An envelope opens and the near-future crystallizes

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An envelope opens and the near-future crystallizes

On Match Day, euphoria mingles with letdown as medical students learn their residency sites
McKenna Princing

It was a whirlwind of celebration and tears, most of them joyous. On March 21, 222 students graduating from the University of Washington's School of Medicine simultaneously learned, with thousands of peers across the nation, where they will train in residencies for the next three to seven years.

This, finally, was Match Day.

Once matched, there’s no going back; match contracts are binding. The National Resident Matching Program and its destiny-creating algorithm pair each student with a program – usually one that he or she had applied to. Each school's Match Day event marks a new journey and serves as a time for reflection on accomplishments and defining moments.

Meet six of those 222 graduating students, who spoke candidly before the event about why they became doctors and their favorite medical school experiences. Most, though, would not say where they wanted to end up in residency, for fear of jinxing their chances.

McKenna Princing
Juan Ortiz was matched with UC-Riverside. (Click to enlarge.)
Juan Ortiz on Match Day 2014

Juan Ortiz, surgery. Match: University of California, Riverside

Why medicine?
“I grew up in Mexico and moved to the U.S. by myself when I was 19; I didn’t know a word of English. All I wanted to do was save money and help my parents back home, but I got to see how difficult it was for undocumented people here to access care. I thought, ‘I can do something about this, and might as well give it a try.’”
You participated in the Harvard Visiting Research Internship Program. What was that like?
“We looked at discharge instructions for patients and I realized I couldn’t understand what the instructions written in Spanish wanted me to do. I found out that they had been put in Google translate, and it interested me that this was happening at one of the best hospitals in the country. I want to continue doing research to figure out health disparities.”

McKenna Princing
Sarah Ordway takes in the moment. (Click to enlarge.)
Sarah Ordway on Match Day 2014

Sarah Ordway, internal medicine. Military Match: Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD

You’re in the army; how is a military match different?
“The military match runs similarly to the civilian match, but you can only match into programs for your branch of the military. There are only six army internal medicine programs. I found out in December that I matched with Walter Reed.”

Your husband is in the army, too, and you’ve been separated for a while.
“We lived in SeaTac for my first year of medical school. During my second year, he got deployed to Afghanistan. He came back here for a few months during my third year but then got moved to Louisiana, and he’s been there since. We’re finally going to be together in Bethesda.”

McKenna Princing
Isis Smith was matched with Brigham and Women's Hospital. (Click to enlarge.)
Isis Smith at UW's Match Day 2014

Isis Smith, internal medicine. Match: Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston

Why medical school?
“I’m from Brazil and at one time lived in Manaus, in the Amazon, without sanitation or electricity. I had a lot of personal experience with my mom being sick and not being able to find good care for her. When I came to the U.S., at 18 and without my family, I had this idea that I wanted to do medicine; when we were in Brazil it didn’t seem like something I could do because we were so poor. I expected everyone here to have good care, but for immigrants like myself care here is often worse. I thought this would be the perfect place for me to provide care for those who don’t have it.”

Where do you volunteer?
“I’m project director for RotaCare in Lake City. We see homeless individuals, immigrants. It’s a free clinic. Our mission is serving populations that otherwise wouldn’t have any care.”

Pamela and Richard Wallace
Ryan Wallace and Natalie Hale were matched with Yale-New Haven Hospital. (Click to enlarge.)
Ryan Wallace and Natalie Hale at Match Day in Spokane

Natalie Hale, internal medicine, and Ryan Wallace, psychiatry. Couple Match: Yale-New Haven Hospital

You met during medical school.
Natalie: “We both took an international elective at different places in Asia, and ended up on the same flight back from Korea.”
Ryan:  “I was sick and all I wanted to do was sleep, but she sat down across the aisle and we ended up talking the entire flight.”
Natalie: “And now we’re getting married in May!”
What’s a favorite memory from medical school?
Natalie: “I had a patient who came in to Harborview Medical Center and unfortunately didn’t make it. My team allowed me to take charge with the end-of-life discussion with the family and work with the palliative care team at Harborview. The family were realistic and dedicated to their loved one.”
Ryan: “A lot of the time, deaths we see are handled in a way where families are able to make a difficult situation better.”

McKenna Princing
Sage Coe Smith brimmed with excitement. (Click to enlarge.)
Sage Coe Smith on Match Day

Sage Coe Smith, family medicine. Match: McKay-Dee Hospital, Ogden, UT
Why family medicine?
“In my third year of medical school, I participated in the WWAMI Rural Integrated Training Experience and spent five months in Hailey, Idaho. That was a turning point for me in realizing what family medicine looks like. I built lasting relationships within the community, and I loved running into patients at the coffee shop. For me, the relationships with patients make practicing medicine worthwhile.”
Your funniest medical school experience:
“I was taking care of an 8-year-old with a skin infection and asked if she had any questions. She asked me, ‘If you were a smell, what would you be?’ I said I would be the smell of the Yellowstone hot springs, one of my favorite places to go from childhood, and she was not impressed.”

Check out more Match Day action on Storify