Medical students find out residencies at Match Day

Twins William and Raphael "Rafi" Karkowsky have always shared life's best moments.

That was true again Friday when the brothers and best friends learned where they would begin their careers as doctors.


They were among nearly 16,000 medical students nationwide who opened Match Day letters and learned where they would conduct postgraduate study. More than 95 percent of students were matched with residency positions, the highest rate in 30 years, according to the National Resident Match Program.

The students enter medicine as health care reform could transform the industry and medical schools grapple with the expected shortage of doctors in years to come.


The brothers both wanted residencies in internal medicine, an increasingly popular choice among medical students, given the growing focus on primary care.

Raphael was on the phone with his girlfriend as he opened his letter among a small group of friends at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He was matched in internal medicine with Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, his third choice after Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston and Cornell University in New York.

"It was my favorite program, but not my top choice, so I'm actually happy with it, because the computer knew better than me where I should end up going," Rafi said. "It worked out for the best."

William took a deep breath before he and his wife, Hasya Pearlman, opened his letter together as his parents watched. The University of Maryland School of Medicine student was paired in internal medicine with the University of Chicago, his first choice. He beamed and kissed his wife repeatedly and seemed at a loss for words.

"I am pretty happy," he said later. "I got my first choice."

The 59-year-old Match Day program is designed as a fair way to assign students to residencies, where they will further their training for the next three to seven years.

After four years of medical school, seniors choose specialties and interview at programs where they would like to train. The programs scrutinize applicants and make their choice of students. A computer then matches programs with applicants after evaluating the preferences of each.

Students all open their letters at noon on Match Day. It is a day of mixed emotions that often starts with anxiety as students wait to hear if they got into their programs of choice. That is followed by excitement, pride and maybe even a little sadness, as they realize four years of hard work has begun to pay off.

"It's the day they have all been waiting for," said Donna Parker, associate dean of student affairs at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "They work hard for four years, and it all comes down to this day."

At the University of Maryland's historic Davidge Hall, students were called in random order to receive their letters, which they could open when they chose. Most opened them as soon as they returned to their seats. One student ripped it open at the podium and then pulled a University of Maryland cap from his pocket and placed it on his head, triumphant that he was going to the program of his choice.

Each student walked to the podium to theme music they picked — Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)," Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and Bali music from the movie "Slumdog Millionaire," among dozens of other songs. William Karkowsky chose the song "We are Young" by the band Fun.

Each student placed money in a ceramic decoy that was presented to the last student who got his or her letter. The day matched 151 University of Maryland students to 70 hospitals in 27 states.


Across town at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, socks hung throughout the Armstrong Medical Education Building to symbolize the idea of matching. It was like New Year's Eve as the 110 students drank champagne and counted down to noon, when everyone opened their letters at once.

Students also opened their letters all at once in a low-key celebration at George Washington University, where Raphael chose to celebrate with friends so his parents could be with his brother at Maryland. He and his classmates later snapped photos of one another flashing their letters.

Raphael and his brother say they have different personalities but have always been close. They both attended Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville and both were undergraduates at the University of Maryland, College Park. Raphael studied neuroscience and knew he wanted to be a doctor. William was an economics major who decided as a sophomore to enter medicine. Their father and a sister are also physicians.

The brothers ended up at different medical schools and said it was sometimes hard to be apart. But they remained close and commiserated during the most grueling parts of their programs.

"We complement each other well," Rafi said. "We're both good students, and things that I didn't understand my brother would typically understand, and vice versa. We would fill in the gaps. I wanted to go to the same school [as his brother], because I thought we would do much better academically, but it wasn't meant to be."

William called Rafi soon after he opened his letter.

"I'm going to the University of Alaska," William said jokingly.


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