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Match Day caps med school years

Graduating medical students across the country, including those at UCSD School of Medicine, counted down the minutes to 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 20. The day was Match Day, a national event during which medical school graduates learn, all at once, where they will complete their residency training.

“It’s like applying for a job,” said Joyce Felder, registrar for the UCSD School of Medicine.

The process begins during the students’ summer quarter when they narrow down their choices for residency programs. Applications are completed, interviews are conducted, then both students and hospitals list their top choices.

The actual decision is made by a computer in Washington, D.C. The automated process takes all of about 35 minutes, but the results are not revealed until Match Day.

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“It’s a little anxiety-provoking,” Felder said.

The UCSD School of Medicine 2008 graduating class has 125 students, 51 of whom are women. Their specialties run the gamet from internal medicine, the most popular, to pathology to neurosurgery to anesthesiology.

“It’s a big occasion,” Felder said, gesturing to orderly rows of white envelopes. “There’s four years worth of work sitting on this table.”

Christine Montesa, 26, was especially eager to open her envelope, hoping she had been accepted to Stanford’s cardiothoracic program. Because it’s the only program of its type in the country, the residency is limited to two students.

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“Most people have to go through general surgery, then do a cardiothoracic fellowship,” Montesa said.

Raised on a farm and naturally curious about anatomy, Montesa became focused on thoracic surgery after working with her mentor, Dr. Michael Madani.

“It’s easy for the doctors to get this God complex,” Montesa said, “but he’s very humble and calm and always willing to teach.”

Husband-and-wife students Wesley Tran, 32, and Ann Ha, 26, were hoping for residencies in Los Angeles in order to be close to family.

The National Residency Matching Program allows students to link their lists, such as spouses and siblings.

Tran, who wants to go into orthopedic surgery, and Ha, who wants to be a pediatrician, have found marriage to be more of an advantage in completing medical school than a disadvantage.

“For us, since the day we met, we’ve studied together,” Ha said. “I felt like he was with me the whole time.”

After the envelopes were opened, shouts and congratulations exchanged, and disappointments buried, students marked their residency destinations on a large map of the United States. Most of the students, 74 percent, were assigned residencies in California, with 27 students remaining at their alma mater, including Montesa.

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“I’m excited,” she said. “I knew that Stanford was very competitive. UCSD was very high on my list.”

For Tran and Ha, the match results were better than they hoped. Not only are they in the same city, they will be completing their residencies at the same hospital: Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance.

They immediately called their families to share the good news.

“They’re screaming,” Tran said, laughing. “They’re happy for us.”