Match Day 2019 Generates Cheers and Tears from the Miller School’s Graduating Class

“It looks like we only have five minutes to go,” Henri R. Ford, M.D., MHA, dean and chief academic officer of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said to the excited crowd at Match Day 2019. “Unfortunately, I brought a 15-minute speech.” The groans had barely begun when he flashed his big smile and said, “Just kidding,” generating laughter and applause. Still he used the time he had to great effect.

The excited Class of 2019 rush to claim their match envelopes.

“We are so very proud of you,” he told the 180 members of the Miller School Class of 2019 who were about to learn what residency programs they had matched with. “You are the most successful class in our history. We expect you to go out and change the future of medicine!”

If he hoped to say more, he was drowned out by the final countdown: “10, 9, 8, 7 …”

At the stroke of noon, the fourth-year Miller School students — just as those at every medical school across the country were also doing that very moment — tore open their sealed envelopes to learn where they will spend the next few years of their training, and maybe their entire career.

Then, marked by the sounds of exploding confetti and bursting balloons, pandemonium ensued. Almost every medical student had brought family, friends, or both, and the collective screams, cheers, whistles, joyful jumping, and tearful embraces momentarily shook the tent set up on the Schoninger Research Quadrangle.

Match Day was about more than just acceptance to a residency program. Most students hoped to be accepted by a specific program in their specialty. Many wished to return to their home city. Or, in a few cases, couples wanted to be matched together.

“Match Day is one of the most memorable days in a medical student’s career. I still remember mine vividly,” said Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., Bernard J. Fogel Chair in Medical Education, senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, and a 1994 alumnus of the Miller School. “We’re very proud of our graduates, because many of them will be leaving for some of the most prestigious institutions in the country. Our students are much in demand, because they get tremendous clinical experience here and are ready for residency on Day One. Still, 20 to 30 percent remain here, and we love that, too. We like to keep our best and brightest here.”

Here are the numbers for the Class of 2019:

• 21 percent will be staying for a Jackson or UM residency

• 30 percent are staying in the state of Florida for some component of their training

• Desired medical specialties with an uptick over last year are internal medicine, 22 percent (up 3); pediatrics, 9 percent (up 2); orthopaedics, 4 percent (up 2); and urology, 3 percent (up 1).

• Primary care fields (inclusive of OB/GYN) total 46 percent (up 8)

• 51 percent of M.D./MPH students chose primary care fields (inclusive of OB/GYN), compared with 43 percent in the M.D. program

Eva Williams typified the upbeat mood of her classmates. The St. Petersburg, Florida native, who is in the M.D./MPH program, was matched with her first choice — an integrated plastic surgery program at the University of Southern California.

“It’s a surreal moment,” she said, “a combination of excitement, achievement, and relief at the end of a long but rewarding journey. It was years of hard work and sleepless nights, but we made it as a class, and we look forward to what’s next. That’s what we’re all celebrating together.”

Williams believes physicians play a special role — one she also hopes to play.

“They have the ability to not only effect change and help patients on an individual level, but also have an impact on the families those patients are part of, and the community they live in,” she said. “I believe that’s a role I can play, too.”

Addison Fortunel is headed to Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., for a residency in neurological surgery. The Haitian native, who grew up in West Palm Beach, and whose family now lives in Maryland, is graduating from the Miller School’s M.D. program.

“The biggest challenge for me was not knowing anyone in the medical field,” he said. “Getting to know physicians and faculty here at the Miller School helped me choose my specialty, but it also enabled me to meet people I could aim to be like. Immersing myself in the community — especially through the DOCS program — gives you a different relationship with patients. You don’t just see them in the hospital, and I have learned that I like to take ownership of my patients. The experience I have had here also has included research and teaching, which has inspired me to go into an academic practice in the future. My most important lesson, however, has been this: With dedication, anything is possible.”

Lukas Gaffney is going home. The Boston native who loves kids is bound for a pediatrics residency at Boston Children’s Hospital, his first choice.

“For me, it has always been pediatrics,” he said. “I always loved working with kids — in fact, almost every job I ever had growing up was working with kids. I was a baby sitter for other kids in the area, and at summer camp I was a counselor. I connect with them naturally. These are my people, and pediatrics is where I belong. After my residency, I would like to do a fellowship in pediatric intensive care or pediatric emergency medicine — probably something hospital-based.”

Gaffney, who is in the M.D./MPH program, also wants his career to fall into the intersection of medicine and public health.

“I don’t consider them to be separate entities,” he said. “I believe that working in public health makes you a better physician.”

Gaffney praises his training at the Miller School — especially because of Miami’s diversity.

“Miami is a really vibrant community,” he said, “and the population at Jackson is very interesting. You learn to be a really well-rounded physician able to treat anyone from anywhere. Now I know where I’m going next. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time.”

Gaffney paused for a moment in the midst of the Match Day crowd, as a woman walking by carrying a baby caught his eye.

“I can’t wait,” he said.

Holly Cohan is remaining in Miami for a neurology residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. A student in the M.D./Ph.D. program, she says it has been a long time coming.

“I started medical school in 2011,” she said, “and I had my daughter when I was in my third year of medical school. You learn to really appreciate time management. I think it also gives you another way to connect with patients, because so many of them have the same challenges you do.”

Cohan chose the dual program because she envisions a career that is 80 percent research and 20 percent clinical.

“When you work with a patient one-on-one, you are helping that one patient improve their life,” she said. “When you work in research, you have the potential to help many patients you will never see, yet you will have a real impact on their lives.”

Cohan chose neurology, because her interest kept building.

“The pathologies that you see are very interesting,” she said. “When someone has a neurological deficit, it’s usually pretty substantial. You can see it, and you can really appreciate it. At the same time, there can be real subtleties. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. That’s what drove me to my field.”

Cohan talks of Match Day as part of the culmination of a long process.

“There’s a lot of excitement, because we have worked so hard all of our lives to reach this one pinnacle moment to become a doctor,” she said. “There’s always a little anxiety, but now, I think, we’re all grown up and ready.”

A gallery of photos from Match Day is available here.