Ellen Wu held the plain white envelope in her hands.
Her name was on the outside. Her future was on the inside.
Wu, a student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, tore the envelope open and found out where she would do her medical residency.
Around her, about 150 other Feinberg students also opened envelopes. There were hugs and shouts and happy tears.
It was “Match Day,” a medical school milestone.
On Friday, at 125 medical schools around the country, including Northwestern and the University of Illinois Chicago, students learned the results of a complicated residency matching program pairing them with a hospital where they will complete the next several years of their training.
Wu isn’t going anywhere. Her residency will be at Northwestern.
“I’m so excited, relieved … I really wanted to come here,” Wu said. “I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. For med school, and like, forever.”
The National Residents Matching Program uses a computer algorithm to pair students with residency programs based on applications, interviews and student and program preferences.
“2022 grads, I’m exceptionally proud of each and every one of you,” Susan Goldsmith, associate dean of Student Affairs at Feinberg told the crowd. “No matter where you go, you’ll always be part of the Northwestern community.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Match Day had not been held in person since 2019.
“This group of students was affected [by the pandemic] for the majority of their training,” Goldsmith said. For instance, the medical licensing exam, the most important exam in medical school, fell right as the pandemic hit, in spring 2020. Test dates were canceled or rescheduled multiple times.
Many students also started their clinical rotations virtually, navigating telehealth difficulties and observing the effects of the pandemic on a strained medical system.
Hans Gao had an entry-level job in emergency medicine, which is why he applied to med school.
“After being on the front lines, I realized there was nowhere I’d rather be,” Gao said.
With schools doing virtual interviews because of the pandemic, students could apply to more places than in previous years. That may have made matching easier for this class, Gao said.
“Everything I’ve done for the past eight years leads up to this,” Gao said.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment, but also, at the same time, a sense of great responsibility,” he added. “During these dangerous times, it’s obviously a bit intimidating. But I have full faith that everyone around me, the entirety of this class, will do what’s best for the health care system and for ourselves.”
Not everyone leaves happy.
“I applied to plastic surgery two years ago and didn’t match,” said Feinberg student Jenna Stoehr. That made Friday even sweeter, as Stoehr got her top pick: the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine.
Stoehr said she fell in love with plastic surgery after trying out a two-week rotation on a whim in her third year of medical school.
“I love the kind of tangible, immediate fixes you get to make to patients,” she said. “I found that it encompassed some of the things I loved about the other types of surgery I had already seen. It’s focused on improving the quality of life of patients. … I think you can still make really incredible impacts with patients that have had cancer and need reconstruction, have had trauma and need reconstruction, need gender-affirming surgeries.”
Marlise Pierre-Wright gave birth during med school, navigating the pandemic with a newborn. Friday, she was celebrating with her husband and their daughter, now 19 months old.
Like Wu, Pierre-Wright matched with Northwestern. She’s happy to stay here and avoid uprooting her family.
“I really enjoy patient care and being able to advocate for patients. … When I was with OB patients, I had just given birth at Northwestern, and when I was on my medicine rotation, patients would ask about my daughter and talk about their grandkids. So it’s been a fun experience of being able to connect on that.”
Similarly, emotional scenes played out at UIC on Friday.
Tricia Calma waited with her class until 11 a.m. to open their letters together. Amid screams, gasps and cheers, Calma read her letter alongside her partner, Eddy Aguilar. They both matched with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“We’re so happy,” Calma said. “I’ve always been around kids, and that’s a population I want to advocate for.”
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