After years of preparation, Stanford medical students ‘match’ to residency programs

Match Day
Graduating medical students Grace Laidlaw, Tom Roberts and Grace Hunter compare results on Match Day at the Stanford School of Medicine. (Photo: John Green)

At 8:55 a.m., as NURIEL MOGHAVEM got up from his table to accept the sealed, red envelope with his future hidden inside, his two younger brothers punched him in the shoulder — for luck. The neurologist-in-training was, for the moment, at loose ends.

“Oh yeah, now I’m nervous,” said Moghavem, taking deep breaths and staring at his shoes while his brothers grinned at him from behind.

He was one of 70 soon-to-be graduating Stanford medical students who recently took part in Match Day at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. Thousands of other medical students across the United States were, at the same moment, also waiting to find out where they would be spending the next three or more years of their lives as residents. The scene was nerve-wracking.

“You kind of put all your eggs in one basket, and today you’re going to see if they hatch,” said KELSEY HIROTSU, who dressed up in heels and curls to find out where she would be matching in dermatology. Her parents’ flight from Ohio was delayed due to bad weather, and her mom was “freaking out,” Hirotsu said, laughing as she repeated her mom’s frenzied cry, “We’re not going to be there for the envelopes!”

LLOYD MINOR, dean of the School of Medicine, opened the ceremonies, applauding the accomplishments of the students and congratulating them. “You’re embarking upon a tremendously exciting period in your career and your life of medicine,” he said. “Congratulations to all of you.”

Next, CHARLES PROBER, senior associate dean for medical education, took the podium to start the countdown.

“The envelopes cannot be opened, anywhere in the country, until 9 a.m. Pacific time,” Prober told the crowd of students, families, friends and advisers seated at tables in Berg Hall. With several minutes left to wait, Prober described for the crowd some of the history of Match Day.

The matching process is a tradition that dates back to 1952, with residency assignments ultimately 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. It’s a roughly yearlong process for medical students who, in their final year of medical school, fill out applications in the summer, then travel across the country to interviews in the fall. This year’s students logged maybe a million frequent flier miles, traveling to a thousand or so interviews, Prober said.

Then, with just one minute left before the big moment, Prober gave the crowd a few clues as to what was waiting inside the soon-to-be opened envelopes. The 70 students would be matching into 20 different disciplines. About 47 percent were matching into general disciplines, such as family medicine and pediatrics, while the remaining 53 percent were matching into sub-specialties, such as neurology, plastic surgery and ophthalmology.

“Sixty-six percent are going to two states: California and Harvard,” Prober said — Harvard traditionally is a popular matching spot for Stanford students — to laughter from the crowd. “Twenty-nine percent are staying at Stanford.”

Finally, Prober started counting down the seconds: “Ten, nine, eight ….” At exactly 9 a.m., the students began ripping open their envelopes, and the screams erupted, followed by hugs, tears and dozens of photos.

“I’m so happy, so happy!” yelled Hirotsu, who matched in dermatology, hugging her classmate and friend MONICA COUGHLAN, both in tears. “I’m going to Stanford.” Coughlan matched in orthopedic surgery at the University of California-San Francisco.

As for Moghavem, he took his time. He watched as emotion erupted around the room, then with his parents and brothers gathered close around, he carefully opened his envelope with shaking hands, read the letter, nodded his head and hugged his mom. He matched at Stanford, his first choice.

Read more on the School of Medicine website.