Match Day was a time to celebrate, even without the ability to convene in person.
As concerns about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and its ability to spread in large gatherings swept the country last week, most medical schools wisely cancelled their Match Day celebrations — and the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown was no exception.
Every year, on the third Friday in March, fourth-year medical students across the U.S. learn their residency assignments — where they’ll continue their clinical training after they earn their M.D.s. Most schools mark this momentous occasion in students’ careers with a boisterous party like Brown’s, where balloons drop, a band plays and champagne flows. The students, surrounded by families, friends and mentors, each line up to receive a red envelope with a letter telling them where they’re going for the next several years.
This year, that red envelope was a virtual one, delivered by email, and the soon-to-be doctors got the news in much more intimate gatherings than they had envisioned — and with a lot more screens, as they connected with far-flung family members and each other via videos and a Zoom call organized by the medical school.
“My parents and my younger brother all live in California, and they were planning to fly in,” said Sravanthi Puranam, who matched to Stanford University’s combined pediatrics anesthesiology residency program. “I’d always imagined having their presence as I opened my envelope.”
Instead, she learned the news at home alone, with her family on Skype and most of her classmates on the Zoom videoconference. She opened her email after a countdown led by Alex Morang, the medical school’s director of career development, and then called friends and mentors with the news.
“I actually don’t feel isolated at all,” Puranam said. “I feel very blessed and loved and supported.”
Adding that she grew up just 10 minutes from one of the hospitals where she’ll spend her residency, she said, “I’m excited to serve that community. It means a lot right now.”
Jordan Emont and his girlfriend, Sammy Greissman, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Miami, participated in the National Resident Matching Program as a couple, with the goal of securing residency positions close to each other. But they had originally planned to spend Match Day at their respective schools, celebrating with their families and classmates.
“You do look forward to this moment, all of this buildup that goes into physically opening the envelope,” Emont said.
After he and Greissman learned their parties were canceled, they spent the day together at her mother’s house in Miami, and used Zoom to videoconference with Emont’s family in California as they opened their emails at noon.
“It was definitely a different Match Day than we were all expecting,” said Emont, who will join Columbia University’s obstetrics/gynecology program, while Greissman matched to internal medicine there — their first choice. “But at the end of the day, this is really an individual achievement, or if you’re in a couple it’s a couple’s achievement, and there’s still something beautiful about achieving that.”
Brown’s Julia Hadley also got her first choice, the University of Washington’s Pediatric Residency Alaska Track, where she will learn her practice at Seattle Children’s Hospital and small clinics in Alaska.
“I can’t stop crying,” she said in a phone interview shortly after getting the news, which she received with her roommate in Providence, their families on FaceTime and most of their classmates on the videoconference.
“I was really upset about Match Day a week ago,” Hadley said, recalling the party she attended during her second year of medical school and how she’d imagined her own. “Now I’ve almost forgotten about it, because it’s a global pandemic.”
Denise Marte, who matched with Columbia and Cornell University’s emergency medicine residency program at NewYork-Presbyterian, found new meaning in the change of plans. A native of Bronx, N.Y., she had hoped to be with her parents, sister and niece as well as her partner, Peter Friedrichs, when she got the news. Instead she was at home with Friedrichs, with her family joining on a WhatsApp video call.
“That’s going to be one of the most important people for me to know where I’m going to end up this year,” Marte said of Friedrichs. “An unintended consequence of this virus coinciding with Match Day is myself and other students are realizing who’s really important in this event.”
Liz Taliaferro, their partner, and their roommate got balloons and joined two friends at India Point Park in Providence to open their virtual envelopes while on FaceTime with their families.
“I’m glad we did something special and got to be together and have some sense of community,” said Taliaferro, who will join the pediatric primary care and community health residency program at Children’s National in Washington, D.C.
Though Taliaferro was disappointed that their parents, brother and grandmother couldn’t travel from Pennsylvania to share the moment in person, they did get to see Taliaferro deliver a speech at the White Coat Ceremony for first-year students in October, “so it takes the sting away a little bit,” Taliaferro said. “We got to go out to dinner and celebrate the trajectory of my journey. I feel really blessed I got to have that experience.”
One student in the medical school’s graduating class already knew where she would be completing her residency — and what it was like to find out her match without a big party. In December, Uzoamaka Okoro, who participated in the U.S. Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program, was at her friend’s house with her fiancé on FaceTime when she learned that she’d matched to the dermatology residency program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
But perhaps even more exciting than getting into Walter Reed — her first choice — was learning in the email that she would spend the first year of her residency at Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Georgia, where her fiancé, Warren Alpert Medical School Class of 2017 graduate Marcos Aranda, is a surgical resident.
“They made an adjustment for me,” she said, when they learned Aranda was at Eisenhower, which doesn’t offer a dermatology residency. ”I wasn’t expecting to end up there at all, so that was a really big surprise.”
Okoro said she was disappointed for her classmates that the Match Day party was cancelled. It’s the culmination of four years of very hard work, and the demanding process of applying and interviewing for residencies.
“But it still is a really wonderful experience even if you just share that with whoever you have around,” she said. “It still was a very special moment for me, even though I was in my friend’s living room.”