Vernissia Tam gulped down half a glass of champagne at noon Friday and prepared to scream. She was about to find out what kind of doctor she would become, and where she would train.
"No peeking," a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine official told the Class of 2013. "The diplomas aren't printed yet."
After a countdown from 10 that took all of three seconds, Tam and her classmates broke the seals on letters revealing their fates, jumping into one another's arms for an embrace and congratulations. For Tam, it proclaimed a general surgery residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. And 267 other graduating medical students in Baltimore were matched with residency programs across the country.
About 18,000 graduating medical school students across the country — including those at Baltimore's two medical schools — celebrated Match Day, according to the National Resident Matching Program. More than half of U.S. students who received a match got the one at the top of their list of choices, which they rank and are chosen for based on interviews and academic records.
Many at Hopkins said they weren't nervous as they awaited the noon ceremony. Given the institution's stature, its graduates are known for getting their top choices.
"I'd be extremely happy with any of them," said Lila Worden, before learning she is bound for Massachusetts General Hospital to train in child neurology. "It's an exciting time to see the end on the horizon."
Still a top medical education association expressed concern about those students who didn't receive a residency match Friday, given a projected shortage of doctors, particularly in primary care, within the next decade. This year, a growing number of graduates are opting for primary care, addressing some of those needs.
But at Hopkins and at another ceremony across town at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, it was a moment for joy, and passion for various medical specialties. Many students were overjoyed to learn they landed at their top choices.
"Passion goes a long way," said Dr. Thomas Koenig, associate dean for student affairs at Hopkins. "It makes it easy to meet the responsibilities. People come to medical school because they want to make a difference in people's lives."
Dozens of Hopkins students won't be moving far after graduation, landing residencies at Johns Hopkins Hospital or Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Among them were partners Matthew Huddle and John Zampella, who began dating during medical school and chose their match rankings with the hope that they could end up in the same place. A record high of 935 couples across the country registered for the match jointly.
"This morning I woke up and thought, 'Gosh, I hope we stay here,' " said Zampella, who will specialize in dermatology. Huddle will train in otolaryngology, also known as ear, nose and throat.
Nationally, about 6,300 graduating seniors matched in "primary care" fields — internal medicine, pediatrics and family medicine — about 300 more than last year. One thousand new internal medicine residency positions were added this year, according to the matching organization. Primary care doctors are seen as key in controlling chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that drive up U.S. health care costs.
For some students, the opportunity to help adults manage and prevent those conditions was a draw. University of Maryland School of Medicine students Kevin Affum and Novlette Akinseye, engaged with an April 21 wedding date, both matched in internal medicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and said they were looking forward to exploring options within the specialty, including primary care.
"There's definitely a need for primary care," Akinseye said. "I know that I am probably leaning toward that side."
"It puts me in a position to really educate people for health conditions that are so devastating on the U.S. population," Affum said.
The American Association of Medical Colleges meanwhile expressed dismay about qualified students who did not receive a match. Association CEO Dr. Darrell G. Kirch called it "cause for significant concern" and a demonstration of "the urgent need to increase federal support for graduate medical education." The association argues for federal funding for more residency positions. Competition for desired slots is steep because there are more applicants than there are slots.
About 14,000 of more than 40,000 applicants from U.S. and foreign medical schools for U.S. residency positions did not receive a match. No Hopkins or University of Maryland students who applied for a match failed to receive one.
Students who didn't get a match can apply for about 1,000 positions that went unfilled.
For many students, Match Day was cause for celebration, but without much suspense. For students seeking residencies in ophthalmology, urology and in the military, matches were revealed earlier.
Heather Chalfin will train in urology at Hopkins Hospital, her first choice of specialty and location because of the possibilities to use technology such as da Vinci surgical robots. After studying as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University with a biology major and abstract math minor, Chalfin said, she was excited to bring an interdisciplinary focus to medicine.
"That's how you solve problems and do great things," said Chalfin, a 2005 graduate of Centennial High School.
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