For the past decade, the Vasiljevic sisters have been inseparable. Katarina, 27, and Marija, 26, both attended Johns Hopkins University, graduating with bachelor’s degrees in neurology.
Four years ago, they moved in together in Mount Vernon as they both started medical school — Katarina at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Marija at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
As medical residents the sisters will pursue internal medicine. But for the first time in years, they’ll be thousands of miles apart.
The Vasiljevics were among more than 30,000 fourth-year medical students nationwide who received their residency placements Friday in the annual Match Day ritual. This year, 162 University of Maryland medical students matched with residency programs, and 112 matched from Hopkins.
“The key to your success in residency is actually not contained in the envelope that you’re going to receive in a little while,” Dr. Roy C. Ziegelstein, vice dean for education at Hopkins’ medical school, told students before their envelopes with students’ placements inside were handed out at Hopkins’ Armstrong Medical Education Building in East Baltimore. “The key to your success in residency is you.”
With the pop of confetti, the sisters opened the envelopes revealing where they will spend at least the next four years. Nervous hand-wringing turned to hugs as both women matched with their top-ranked programs: Marija will remain at Hopkins, and Katarina will head to San Diego.
“It does feel like all this hard work is finally going to pay off,” Katarina said before the ceremony. “Before we went to med school we were imagining ourselves as doctors, and before we realized it, we were imagining ourselves as internal medicine doctors.”
The sisters will join the ranks of doctors as a physician shortage continues to grow in the United States. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects the health care system will be short more than 121,000 physicians by 2030.
Originally from Belgrade, Serbia, the Vasiljevic sisters moved to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, as children. Now both tall and blond, they were often confused by their friends when Marija joined Katarina as an undergraduate at Hopkins.
“We had this ongoing joke of like, you have to smile and say, ‘hi,’” Marija said.
“They started calling her ‘Katarina 2.0,’ which she didn’t like because it was my name and I didn’t like it because she was an upgrade,” Katarina said.
When Katarina took a year after her undergraduate degree to do research in Silver Spring, she came to Baltimore nearly every weekend. They moved in together when medical school started.
“We’re just the easiest roommates,” Marija said.
Both Marija and Katarina launched their medical school careers with an interest in neurology. But as their studies progressed, they each found a love for the broad field of internal medicine — a field they found was very personal, and one that encompassed every aspect of the body.
“The way that internal medicine doctors think, I feel like it’s the most holistic approach to medicine. You kind of have to consider every single body system,” Katarina said. “I just love the intellectual component of it.”
Though their professional interests are similar, it became clear as they interviewed for residency programs that the hospitals they wanted to join were on opposite coasts. Katarina was ready for a change of scenery, while her sister found Baltimore was still calling to her after visits to hospitals in Texas, Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee.
“I got to compare my desires to staying here,” Marija said. “The interview trail kind of helped confirm to me that yes, I am passionate about Hopkins, I want to be here.”
The sisters revealed their matches with their parents by their side; their mom and stepfather, Nela and Rick VonPusch, traveled from Florida to join them.
Across town at the Hippodrome Theatre, students from the University of Maryland School of Medicine were called to the stage to receive their programs.
Katarina had chosen to join her sister for the ceremony at Hopkins.
“It was so important for us to be together,” Katarina said. “That’s definitely one of the reasons that I came here — to have our family stay together for the whole experience.”
During a brief ceremony before students opened the cards containing their matches, student speaker Anna Goddu named dozens of her peers who pursued personal passions and contributed to their greater community during the past four years. She spoke of her fellow students who ran marathons; opened art shops; gave birth to children; used yoga as patient therapy; showed school-age boys how to tie neckties; and taught prisoners to knit.
“What strikes me about all these examples — and there are so, so many more I can rattle off — is how much we did when we were just students. We weren’t doctors yet, and now we will be,” Goddu said. “We have these examples of our classmates, this wonderful model of ability to pursue our passions and care for each other and advocate for our patients and engage in big conversations. This Med ’19 model will guide us as we put on our long white coats and start our powerful work as physicians.”
And Ziegelstein told students they would always have a home at Hopkins.
“Some of you will stay here. Some of you may stay here forever,” he said. “But some of you may leave, and for those of you who leave you should know you have a home here, you have people who really, really respect, admire and love you.”
Marija is among those who will stay, and she was overjoyed at the match.
“We’re really excited, although we’ll be apart,” Marija said after the ceremony.
“And we got our number ones, so that’s what matters,” Katarina added.
Though their living situation will change, the sisters said they expect their close relationship will remain strong.
“I anticipate we’ll be Facetiming each other almost every day and probably complaining about our intern experiences,” Katarina said. “The people that understand the most are the people that are going through the same stuff.”