Their fates were sealed in envelopes that were opened with much fanfare at medical schools and other venues across the country Friday.
More than 300 students from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University — and thousands more at other medical schools around the country and world — learned where they would train to become doctors. The Maryland students gathered at the Hippodrome Theatre; Hopkins students assembled at a medical campus building.
It's called Match Day and it's how Jessie Werner found out she would study emergency medicine at hospitals affiliated with Brown University in Rhode Island, her first choice.
"It feels great," Werner said with a wide smile on her face after opening her letter on stage at the Hippodrome Theatre before her classmates.
The 33-year-old student from the University of Maryland School of Medicine didn't plan on becoming a doctor when she went to Vassar College in New York. She got a liberal arts eduction and joined AmeriCorps, and ended up tending to victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. She taught sixth graders and worked at other jobs until she realized she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her parents, a cardiologist and an oncologist.
"I want to make a positive impact in the lives of other people," she said. "Like my parents."
For Werner, her match has added significance becauseher husband has applied to Brown for graduate school.
Around the country, 42,370 registered applicants vied for 30,750 positions in more than 4,800 U.S. residency programs, according to the National Resident Matching Program, a nonprofit that uses a computer program that considers applicants' preferences when matching them with programs that have offered them positions. This year's class was the largest since the Match Day program began in the 1950s. There were almost 800 more applicants than last year, making residencies more competitive.
At the Hippodrome ceremony, each student walked up to the stage to a song they'd selected, ranging from "Here Comes The Sun" by The Beatles, which Werner picked, to the theme song for the game show "The Price is Right." One student chose "The Imperial March" from Star Wars. Some stopped to hug family members, others danced their way onto the stage and high-fived classmates. One woman carried her sleeping infant.
Many students learned they would be doing local residencies at Mercy Medical Center, Maryland or Hopkins. Others will be moving to California, or to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston or Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, with focuses ranging from pediatrics and internal medicine to psychiatry, general surgery or radiology.
Following tradition, each Maryland student stuffed a $5 bill into a miniature Davidge Hall model, the school's oldest building. The last one to learn their residency location would collect the money and pay for drinks for the class later when they celebrate at a bar.
Across town, Johns Hopkins medical student Maame Sampah and her classmates each received a letter opener to slice open their envelopes. She said she accidentally cut herself but didn't even notice because she was so nervous.
"It was the most nerve-racking thing ever," she said.
Sampah, 31, was hoping for a residency in general surgery at hospitals affiliated with Washington University in St. Louis, the Cleveland Clinic or Hopkins. Instead, she'll be working at the Washington Hospital Center in D.C.
"It's good. I'm happy. I have a ton of family and friends in the area," she said. Plus, it means her fiance will not have to change jobs.
Sampah was inspired to become a doctor as child while growing up in a small town in Ghana and watching her mother, a nurse, tend to community members.
"It spoke to me," she said. "I still want to do some research. It's something special to do research at a very basic level but also see it translated into actual care for patients."