Medical students look for ‘Match’

On the tables set inside Harkness Ballroom, only sealed envelopes separated 100 of the School of Medicine’s graduating seniors from their respective fates.

Unlike college or graduate school acceptances that arrive in the privacy of home, medical residency locations — assigned in a process called “The Match” — are revealed to graduating medical students in the company of their classmates, at the same time all across the country. Yale’s Match Day ceremony, held at noon last Thursday, mirrored the mix of fear, anxiety and joy typical of similar events nationwide, administrators and students said. This year’s Match at Yale also reflected an increasing interest in specialties of medicine, administrators said.

Those in attendance said the Harkness Ballroom, where the Match Day envelope-opening took place, was packed to capacity with a jubilant crowd of students, family, friends and faculty as most students were placed in their top-choice programs.

“I would say the students were ecstatic,” School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said. “The students are all going to top programs.”

The students participated in the National Resident Matching Program, which sorts students into residency programs based on their preferences and their rank on lists that each teaching hospital program produces. Yale graduates were only a small portion of the Match, which included a record 15,008 seniors at U.S. medical schools, according to the NRMP. Nationwide, 84.6 percent of participants matched to one of their top three choices, a trend that appears to have been mirrored at Yale.

School-specific statistics are not given out so medical schools would not feel pressure to force students to rank only less-competitive programs, Alpern said.

Only two students participated in the “scramble” on Tuesday, in which those not matched to any program they ranked receive a list of unfilled programs and contact them individually about obtaining a residency slot. Both students had a successful scramble and will still enter the specialized fields they wanted, said Dr. Nancy Angoff, the medical school’s associate dean for student affairs.

“They were in these very competitive areas,” she said. “I was told by the residency directors that they were ranked in a place where historically they would have matched but this year those specialties were so popular that the residency programs didn’t have to go so low on their lists to fill their program.”

Alpern said this year’s match at Yale, like those at other medical schools, was characterized by a surge in the number of applicants to specialized fields rather than the generalist specialties of internal medicine, family medicine and pediatrics. Only 33 students matched in those general fields — down from 43 last year — and Angoff said not all of the 33 will go into primary care after residency; some will likely pursue specialized fellowships, he said.

Brenda Ritson matched in pediatrics at her first choice, Columbia University Medical Center’s program at Children’s Hospital of New York. She said she does not plan to be a primary-care pediatrician, but rather will likely pursue a fellowship in emergency medicine.

Angoff cited radiation oncology, a specialty with only 111 available slots nationwide, as an example of a growing field for Yale graduates. In past years, only one or two students have tried to match in the specialty, but this year saw six such candidates, she said, and she said anesthesiology was also more popular among Yale graduates this year.

But not everyone had to wait until mid-March for acceptance letters. Some of the graduates matching in more specialized fields have known their residency location for several months, since they participated in two non-NRMP matches. Angoff said the early matches placed one student in urology, two in neurology, four in neurosurgery and, in a particularly large increase from last year, seven in ophthalmology.

The specialization trend may have multiple sources, Alpern said.

“You clearly make more money in specialties, but also, people want to be the smartest person at something rather than just knowing a little of everything,” Alpern said.

This year’s class will see fewer graduates staying in Connecticut than last year’s class, Angoff said. Only 13 graduates will remain in New Haven for their entire residency, while last year at least 25 did so. She said the difference is likely due to normal fluctuations from year to year.

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