The stage was set, in a parking lot at FIU, for the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine's (HWCOM) first-ever drive-in Match Day. The celebration was about to begin. And then the rain came threatening to dampen the celebration. But the rain was no match for the students' excitement.
“We started med school in a hurricane [Irma] and ended in a pandemic. A little rainstorm isn't going to do anything to us," said medical student Roshan Bransden before opening the envelope that contained her "match." With a scream and a shimmy, she announced that she'll be continuing her medical training in family medicine at Einstein Medical School/Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
The rain was heavy, and some people got drenched, but fortunately, it was a quick passing shower.
The National Residency Matching Program (The Match) is an organization that "matches" applicants and residency programs in specialized medical fields. The process is complex and highly competitive. More than 48,000 applicants vied for just over 38,000 slots this year—the largest Match on record.
It works like this: first, there's an interview process. Then applicants and programs rank each other in order of preference. Finally, a computer algorithm decides who goes where.
This year, HWCOM students matched into some of the country's most prominent residency programs, including Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital, Yale New Haven Hospital, Duke Medical Center, UCLA, USC-San Francisco, NYU and Baylor.
"I am very proud of our students, in fact, I am super proud," said Dr. Robert Sackstein, HWCOM dean. "This has been a tough year for everyone, but our students showed remarkable perseverance and resilience. They really showed what they can do, and the world will know it soon."
Forty-two percent of the soon-to-be docs will be performing their residencies in Florida. Nearly a quarter will be staying in South Florida after matching into programs at UM/Jackson Memorial Hospital, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic Florida, Nicklaus Children's Hospital and Memorial Healthcare System. This is important because studies show that most young doctors decide to practice close to where they perform their residency training. And there is a nationwide physician shortage, particularly in primary care.
A majority (57 percent) of the graduating class is going into primary care fields: family medicine, internal medicine, OB/GYN, pediatrics, preventive medicine and psychiatry. David Dorcius is one of them. He matched into internal medicine at his dream school, Emory University School of Medicine.
Dorcius is grateful the school found a creative way to celebrate Match Day, despite the pandemic.
"More than graduation, this day is more important to me because you find out the results of years of hard work," he said. "To be able to celebrate it in-person with the ones I love is irreplaceable."
His proud sister, Dr. Daphney Dorcius, tearfully embraced her "little" brother at the ceremony. Dr. Dorcius is an anesthesiology resident at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. She graduated last year from HWCOM and, due to the pandemic, did not get this kind of Match Day experience.
"I understand how important it is for him to celebrate such a big accomplishment," she said.
Last year, the college held a “drive-thru” event. The students drove up to an FIU parking lot and received their match envelopes inside their cars. This year's in-person event was made possible because the med students and most of the staff have been vaccinated. Still, they were asked to follow safe distancing and wear masks.
The first students to come up on stage and open their envelopes were Tori Ehrhardt and partner Aaron Shepherd. The couple matched at Emory University—she in emergency medicine, he in internal medicine. They hugged ecstatically while the crowd cheered and cars honked in celebration. Emory was their No.1 choice.
"Over the moon, completely thrilled, so happy," Ehrhardt beamed. "I can't believe the support FIU HWCOM has provided throughout our four years and especially for this moment. For us to be able to celebrate together.
"Medical students have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic. COVID-19 disrupted the health care system and their medical education. After an extremely challenging year, Match Day was an affirmation of their excellent training and determination.
Erhardt, who lost her mom last summer, said this past year has been the most difficult of her life. "But I got so much support, and I know she is looking down on me, my partner, and the rest of my family, and she's smiling."