Sealed green envelopes reveal the fates of medical students on match day

Darrin Patmon handed his wife a green envelope and lifted his young son onto his shoulders.

Like his fellow MSU medical students gathered around him, the 29-year-old Florida resident waited anxiously at the Watermark Country Club in Grand Rapids to learn where he would complete his residency program in the medical specialty of his choice.

Across the country, prospective medical school graduates like Patmon were counting down to noon on Friday, March 17, when they could open their sealed envelopes as part of an annual tradition known as Match Day. Inside they find welcome letters from the health care system where they would work for the foreseeable future.

“I got Spectrum,” Patmon said, noting his excitement to stay at Western Michigan to continue his medical education. “I kind of expected it, but I’m glad they confirmed it. I can’t wait for the next six years to go by and be able to continue building my family where we started.”

Patmon is pursuing a career in plastic surgery. He found a passion for the specialty during his trauma surgery rotation at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Further research in pediatric plastic surgery solidified the choice for him.

“I fell in love with it,” he said.

Residents in internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, anesthesiology, surgery and other fields will spend three to seven years training with attending physicians before becoming practicing physicians themselves.

In the months leading up to Reunion Day, medical students in the final year of their program will apply to residency programs that match their chosen specialties. In the meantime, these health systems will review applications and invite students to interview.

Near the end of the process, students and health systems will rank their preferred destinations/residents, and the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) will feed those rankings into a placement algorithm.

“It’s to the benefit of the applicant, but the idea is that there’s that perfect fit that meets the needs of the student and the needs of the program,” said Dr. TaLawnda Bragg, an inpatient physician at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Nationally, this year’s match day produced a record 42,952 applicants who certified a stacked position list, with 40,375 certified positions to be filled, according to the matching program.

According to Michigan State, 184 applicants across the school’s seven Michigan campuses are applying for this summer’s residency position. About 44% will stay in Michigan, and about 48% will enter primary care residencies.

At the University of Michigan, 151 medical students learned where they will continue their studies. About 96% of students match a program and 35% of them will stay in Michigan.

Bragg is responsible for internal medicine residencies for Corewell Health. As for filling her 15 vacancies, she said she has made efforts to diversify the program, while strongly considering people with Michigan ties who are more likely to stay after completing their residency.

Corewell Health had hoped for 375 new residents for its 22 hospitals. The system employs more than 1,000 residents at any one time, working alongside the system’s physicians and advanced practice providers.

As a patient, Bragg said people are likely to interact with local doctors along with doctors, regardless of what brings them to health care. They will have direct and/or indirect supervision with attending physicians acting as direct mentors who are ultimately responsible for these patients.

“In fact, patients who are seen in academic hospitals, where they can be seen by a medical student, a first-year resident, a senior resident and an attending physician, they tend to get better care because there’s so much expert insight into the patient .

“Residents keep us honest. They keep us informed; they keep us enthusiastic and engaged, and it is impossible for healthcare and medical knowledge to stagnate when there are (are) local doctors in a facility.”

Earlier this week, students learned if they had a match, and health systems knew how many spots they had filled. But the students didn’t learn where they would spend their residency years until Friday.

Cheers and applause followed as the students tore up the letters. They celebrated with families and loved ones in attendance, then turned to each other to see where their classmates would be headed.

For Saleem Alameh, 30, he will be staying at Corewell West, formerly known as Spectrum. He chose internal medicine as his specialty, calling the combination of science and humanities “the perfect marriage.”

As the 30-second countdown to noon began, the Philadelphia-area native began jogging in place, his fingers anxiously twirling the envelope in his hand. He later celebrated with his girlfriend, who is a second-year medical student at MSU.

“I came here for medical school and I loved it,” Alame said. “It feels so surreal… I’m happy for everyone. Who knows? Perhaps our paths will cross again in practice down the road.”

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