National Match Day is a milestone for graduating medical students, the day they learn where they will spend the next three to seven years completing their internships and residency training.
And while the annual rite had a different tenor this year, the COVID-19 health crisis underscored for students in Weill Cornell Medical College’s Class of 2020 the value of their roles as physician trainees.
On March 20 in a decorated common room in Lasdon House, a high-rise apartment building for medical students, four of student Karina Ruiz-Esteves’ friends collected her phone, along with those from five of her classmates, to intercept emails sent at noon from the National Resident Matching Program revealing their matches. Then, to imitate the traditional Match Day experience of graduates receiving paper notices of their matches, they handwrote the results, slipped them into envelopes and handed them to their intended recipients.
Ruiz-Esteves opened her envelope: Massachusetts General Hospital for internal medicine, her first choice. “These four years involved a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work, and it paid off,” said Ruiz-Esteves, 26, from Puerto Rico, “not only in my match, but in the great relationships I made.”
This year’s match was the largest on record, with 40,084 graduating allopathic, international and osteopathic medical students from across the country (and Americans studying abroad) competing for some 37,000 residency positions – the most ever offered in Match history, according to the National Resident Matching Program.
While the traditional in-person Match Day celebration hosted on Weill Cornell Medicine’s campus was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fourth-year graduating students found creative ways to celebrate their accomplishments virtually with friends and family, through video chatting, social media and other approaches.
“I know Match Day carries a great deal of significance for our medical students and it has certainly always been a valued tradition here at Weill Cornell Medicine,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “Although we are unable to gather and share in the celebration together, it is precisely times like these that demonstrate what a vital role the medical community plays in our society.”
Each graduating student also received a Weill Cornell Medicine gift bag, which was assembled and hand delivered by second- and third-year students; to minimize contact, students left them at the graduating students’ front doors on March 19. Items inside included a congratulatory letter from Choi, a Weill Cornell Medicine Match Day 2020 T-shirt, cookies shaped like stethoscopes and white coats, and a miniature bottle of champagne.
More than 100 graduating students in Weill Cornell Medical College’s Class of 2020 entered the match this year; 87% secured postgraduate residency positions at institutions ranked in the top 50 by U.S. News and World Report. Of the graduates, 48 will remain in metropolitan New York, including 25 at NewYork-Presbyterian.
Of those, 19 matched to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, four to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center and two to a combined residency on both campuses. Forty students will pursue primary care residencies in internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology.
“Please do embrace this special moment with loved ones and so many others here who supported you,” said Dr. Yoon Kang, senior associate dean for medical education, in a video message. “Congratulations, Class of 2020. You are such a thoughtful and accomplished group, and it’s been an absolute privilege to be part of your journey at Weill Cornell.”
Medical student Graham Winston celebrated his first-choice match to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center’s neurological surgery residency program with his family and girlfriend while at his parents’ house in Scarsdale, New York. There, he shared his accomplishment virtually with his extended family, several of his classmates, and friends he made in the Department of Neurological Surgery.
“I am excited to join a team and start training among the best in the field of neurological surgery,” the 26-year-old said.
While he recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic may make his first year of residency – and perhaps beyond – different from the typical resident experience, he knows he has a community of support behind him and that he’s ready for the challenge.
“Regardless of specialty, this is what we all signed up for,” Winston said. “We all want to help other people and be on the front lines of whatever the health care system is battling. We all became physicians for a reason.”
Kathryn Inman is associate editor and Alyssa Sunkin-Strube is newsroom manager for Weill Cornell Medicine.