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Fate and festivity: Match Day 2019

All 85 Stanford graduating medical students matched to a residency this year, celebrating their accomplishments and looking forward to the future.

The future was concealed in a stack of 85 red envelopes. At Stanford Medicine, those envelopes were the center of Match Day, the day when graduating medical students around the country found out, simultaneously — at 12 noon on the East Coast and 9 a.m. on the West — where they’d be headed for their residency training program.

Medical students began gathering in Stanford Medicine’s Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge around 8:15 a.m. on Friday, March 15, with their families and friends, awaiting their professional fate. Everyone was, understandably, pretty anxious.

“To be honest, I’m incredibly nervous,” fourth-year medical student Matthew Schoen said. “General surgery is a seven-year residency and re-rooting my life for seven years is a freaky thought.” Schoen hoped to match at one of two hospitals in Boston, where he could live near his two brothers, or in the Bay Area, where he’s made a new home during medical school. “I am ready to make the most of wherever I am sent,” he said. Schoen’s parents and one of his brothers were at his side for the fateful moment.

In my story about the event, I described some of the students’ hopes as they approached that pivotal morning, and what they learned after the envelopes had been torn open. It was my first time attending a Match Day event, and to see the crowd transform from a well-controlled ball of tension to a cheering, hugging and even crying-with-joy party was an unforgettable delight.

In his opening remarks to the gathering around 8:30 a.m., Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, recalled his own Match Day. He also recognized the importance of the many loved ones in the room who had come to support the medical students, noting that their support would always be essential:

Personal resilience and the resilience we build up through our friends and our family is always going to be a constant force enabling us to remain vibrant and engaged and healthy ourselves as we seek to improve the health of those who entrust their care to us... This is yet the next stage in what we know is going to be, already has been and will continue to be a brilliant career for each of you. We couldn’t be more proud of you as you enter into this match process.

Neil Gesundheit, MD, senior associate dean for medical education, also spoke before 9 a.m., giving the auspicious news that all 85 students had successfully matched to a residency program. “We have a complete match today,” he said. “This only happens about once in a decade here at Stanford. So we’re very proud.”

As the minutes before 9 a.m. seemed to stretch, Gesundheit had a few more promising numbers to share, noting that about 25 percent of the matching students would be staying at Stanford for their residencies. But he also offered to kill some time with a little history:

March 15 is the Ides of March, which … has two significances. First of all, the Ides of March is when Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Senate in Rome in 44 BC, so it has a negative connotation. But before that time, it was known in ancient Roman times as a day of celebration. It marks sort of a transition to spring, to renewal, and it was a.... day of festivity. It was day of song and dance and celebration. So, our Ides of March here at Stanford will definitely be of that type once we conclude.

Gesundheit was right. After the balloons cascaded down from the ceiling like a collective exhale, and students ripped open their red envelopes to read what they had in store, the shrieks of joy, hugs, and smiles were undeniably positive.

For Schoen, the envelope held very good news: he’s headed to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he’ll train in general surgery. "I am beyond happy to be going back home with family," he said.

Photo by Steve Fisch

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