Gordon Hall’s second-floor hallway was alive with the chatter of more than 100 medical students catching up with classmates and renewing old acquaintances as they waited to be summoned past a cluster of colorful balloons, up a short flight of stairs, and into Room 213 where their futures waited.
The students, members of Harvard Medical School’s 2007 graduating class, were taking part in an annual ritual Thursday (March 15) where medical students around the country find out in which hospitals they’ll be continuing their medical training as residents.
Once a year, the National Resident Matching Program announces the results of its work: a match between preferences of medical students for hospitals and specialties and those of hospitals for residents in certain fields. The result has become a medical school rite of passage called Match Day. Even in this Internet age, when the matches are posted on the Internet an hour after the envelopes are handed out at medical schools, students still line up to find out what their future holds.
“This is the most important day. It’s the moment when your future begins and you see a path,” said Harvard Medical School Dean for Students Nancy Oriol. “It’s equal to the day when you get your acceptance to medical school.”
Of the 188 students in Harvard Medical School’s Class of 2007, 107 will remain in Massachusetts — 104 in Harvard Medical School-affiliated programs. Another 32 are heading to California, while 13 will head to New York. Internal medicine is the most popular specialty, the choice of 60 students, or roughly a third of the class. At the other end of the spectrum, no students entered residency programs for neurosurgery while just one entered an oral surgery residency.
The students began to line up before noon, eventually filling the hallway, their voices echoing through the corridor and up and down the large staircase that opened onto it. Risha Irby and Nathan Irvin waited nervously together, planning to get engaged soon and hoping that the match put them at nearby hospitals as they requested.
“Your whole life essentially can change; it’s better to know earlier than later,” Irvin said, when asked why he lined up instead of waiting an hour and finding out on the Internet. “You do get nostalgic. There are memories here. We see everybody and how we’ve grown over the four years.”
Irby reflected a bit on her years at Harvard Medical School, saying she grew a lot, shifting from an interest in surgery to one in primary care, taking a year off to get a master’s degree in public health.
“It’s been wonderful. Harvard has been very supportive and given me a lot of opportunities,” Irby said.
Down the line, Laura Nason spoke for many medical students whose hospital choices were in widely separated parts of the country. Not only was Nason wondering what hospital she’d work in, she was also wondering where she’d live.
“I applied all over the place,” Nason said. “I’m definitely anxious.”
Mike McLellan of Cambridge isn’t a medical student, but he was in line nonetheless, and nervous to boot. McLellan was standing in for his daughter, Megan, who was in Mexico and anxiously waiting to hear where she’d be spending the next several years: Boston, Seattle, San Diego, or Iowa. McLellan and several of Megan’s friends had gathered to collect her envelope with the match results and call her in Mexico.
At noon, the first students were summoned. Within minutes the hall was full of smiling, hugging students, talking excitedly to each other and into cell phones, hands pressed hard to their other ear against the din around them.
Among those smiling were Irby and Irvin, who had each gotten their top choices: hospitals in and around San Francisco. Mike McLellan nervously held his daughter’s match envelope, waiting until he reached her on the phone to open it. He and several of Megan’s classmates finally got through and let her know she matched to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for a seven-year residency program.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work; this is not to be missed,” McLellan said.