At ‘Match Day,’ Thomas Jefferson med students learn their futures in person — for the first time since the pandemic
At Thomas Jefferson and the nation's other medical schools, Match Day is a rite of passage during which soon-to-be graduates find out where they will be doing their residency — their hospital 'match.'
David Wilson didn’t want to say where he hoped to be working as a doctor, but the Thomas Jefferson University medical school student was willing to say this about his No. 1 choice: “It’s whatever is in the envelope.”
Friday was “Match Day” at Jefferson and the nation’s other 155 accredited medical schools, a rite of passage during which soon-to-be graduates open envelopes and find out where they will be doing their residencies — their hospital “match.” It’s a competitive process, and for the last two years, students haven’t been able to gather to celebrate the result because of the pandemic. Last year, the ceremony was held via Zoom, and the March before that, in 2020, the world was nearly at a standstill.
But on Friday, champagne flowed. Flowers and balloons were in abundance. Students were joined by parents, siblings, and friends, and shouts of joy — albeit through masks — were in the air.
“I’m going to Cincinnati!” Wilson, 28, of Ventnor, N.J., yelled as he ripped open his envelope and hugged his mother.
That’s the University of Cincinnati, where he will pursue his specialty, emergency medicine. The university has the distinction of being the oldest residency program in emergency management in the country, founded in 1970.
“It happens to really be my No. 1 choice,” he said, pulling a University of Cincinnati mug from a bag and pouring into it a Miller Lite.
He said he suspected — and hoped — he might get in there. But he had a couple other props from other schools among his choices in the bag, too. Just in case.
Mark Tykocinski, Jefferson provost and medical school dean, stood among several hundred students and family members as the revelry unfolded.
“This is coming back to life,” he said. “You look at the energy and the positivity. These are the students who have overcome a pandemic themselves and they’re going on to do great things.”
The 259 Jefferson students — one of the largest medical school classes in the country — were just about to begin their clinical rotations and practice as doctors for the first time when the virus brought the world to a standstill.
“There was a period when we were just sitting at home, waiting for the next steps, and that was very stressful,” said Sarah Stuccio, 28, of Pittston, whose specialty is neurology.
Students eventually began their clinical work as hospitals adjusted.
“Basically all of our clinical experience has been in a masked-up world,” Wilson said.
Wayne Bond Lau, a Thomas Jefferson emergency physician and assistant dean of student affairs, said students definitely missed out on some rotations as people with other medical problems did not come to the hospital in the earlier months of the pandemic.
“For a time period, we weren’t seeing a lot of patients with heart or GI issues, because everybody was here with COVID,” he said. “I think that has an impact. What it means is still yet to be seen. But I can tell you that everybody here is very cognizant of that, and our teachers are top notch. They’ve really done their very best to make sure students have a balanced experience for the benefit of their patients.”
Students also saw how the virus highlighted the importance of medicine, perhaps like never before.
“The stakes are higher in medicine now with the pandemic,” Stuccio said. “Being able to get in on the first floor of it, at least for me, made it a more meaningful experience.”
Stuccio learned she was among the 28% of students who matched with Jefferson.
“I’m so excited that I get to stay at an institution that I really love,” she said. “Philadelphia is like a great city, so I’m happy to be staying.”
Rosetta Campbell, 32, who is from Mississippi, said she was happy to learn she would be moving closer to home. She matched with the University of South Alabama for her specialty, pathology.
She and her mother, Carla Williams, gripped each other’s hands in celebration.
“I’m so proud of her,” Williams said.
Williams used to work as a medical technologist in the pathology department at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and took her daughter to work sometimes.
“That’s where she fell in love,” Williams said. “It’s always been her dream.”
More than 40% of the class — the highest percentage — is going into primary care, including Toni Okuboyejo, 25, who was born in Houston but has gone back and forth between Nigeria, where she also has family, and the United States.
Okuboyejo said she has wanted to be a doctor, like her father, since she was 10. Before she opened her envelope, she said she was hoping to stay on the East Coast.
She got her wish. She matched with Jefferson.
“I’m excited for the future of medicine,” she said, “and just to see where my career will go.”