of her top choices, to become a resident neurosurgeon. Her family lives in the Bay Area too. “So we’re very excited to move back home,” she said. Juggling neurosurgery and a baby hasn’t been too difficult, she said, though she took an extra year to finish her master’s in clinical research. Luckily, her husband is a special education teacher, so he has more flexible hours, she said.

Match Day (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Annemarie Selaya (left) and Teresa Munoz react after opening their letters.

Meanwhile, Bengard decided to skip the ceremony. He had breakfast with his girlfriend and checked the match results on the Internet. He’s going to Washington University in St. Louis, Miss. His first choice had been Oregon, where he was born. But Washington University was his second. “I’m very happy about it,” he said. “They have an incredible program.”

Bengard’s journey to medical school has been a long and somewhat convoluted one. He grew up in a small town in Oregon and went to high school with 50 other students. “From a very early age, I knew that’s not where I was destined to be,”he said. “I looked around and decided that astronaut and doctor were the biggest and best things I could do.” It was a childish reason to get into medicine, Bengard now admits. But as he went through high school, he became interested in biology. He went on to Stanford, where he struggled academically before graduating in 1995.

Then he decided to take a break and enrolled in the Peace Corps. Much like on Thursday, he received a letter saying he would go to Paraguay. He became a beekeeper and taught Paraguayans how to capture wild hives and domesticate them to make honey. “It was a chance to go and have a truly unique adventure,”Bengard said, adding he got stung — a lot.

After his two-year stint in Paraguay, he worked as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor for the homeless in Los Angeles. But medicine was still on his mind. Because he had struggled academically at Stanford, he enrolled in UCSD’s conditional acceptance program for the School of Medicine. Students take basic science classes and graduate level courses and also receive intensive tutoring. They are automatically accepted at the School of Medicine if they meet the program's requirements.

Match Day (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
A student pins a flag on a map of the United States showing where all this school year's medical school graduates are headed next school year.

In a way as an orthopedist-in-training, Bengard is now going back to his roots. He likes to work with his hands, he said. Back in Oregon, he often worked on cars and in construction. “Orthopedics is the ultimate for me,” he said. “You can look at X-rays and see something you built with your hands.”

Back at the School of Medicine, students started popping champagne corks around 9:25 a.m. Joyce Felder, the school’s registrar, looked on, a big smile on her face. She helped students navigate the matching process, making sure they got their letters of recommendation and other paperwork in on time. Thursday, it all paid off.

“I’m always happy on this day,” she said. “It’s sort of like my kids are leaving. But it’s time to go.”

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