And the envelope, please: Graduating med students match to residencies

Stanford medical students gathered together on Match Day to find out where they would serve their residencies for the next three or more years.

Victoria Boggiano, a soon-to-graduate Stanford medical student fresh out of scrubs and wearing a pink dress, had one word for how she was feeling at 8:30 a.m. today: “Petrified!”

And no wonder.

Projected onto giant screens behind the podium in Berg Hall, at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, was the countdown clock to her future: At that moment, the numbers read “15:00”: 15 more minutes.

Fortunately, she wasn’t alone.

Boggiano was one of 70 Stanford medical students awaiting envelopes on Match Day, when thousands of graduating medical students across the country find out at the same moment — noon Eastern time, or 9 a.m. on the West Coast — where they will spend the next three or more years of their lives as residents.

“When you open your envelopes today, I’m confident wherever you match, you will have the opportunity to grow and make contributions,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, who kicked off the event with calming words of gratitude for the students’ years of hard work, praise for their successes and hope for their futures. “Take every advantage of every opportunity to become the very best that you can be.”

‘A song or dance or, even better, statistics’

As the clock continued to tick down, Neil Gesundheit, MD, interim senior associate dean for medical education and professor of medicine, stepped up to the podium to address the restless crowd.

“I’ve been told when you have a tense group like this, what helps is a song or dance or, even better, statistics. So here are a few,” he said. Of the 70 Stanford medical students who applied for a residency, all matched somewhere. Four of them also would graduate with master’s degrees, six with PhDs and seven with MBAs. For the first time, the school would graduate more MD-MBAs than MD-PhDs, and for the second time in school history, twins were graduating. Then he got down to brass tacks.

Twins Stephanie and Tiffany Chen on Match Day at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. A timer projected on a screen counted down the minutes and seconds until they and their fellow Stanford medical students could open envelopes with letters informing them where they would spend their residencies.
Steve Fisch

“You cannot open the envelope until the countdown goes to zero,” he said.

The matching process is a tradition that dates back to the 1950s, with residency assignments determined by a nonprofit organization, the National Resident Matching Program. The organization uses a computer algorithm to align the choices of the applicants with those of the residency programs.

Students began applying for residencies last summer. Then, they traveled nationwide in the fall to interview. And then … they waited.

“Being on the interview trail fully confirmed that family medicine was for me,” said Boggiano, whose parents are both psychiatrists. “I interviewed at 16 programs, and at every single one, I thought, ‘This is my place.’” Boggiano, who also holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of California-Berkeley, said that wherever she ended up, her goals would be the same.

“I want to help empower communities to better understand their health so that they can help guide improvements in health-care settings,” she said.

Quiet descends

The room quieted down as the students, many dressed in skirts and heels, or suits and ties, walked over to their advisers to pick up their envelopes.

Dean Lloyd Minor speaks to the Stanford medical students before they open their Match Day envelopes.
Steve Fisch

The countdown clock showed just a few seconds remaining.

“Let’s do the countdown together,” Gesundheit said. Boggiano bounced up and down on her toes, her two closest friends nearby. “Five, four, three, two….” Confetti flew through the air as “Celebration,” by Kool & The Gang, blared on speakers.

Chao Long burst into tears when she found out she had matched at Johns Hopkins University in plastic surgery. Grinning, she hugged her parents, as well as her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s sister, both of whom are Stanford medical students.

Boggiano opened her envelope, clapped her hand over her mouth and started to cry. Then she held up the letter for everyone to see and hugged her friends. She’ll be heading to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill — her first choice.

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