Meeting their match

More than 800 people filled the Hilton Chicago Grand Ballroom last week, but at 10:50 a.m., the room fell silent.

With eyes closed, fourth-year medical students and their families put aside the stress and excitement of Match Day — when medical students around the nation learn where they will complete their residency training for the next three to seven years — for a moment of self-reflection.

“Think of the first time you had the idea of wanting to become a doctor,” Abbas Hyderi, associate dean for curriculum in the College of Medicine, told the students. “Think about applying and ultimately getting that acceptance letter from medicine school, the white coat ceremony, clerkships, night call, shifts, electives, the entire long match process.”

People took deep breaths.

“Give yourself praise for how far you’ve come and self-compassion for any continued areas for improvement, for any bumps along the way for the rest of your career,” he said.

Guests toasted to the Class of 2017, then, at 11 a.m., students opened their envelopes.

Valeria Valbuena shouted, cried and proudly raised the letter inside, which read: “Congratulations, you have matched!”

“It’s a surreal experience,” Valbuena said. She’ll be completing her residency at University of Michigan, her first choice, in general surgery.

Jason Huang learned he would complete his urology residency at the College of Medicine. “I’m happy to be staying here,” he said before congratulating friends.

Both were among UIC’s 172 fourth-year medical students — the largest number of graduating students at any medical school in the U.S. — who participated in Match Day. This year, a record-breaking 35,969 medical students competed for 31,757 positions, according to the National Resident Matching Program, the official Match Day coordinator.

Thirty percent of UIC’s students will stay in Illinois, with UIC as the No. 1 residency program. The remaining 70 percent will complete their residency training in 24 other states. Students’ top specialties include internal medicine (25 percent), family medicine (9 percent), emergency medicine (8 percent) and anesthesiology (7 percent).

From the College of Medicine’s Rockford campus, 53 students matched in 15 different specialties and 20 states. Nineteen graduates will stay in Illinois and 64 percent will continue their training in the Midwest. In Peoria, 54 students were matched to 16 specialties across 26 states. One-quarter of the class will train in Illinois. Nineteen students from Urbana-Champaign matched in six specialties. Three students will stay in Illinois, the rest will complete residency programs in nine states.

Ryan Knodle couples-matched with his fiancé, Joan Savage, who he met during his first year at the College of Medicine.

“It’s been four long years, a lot of hard work and this is kind of the culmination of that,” Knodle said. His biggest takeaway from UIC has been “identifying with diversity and [learning] how socioeconomic factors impact health care and health care delivery and health literacy and it really is just a mission of service for those less fortunate.”

Knodle will continue to work with diverse populations at Boston University, where he’ll complete an internal medicine residency. He said he’ll miss UIC, his mentors, his colleagues and his family in Chicago.

“It’s sad, it’s happy, there’s a lot of emotions all kind of rolled up into one today. The training experience at UIC has been exceptional,” he said.

Stanford University was Mamatha Challa’s first choice, and she was still shaking with excitement after finding out she matched there for psychiatry, a specialty she’s been interested in since high school.

“I’ve had so many incredible experiences [at UIC],” said Challa, who was part of the Patient-centered Medicine Scholars Program, where she worked with survivors of domestic violence. “That experience was really life-changing. I made such amazing relationships with these people and I’m so looking forward to taking that commitment to working with the underserved with me throughout my career in medicine,” she said.

After matching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for general surgery, Betty Allen was overwhelmed with “happiness, joy, peace, relief.” She said her experience at the College of Medicine has been invaluable.

“UIC really gave me the opportunity to fulfill my potential, to fulfill my dream,” she said. “UIC has been the best institution for me to become a doctor because not only did I learn how to work in underserved communities and use my resources very properly, but it really allowed me to grow and shine, and I think that there’s no better place anyone can do that.”