Game, set, match: Medical students celebrate residency selections

VCU School of Medicine senior James Mendoza celebrates with his classmates on Match Day.
VCU School of Medicine senior James Mendoza celebrates with his classmates on Match Day.

Virginia Commonwealth University medical students wearing jerseys from their favorite sports teams clamored in the packed Hippodrome Theater a few minutes before noon on Friday, shouting excitedly to one another over pop ballads that blared from surround-sound speakers. The VCU basketball team was set to play the Oregon State Beavers in an hour and, while the scene at the Hippodrome Theater could have been mistaken for a pep rally, the students had more than basketball on their minds. In minutes, they would be receiving slim white envelopes that contained their fates for the next three to seven years.

Each year on the third Friday of March, graduating students at all of the medical schools in the country learn where they will complete residency training for their chosen specialties. The national event is an annual rite of passage for future physicians and always includes a costume theme to cut the inherent tension of the afternoon. This year’s theme was “Favorite Sports Team.” 

“Match Day represents the culmination of many years of hard work from high school to college to medical school,” said Chris Woleben, M.D., associate dean of student affairs in the VCU School of Medicine. Standing on the stage of the theater addressing the room of students who were joined by their families and friends, Woleben first congratulated the crowd for the tenacity it took to arrive at that day, and then he began reading names.

“When I opened the envelope my heart stopped,” 26-year-old medical student David Goldberg said. “Then I saw ‘VCU’ and I couldn’t be happier.”

When I opened the envelope my heart stopped.

Goldberg will complete a three-year residency at the VCU Department of Internal Medicine. His father, Martin Goldberg, graduated from VCU School of Medicine in 1978 and completed a residency in internal medicine here in 1983. In addition to his father, David Goldberg was joined on Friday by his sister, a first-year physical therapy student at VCU; his girlfriend, who works at the VCU Office of Health Innovation; and his mother.

“We like Richmond a lot and we like VCU,” David Goldberg said. “VCU was far and away my No. 1 choice.”

Students in the VCU School of Medicine class of 2016 learned where they would match for residency training on Friday. The residency match this year was the largest on record.
Click to view slideshow. Students in the VCU School of Medicine class of 2016 learned where they would match for residency training on Friday. The residency match this year was the largest on record.

Thirty VCU School of Medicine graduates will stay here for the duration of their specialty training, with 13 students completing preliminary training here in either internal medicine or general surgery. Of the 171 VCU students who went through the match process, more than 99 percent had obtained a position in a residency training program by Friday afternoon, greatly exceeding the national average of 93.8 percent.  

The 2016 main residency match was the largest on record, with 35,476 medical school seniors and others applying for 30,750 residency positions across the country. More and more students enter the match program each year, with residency spots growing at a slower rate than students applying for them.

In addition to being the largest match on record, this year’s match included a record-high number of couples. In 1984, a modification to the matching algorithm allowed for two people to match as a couple. The couple matches to the most preferred pair of programs on their rank order lists where each partner has been offered a position.

Students in the VCU School of Medicine class of 2016 learned where they would match for residency training on Friday. The residency match this year was the largest on record.
Students in the VCU School of Medicine class of 2016 learned where they would match for residency training on Friday. The residency match this year was the largest on record.

“It was never a question whether we would do the couple match or not,” Leslie Thompson said of the decision to match with her fiancé, Lucas Coppes. “I knew that I wanted to be in the same city as Lucas and vice versa.”

Thompson and Coppes met during orientation week in their first year of medical school and began dating soon after. The couple will marry on May 7, a week before graduation.

“Throughout this whole process, our biggest priority has been for us to be together,” Coppes said. “That is what we care most about.”

On Friday, the couple were relieved to learn that they will be together in Chicago for the next five years. Thompson will complete a family medicine residency at West Suburban Medical Center and Coppes will practice psychiatry at the University of Chicago.

“Other than the moment of actually getting accepted into medical school, the most important moment for most students is Match Day,” class of 2016 president Peter Ghamarian said. The 25-year-old California native was dressed as San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Ghamarian, who will complete a five-year residency in the Department of Urology at the University of California, Irvine, was one of 17 students who learned where they would match in January. Students matching into urology, ophthalmology and military programs learn of their matches a few months before the other specialties.

More than 40 percent of the VCU students who matched this year will practice in primary care specialties, including 33 in internal medicine, 18 in pediatrics and 19 in family medicine. Other popular specialties included obstetrics and gynecology (15), anesthesiology (12) and emergency medicine (11). 

Classmates Katie Waybill, Fatima Chaudhri, Sheerin Habibullah and Ellie Balakhanlou snap a celebratory selfie after learning where they will spend the next three to seven years for residency training.
Classmates Katie Waybill, Fatima Chaudhri, Sheerin Habibullah and Ellie Balakhanlou snap a celebratory selfie after learning where they will spend the next three to seven years for residency training.

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Students in the VCU School of Medicine class of 2016 learned where they would match for residency training on Friday. The residency match this year was the largest on record.
Click to view slideshow. Students in the VCU School of Medicine class of 2016 learned where they would match for residency training on Friday. The residency match this year was the largest on record.