For the second consecutive year, medical students across the country, including at George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, celebrated Match Day COVID-19 style — virtually.
Fourth-year students at SMHS and their friends and family from around the world tuned in to a Facebook Live event earlier this month led by Katherine Chretien, associate dean for student affairs, and Lorenzo Norris, associate dean of student affairs and administration.
“We are so happy you can be here with us witnessing the incredible accomplishments of our senior medical students today, when medical students across the country find out where they’ll be headed for residency,” Chretien told the online audience.
The Class of 2021 matched in some of the most significant residency programs across 32 states, including residencies at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s National Hospital (Children’s National), the Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai Hospital and the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, as well as 11 members of the class who matched at GW Hospital.
“I’ve seen the list already,” Barbara L. Bass, MD, RESD ’86, GW vice president for health affairs, dean of SMHS, and CEO of The GW Medical Faculty Associates, told the class in the moments leading up to noon, the time that students traditionally learn their match and where they will continue their training as physicians.
“Boy, we have wonderful, wonderful things in store for all of you all over this great country. We could not be prouder of your incredible accomplishments.”
GW’s own residency programs filled all 103 available spots during the initial match process, according to Harold Frazier, MD, associate dean for graduate medical education and professor of urology. “That is a good sign that we are a very healthy [graduate medical education program],” Frazier said.
In the weeks leading up to the momentous occasion, each student made a rank list of where they would like to do residency training, as did residency programs from across the county
“This year has been a particularly challenging for all of us with a pandemic before our fourth-year students,” said Chretien. In addition to the uncertainty of the pandemic, the Class of 2021 had to navigate schedule disruptions, COVID-19 restrictions on away rotations, and their residency interviews had to be held virtually.
Dean Bass added, “We are so grateful for your resilience, for your passion, for what you do and for the wonderful ambassadors [for GW] that you will be when you're entering the training programs. I thank you for all the hard work you've put into this.”
Leading up to noon, faculty members from across the school’s departments offered congratulations and advice to the students.
“When you get that envelope or that email that you matched, I want you to be thankful in advance for the place that is written there, not just for the opportunities that it can afford you, like research or fellowship opportunities, but also be thankful in advance for the lives that you will touch and the people for whom you will make a difference,” Andrea Anderson, MD, associate chief of the Division of Family Medicine, reminded the class. “Always remember to fight for health equity. Keep being the voice of the voiceless and amplify the issues that matter.”
Kirsten Brown, PhD, associate professor of anatomy and cell biology, offered suggestions to help maintain some work-life balance and offer time to regenerate during the sometimes-grueling hours of residency. “Hire a cleaning service or a maid or really just outsource your life as much as possible,” she said. “I know that seems funny, and it kind of is, but that kind of practical advice is going to pair well with all of the other advice that you're going to get about being amazing physicians.”
Unlike their counterparts who had to wait midway through the spring semester to learn what their future held in store, students entering urology, ophthalmology, and the military match programs learned of their residency placements in early January.
“It’s definitely a more personalized process,” explained Katina Kartalias, a member of the Health Professions Scholarship Program and an Ensign in the United States Navy who will be promoted to Lieutenant upon graduation. “As a military student, I was able to go to my away rotations last summer. I got to see all three military hospitals and compare them.”
Kartalias matched at her top choice, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in orthopaedic surgery. “Honestly, at the end of the day, what drew me was the great residents and attendings. That made my decision an easy one.”
Ciara Brown, who was among five students in the newly revamped MD combined degree program and will graduate with both an MD and a master’s degree in public health, found the virtual match interviews difficult to get a good feel for programs. She entered the process with a long list of things she felt might be important — curriculum attributes, clinical exposure, area cost of living, etc. “In the end, I think it came down to location and where I felt I could receive great training and be the best version of myself. I looked for a supportive environment in the hospital and a place where I could build a community outside of work as well.”
“I’m ecstatic to have matched at my number 1 choice and to be continuing my training here in Washington, D.C., at Children’s National Hospital!” she said after the event. “I don’t think it completely sank in until a few hours after opening the email. … I’m looking forward to serving the District’s children and families as a Children’s National resident.”
For Daniel Thomas Jr., who matched in his “dream specialty,” emergency medicine, at Mount Sinai Hospital, the convenience of virtual interviews, outweighed any of the disadvantages. “I actually really enjoyed the virtual format,” the South Bend, Indiana, native noted. “I also enjoyed seeing how programs tried to make the virtual format feel better and more welcoming. Each program did something a little bit different.”
Thomas served for more than two years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, and was member of a cardiology research team at Yale, so when he applied for Emergency Medicine residencies, he looked for programs that were stronger in global health located in large, diverse cities. He took advantage of GW’s broad alumni reach, with GW graduates in residencies across the country, to bridge the information gaps.
“Mount Sinai in NYC was among my top choices from the beginning. I have two good friends who went to GW who are interns there now. It was game-changing that I was able to call and hear about the program.”