Graduating Keck School student Suzy Kim clutched a rather ordinary white envelope, ripped it open and pulled out its contents: a rather ordinary white piece of paper.
She unfolded it to find a string of words that were, individually, also rather ordinary. But together, they conveyed an extraordinary message.
“I’m going to Lutheran General and I’m going to Northwestern!” she said, beaming, to her friends and instructors. “I got my first choice!”
Kim, along with 159 of her classmates at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, learned their post-med school fates on March 16 at the school’s annual Match Day, the local portion of a national event in which graduating medical students find out where they will spend their residencies.
Keck School students kicked off the day by packing into the Seaver Cafeteria for breakfast.
Over danish and orange juice, they cracked jokes, milled around nervously and chatted with some of their professors, while the clock ticked closer to 10 a.m. – the moment they’d hear word of the residency program where they had matched.
“To a large extent, this day is a culmination of four years of work,” said Peter Katsufrakis, associate dean of student affairs.
“As a class you did wonderfully,” he told them. “Three-quarters of you got one of your top three choices.”
Specifically, Katsufrakis said that 74 percent of the Keck School class got one of their top three choices this year. That was down from 76 percent in 1999 and up from 72 percent in 1998.
Katsufrakis ran down a few facts about the Match in 2000: 81 percent of students got positions in California; 62 percent got positions in Southern California; 21 students matched at LAC+USC Medical Center for one of their years, down from 27 in 1999 and 40 in 1998; students choosing ophthalmology went to six in 2000 from three in 1999; 10 students chose psychiatry in 2000, up from just one in 1999; and six students chose medicine-pediatrics in 2000, compared to none in 1999.
The demand for positions in radiology and emergency medicine in 2000 outpaced the supply, Katsufrakis said.
Four Keck School graduating students had initially gone unmatched in the process this year and had to scramble for residency positions, and another eight lacked either a first-year or a second-year position. Seven had chosen radiology or emergency medicine specialties. All initially unmatched students were matched with open positions through the scramble, held the day before Match Day, he said.
“It seems like it’s gotten more competitive over the years,” Katsufrakis said.
At 10 a.m., staff members handed out envelopes to students outside the Keith Administration Building and on the steps of the quad.
Some shrieked with joy, jumped up and down shaking their arms and immediately flipped open their cellular phones to make the requisite calls to parents and friends. A few got news that disappointed them, and turned to hug their classmates and cry on their shoulders.
They matched at places as far away as New York University Medical Center and as close as Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Across the nation, 25,056 students participated in the match process this year, slightly down from the 26,462 who participated in 1999, according to the National Resident Matching Program, the primary route through which applicants to residency programs get training positions at teaching hospitals in the United States.
Nationwide, slightly more than 73 percent of participants were matched, the NRMP announced, and 20,598 positions were offered through the process. About 62 percent of the matches made nationwide were first-choice picks.
Keck School graduates had a greater interest in primary-care fields, which include family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine, for example, than their peers across the nation.
About 52 percent of USC graduating seniors opted for a primary-care route, slightly higher than the 51 percent of U.S. graduating medical school seniors who chose primary care fields. That is the lowest match rate for generalists since 1995.
Kim, the 27-year-old graduating senior, was one of two USC students who decided on a residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
It was a choice clearly influenced by her own experiences: Her spine was severely injured in a body-surfing accident while she was in medical school, and she has spent more than two years working hard in physical therapy – as well as in the classroom.
On Match Day, friends Heather Levenson and Stephanie Goddard, former classmates from Laguna Hills High School, and Keck School Associate Dean of Admissions Erin Quinn surrounded Kim to share her excitement and joy.
They smiled and held back a few tears as Kim clutched her letter, which read: LUTHERAN GENERAL HOSPITAL and McGAW MEDICAL CENTER-NORTH WESTERN UNIVERSITY. Both are in the Chicago area, where she will join her fiancé.
“Read this, so I know I’m not imagining it,” Kim told her friends. “I have to look at this three times to make sure!”