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Match Madness

Raphael Karkowski, a fourth-year medical student at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), wasn’t sure if it was nerves or just a sugar rush from brunch. Whatever it was, he knew his heartbeat was picking up its pace.

Like thousands of other fourth-year medical students across the country, including his twin brother at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Karkowski was anticipating what many call the most pivotal moment of their medical education: Match Day.

Held on March 16 this year, Match Day marks the transition between medical school and residency. Students nationwide simultaneously receive and open envelopes naming the institution where they will be spending at least the next three years of their lives. At GW, students, faculty, family, and friends all gathered in Ross Hall to celebrate the occasion.

“You matched at some incredible places across the United States of America — including the George Washington University,” said Yolanda Haywood, M.D., assistant dean for Student and Curricular Affairs and associate professor of Emergency Medicine at SMHS, at the ceremony.

In the many months prior to Match Day, students toiled away on applications and interviewed for residency slots at institutions across the country. They then submitted their top choices to the National Residency Matching Program, which uses a computer system to “match” students based on their rankings and those of the residency programs.

As per rules set by the National Residency Matching Program, students cannot open the letters stating their matches until noon on Match Day.

At GW, when the clock struck noon, the students — who were dressed in t-shirts and accessories signifying their intended specialty — tore into their envelopes. Cheers, tears, and champagne toasts ensued.

“Columbia!” said a relieved Rahul Vanjani, who matched to his first choice, an internal medicine residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University Medical Center.

Vanjani’s family, including his sister and SMHS alumnus Rachna Vanjani, was on hand to help him celebrate. “We are so proud,” said Sunita Vanjani, their mother. “He deserves it. He has chosen a great profession.”

Across the room, another family celebrated. Joe Gordon and his fiancée, Bahareh Tavana, both matched to their top choices. “We’re going to California!” said Gordon, who will be completing an internal medicine residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Tavana matched to a pediatrics residency at UCLA Medical Center.

The pair met on the first day of SMHS orientation and began dating soon after. “It was love at first sight for one of us,” joked Gordon, whose younger sister, Laura, is also in their class. Laura Gordon matched at her top choice, a pediatrics residency at UC- Irvine Medical Center.

Joe Gordon and Tavana had entered into a “couples match,” an option that linked their submissions so that they would be placed in the same city. They are getting married in May.

Karkowsky and his twin also could have opted for the “couples” setup, but decided against it. Karkowsky was matched to an internal medicine residency at Thomas Jefferson. “I’m really happy,” he said.

Overall, students at SMHS were matched to dozens of prestigious institutions across the country, including Einstein/Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, the University of Chicago Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Fourteen students will continue their training at GW.

“Congratulations,” said Jeff Akman, M.D., interim vice president for Health Affairs and dean of SMHS. “We are incredibly proud of you.”

The most popular specialty was internal medicine, followed by anesthesiology and pediatrics.

“I want to remind you as you move to the next phase of your training that you will forever represent this institution,” said Dr. Haywood. “Keep doing what you’re doing, and we know you will represent us in a way that will make us proud.”