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In A Public Health Crisis, "Match Day" For Medical Students Moves Online

Around greater Boston, thousands of fourth-year medical students found out where life will take them next in the thick of the coronavirus outbreak.

Because of the outbreak, "match day" — what can be a raucous, in-person celebration as students' residency placements are announced — had to move online.

These students, of course, are apt to take the medical crisis especially seriously. Still, it was painful to cancel an event that serve as a cathartic release after the slow grind of medical school. And the logistics of a virtual match day can be complicated.

At Tufts, fourth-year students gathered to watch speeches from their deans, then opened their letters simultaneously.

Stephanie Cohen was sad to be apart from her mother, who inspired her to enter the medical field. But since "she's immunocompromised and lives in Chicago," Cohen said, "I FaceTimed her in on my laptop." Cohen was placed into her first-choice program: the general surgery residency at Beth Israel and Harvard.

Over at Boston University School of Medicine, match-day organizer Chase Kahn figured that online platforms like Zoom "would have been too much for 200 students and their families. So we decided, everyone's gonna have their own exclusive match day with their families and close loved ones."

At Kahn's version, more than a dozen family members and friends had crowded around their webcams before the email was supposed to arrive. From her home in South Florida, his mother Fern held court.

Kahn applied for residencies in otolaryngology, a highly competitive speciality. So there was palpable anxiety on the call — more than once, Fern said, “Oh my gosh, I can’t breathe."

The email arrived a few minutes early, and the group broke out into a chorus of cheers. Through the workings of an algorithm, Kahn had been placed at his first choice, Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. As the cheering subsided, people put on Phillies caps that Kahn’s father had shipped out in anticipation, with some worries about jinxing it.

Chase Kahn and Maria D'Amico celebrate their double match at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. (Courtesy Chase Kahn)
Chase Kahn and Maria D'Amico celebrate their double match at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. (Courtesy Chase Kahn)

Kahn met his girlfriend, Maria D'Amico, in medical school and she had matched early to Jefferson's urology program. Now — against the odds — the couple can move together and nearer to family. Maria’s father, Anthony, said after several years, he'll welcome being just a forty-minute drive from his daughter.

Kahn and his cochair on BU's match day committee tried to liven up the day in other ways: they went to Cameo, a marketplace for short, personalized videos from celebrities. If they couldn't celebrate in person, they could get (remote) best wishes from celebrities like Celtics center Enes Kanter, former Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon, and Chris Harrison, host of ABC's Bachelor franchise.

Kahn said he couldn't be happier with the result. But he also said the ongoing health crisis makes his class all the more eager to get to work. For now, they're helping attending physicians with child care and logistics. But he pointed to Italy as a case in which medical students and recent graduates were fast-tracked into hospitals to join the fight.

So while they'll need to be in Philadelphia by mid-June, Kahn said he and Maria are ready for anything: "If they need extra hands on deck, technically we could start earlier and help out.”

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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