Match Day and how each medical school celebrates

by Brian Eule

While the debate continues to rage over the health care reform bill in Washington D.C., today at Noon Eastern time, the newest class of 15,000-plus graduating medical students will get their marching orders, beginning their lives working in medicine.

It’s called Match Day and each year, on the third Thursday of March, the nation’s graduating medical school students gather with their classmates and wait for an envelope with their name on it.

Match Day is the culmination of four years of study, and months of an intense process leading up to this moment. These students have applied to hospitals and residency programs, selecting the field of medicine they hope to work in, the city they hope to live in. They have interviewed with doctors and program directors. They have created lists ranking their top choices, as have the residency programs, submitting it to a computer program to make their match. And they have waited, wondering where they will work and train in just a few short months after their medical school graduations. Today, inside those envelopes, a fragment of a sentence on a single sheet of paper, will inform them where they will begin this important stage of their lives.

Each medical school has its own tradition as to how the envelopes are handed out—some providing a mad dash to various corners of a room where staff members have divided the piles; others using a slow, nerve-wracking yet thrilling manner of calling students to the front of the room one by one. At Eastern Virginia Medical School, students dress in costumes, lightening the mood and adding to a party atmosphere. At Vanderbilt, they broadcast the ceremony online to any friends and family unable to attend. Often, the students are not alone. Spouses wonder where they will move, and children await the reactions on their parents’ faces.

Then they open the envelopes.

At the same hour today, screams, tears, hugs, and shouts of joy will erupt from rooms across the country. Much of the future of their field will remain unknown, as the country works through health care reform. But for the country’s newest class of doctors, today will give them a little more information as to their futures as doctors. And what awaits in their immediate future are long hours of intense training, sleepless nights of residency, and the rewards and responsibilities of caring for the lives of others.

Brian Eule is the author of Match Day: One Day and One Dramatic Year in the Lives of Three New Doctors.

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