Army 2nd Lt. Lauren Kecskes anxiously stood in the balloon-filled lecture hall, surrounded by classmates, family and friends. In her hand, she held a large white envelope, which she nervously turned over and over. Nearby, a clock on the wall ticked away as Army Col. (Dr.) Lisa Moores announced, “Please do not open your envelopes until the clock runs out, right at noon.”
Moores, USU’s associate dean for Student Affairs, and Air Force Col. (Dr.) Pamela Williams, assistant dean for Clinical Sciences, made the rounds to ensure that every student present – about 70 fourth-year medical students from the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at USU — had their envelope in hand, and more importantly, that no one was trying to sneak a peek before the appointed time.
As the clock approached noon, the crowd loudly joined in the countdown. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…” Envelopes went flying and the room filled with excited student cheers, while hugs and congratulations ensued.
This nerve-wracking celebration – known as “Match Day” – is a career-defining moment for medical students throughout the nation. Every year, thousands of fourth-year medical students must simultaneously apply and interview to fill training positions in their preferred specialties at their desired locations. Much like being a part of a professional football draft, the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) conducts an intricate selection process, through which applicants are “matched” to the internship and residency programs to which they will head after medical school for the next several years of training. Students might get matched to one of their top picks or, if that program or specialty is highly competitive, they may, instead, be matched to another program with available slots.
Match Day for the NRMP Main Residency Match is in March each year, and many of the 155 medical schools around the country celebrate with ceremonies that day. But for students at USU, the experience is somewhat different. The military match, or Joint Services Graduate Medical Education Selection Board, meets in late November each year and results are released to USU and Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program students the second week of December. For years, USU medical students have waited up until midnight on the day of release to learn the results of their “match” which were posted online. But this year, for the first time, USU students were able to receive the results during an afternoon ceremony, Dec. 12, in keeping with their civilian peers.
“This has been many years in the making,” Moores said.
Earlier this year, Kecskes went through the rigorous process of applying and interviewing for a spot in the Urology residency at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii – her top choice because of the strength of the program. As she opened her envelope, Kecskes was over the moon to see the words: “Tripler” and “Urology.” All around her, students congratulated one another, enjoyed cake and called friends and family to let them know where they would soon be going to practice medicine. “It’s a culmination of what we’ve been working towards over the last several years,” Kecskes said.
Overall this year, 91 percent of the class matched to their first choice specialty, Moores noted, and a majority of students matched to one of their top two choices.
“That’s the highest it’s been in years,” she said.
Like civilian schools, USU medical students matched to a variety of specialties, including pediatrics, general surgery, and psychiatry. About 13 percent of students at USU chose internal medicine as their top specialty, followed by family medicine with 12 percent.
Navy Ensign Peter Ng said he was pretty optimistic before he opened his envelope. He was hoping he would have the same match as his wife, Army 2nd Lt. Alison Lam, who is also a fourth-year medical student at USU. “This is a really big moment. We’ve worked so hard for this,” he said. “We’ll make the best of it, wherever we go. We’re still going to learn a lot, regardless.”
Fortunately, for both Ng and Lam, they were matched together at their top choice – the Family Medicine residency program at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in southern California, which also happens to be close to both of their families.
“All four years have culminated in this moment,” said Air Force 2nd Lt. Ryan Rhie, president of the class of 2019. Rhie also matched to his top choice – General Surgery at Keesler Medical Center in Biloxi, Mississippi. He said he is looking forward to the opportunity, where he will receive lots of hands-on training.
Moores added that the class of 2019 had one of the highest specialty match rates in recent history.
“It was so fun to be able to celebrate their success with them in a group setting,” she said. “We are very excited for their future roles in the MHS.”