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'Match Day' at George Washington University

Jenna Johnson

George Washington University senior medical students sit in a packed auditorium with a white envelope in their hands.

The 172 students are surrounded by their best friends, significant others and family members who traveled from around the country for this very moment. There are blue and gold balloons, bouquets of flowers, cupcakes with thick icing, and glasses of champagne ready for toasting.

It's Match Day. That means when the clock hits noon, they can rip open that envelope and learn which teaching hospital they will spend the next three to seven years of their life as residents. At that exact same moment, about 16,000 other U.S. medical school seniors will do the same.

gwmatchletters.jpgIf they get one of their top picks, there will be screams and hugs. Frantic text messaging and calling. A lower choice means a sinking feeling and an immediate change of plans. Forced smiles and determination.

Either way, tears are inevitable.

"You think of medicine as this sort of traditional field, maybe a little too academic at times," said James L. Scott, dean of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. But the craziness of Match Day "is a celebration across the country."

"Do not open your envelope. I have my eye on you," a woman says from the front of the auditorium.

There's one more minute to go.

Ever since the 1950s, the National Resident Matching Program has played matchmaker for medical school seniors courting the residency programs of their dreams. The matchmakers use a computerized mathematical algorithm that compares the preferences of applicants with the preferences of residency programs. The goal is to make the highest number of people on both sides happy, and more than 80 percent of matched students get one of their top three choices.

Noon hits. Paper rips. Out come bright green pieces of paper -- and a flood of emotions.

Johns Hopkins. Emory. Yale. George Washington. University of Colorado. Washington Hospital Center.

"Loyola!" shouts Anu Bhargaua, 27. It's instant good news for her long-distance boyfriend, Michael Brandt, who is attending law school in Chicago, where Loyola is located. And for her parents, Shail and Bharat Bhargaua, who live in Indiana and can't wait to have their daughter closer to home.

"It's a very exciting moment. We wanted to be here. We needed to be here," said her mother, Shail Bhargaua. "I have been looking forward to this day."

But just steps away another couple tightly embraces. "Can you believe that?" he says as she starts crying. She's headed to Mount Sinai in New York. He's going to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. They had hoped they would both get the same place. They don't want to talk about it.

"It can be the best day of your life or not the best day of your life," says Anu Bhargaua. Her boyfriend gets off his cell phone: "My dad says congratulations."

On Monday, a few George Washington medical students learned that they had not been placed at any residency through the match program. Starting on Tuesday, they began to find one of the remaining open spots in a process called "The Scramble." But 97 percent of George Washington students did get a match during the regular process, Scott said, which is higher than the national average of about 93 percent.

After the rounds of hugs and kisses, photos and phone calls, students began to make the rounds of their friends -- as soon as they see each other, they usually just have to say the name of the hospital.

"Our classes are very small, so everyone knows everyone," said Pia Chowdry, 28, who will be an internal medicine resident at Emory University in Atlanta. "It's a very emotional time."

Slowly, the auditorium empties out. The buzz of chatter and mob of flashbulbs moves outside to a barbecue under white tents, which aren't really needed on such a warm, sunny spring day.

"This is the March Madness of medicine," said Kasra Adham, 25, with a laugh. He's headed to an internal medicine residency at the University of Virginia. "It's a weird system... You make a list, you get a letter and it's one page. And you are bound by law to do it. It's like no other system."

uooma akamagwuna.jpg
George Washington fourth-year medical student Uooma Akamagwuna (left) savors the news contained in her Match Day letter. (Photo courtesy of The George Washington University Medical Center Communications and Marketing)

Anthony Kahn (right) celebrates getting into the internal residency program at University of Colorado in Denver with his friends. (Photo courtesy of The George Washington University Medical Center Communications and Marketing)

Mairo Lami Diolombi (right) won't have to travel far for her residency. She was matched to pathology at George Washington. (Photo courtesy of The George Washington University Medical Center Communications and Marketing)

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By Jenna Johnson  |  March 18, 2010; 6:52 PM ET
Categories:  Real World  | Tags: George Washington  
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