Ahead of the big day, UK College of Medicine faculty, staff, trainees, and alumni share their experience with Match Day and offer advice for fourth-years going through it this year

Claire Collins, MD, knew the University of Kentucky Internal Medicine/Psychiatry Residency Program was a perfect fit after she completed her interview. Leadership was welcoming, and there was a strong supportive culture. Not to mention, the program was competitive, one of the few of its kind in the country with only two open spots.

Suspense carried throughout Dr. Collins’ final semester of medical school – until the day she could finally learn her fate.

For fourth-year medical students, the next step in training is commemorated in a unique, celebratory fashion. On the third Friday of March at noon ET, known as “Match Day,” the National Residency Match Program (NRMP) releases results for residency and fellowship applications. Students across the country learn the institution, specialty, and city of their residency program. Ultimately, it is where they will spend the next three-plus years of their lives.

This year, the UK College of Medicine will hold its largest Match Day celebration ever, spanning across four sites: Bowling Green, Lexington, Morehead, and for the first time, the Northern Kentucky Campus which reached four classes of medical students last summer.

Dr. Collins remembers the excitement and stress that current fourth-years are facing. She also knows the relief they will feel when they finally find out what program they match into. (For her, gratefully, it was UK.)

As the Class of 2023 awaits this momentous day, UK College of Medicine faculty, residents, and staff reflect on their own experiences with Match Day – the good, the bad, and the nerve-wracking.

The weight of the decision

Jamel Hill, MD, MS, knew whatever was on his coveted Match Day letter would be monumental for him and his family. He was a medical student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). His wife was pregnant with their first child. Additionally, he was being interviewed by an NPR reporter about his research on racial inequalities in the wake of 2020’s events.

“We were on the cusp of major life changes,” Dr. Hill said. “It was a really, really fun and exciting time, but also overwhelming.”

Because of COVID-19, Dr. Hill had a more private Match Day celebration with his and his wife’s family. Together, they were ecstatic to learn Dr. Hill matched into the UK Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program.

The results presented on Match Day can bring plenty of excitement. But they can also bring nervousness, fear, and potentially disappointment if the institution written on your letter is not what you anticipated. This happened to Andrew Pearson, MD. Now, he is a leader in his field as chair of ophthalmology and visual sciences at UK, but when he first tried to match into his specialty, he did not get a spot. So he regrouped and pursued research at UK for about six weeks. He reapplied and matched during his internship.

“Ultimately, that year of research got me interested in retina, which led me to match at a top retina fellowship program at Duke University,” Dr. Pearson said. What he thought was a negative experience turned out to be “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Berry Seelbach, MD, assistant dean for student affairs, understands the pressure that comes with Match Day. “It’s the accumulation of all the hard work you have put in for the last eight-plus years of your life,” she said. She spent her own Match Day at a local bar with her parents and medical school friends. Before finding out she would join her husband-to-be at her top choice in Tucson, Ariz., she felt the same nerves as her students feel today.

Dr. Seelbach and her colleagues in the Office of Medical Education begin planning UK’s celebrations early in the school year to ensure Match Day is special. They invite families to join the ceremonies with a catered hors d’oeuvres. After opening envelopes, students have a walk-up song and present their “match” to the crowd by pinning a U.S. map.

As UK College of Medicine class sizes have grown, so have Match Day celebrations. On Match Day, the college is poised to have nearly 200 students opening envelopes across campuses.

Holly Danneman, MD, did not get to attend her own Match Day in person because she was on bed rest experiencing preterm labor. This year, as the Northern Kentucky Campus celebrates its first Match Day, it will be an “incredibly exciting time” for her and her students.

Members of the Bowling Green Campus’ inaugural class remember the additional excitement that comes with being the first. Dixi Secula, MD, now a first-year resident at Med Center Health, was surrounded by her closest friends and family as she and her classmates opened letters in unison at Fountain Square Park in downtown Bowling Green.

“Being from Kentucky, and having gone to undergrad and medical school in Bowling Green, I wanted to give back to my community. And what better way than to continue my training in Bowling Green,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Bowling Green and its people, we would not be where we are today.”

Meanwhile, for the Rural Physician Leadership Program students in Morehead, student affairs officer Bodie Stevens plans a smaller celebration. The small class size means more attention is on the students, so Stevens tries to calm the nerves with humor. Last year, he hid small toy cars in the centerpieces of the event tables. During the ceremony, he announced all students would get “new cars” as a congratulatory gift and instructed them to find those gifts on their tables.

“These students stress all week,” Stevens said. “And though a little bit of that stress lightens up when they find out if they matched the Monday before, they still don’t know where. So I try to make things a little fun.”

The lasting impact of Match Day

Though heavily involved with fourth-year medical students managing an acting internship, surgeon Emily Marcinkowski, MD, does not normally get to attend Match Day. She is in the operating room on Fridays. “I get really antsy around noon and can’t wait to scrub out to see where they all matched,” she said. “Then I start getting emails and texts from them, and it’s almost like I’m there.”

For those who have been through a Match Day, whether their own or by helping plan the event for others, seeing the joy from students who have worked so hard is extremely rewarding. In her nine years in student affairs at the College of Medicine, Ashlee-Nicole Hamilton, director of student services, said there is nothing better than witnessing students celebrate such a pivotal accomplishment with family and colleagues.

“I’ve seen how hard they have worked during their medical school journey,” Hamilton said. “On Match Day, I get to see their hard work pay off and see dreams come true.”

And when those dreams come true, it is off to residency. Though Match Day was special, one of the most memorable parts of Dr. Jamel Hill’s festivities was an afternoon Zoom call with his future program leaders and residents.

Dr. Claire Collins is nearing the end of her first year of her internal medicine/psychiatry residency at UK, and she looks forward to welcoming the next class of residents to her program. She offers sound advice for those looking ahead to that pivotal moment – to remember “everything will be OK even if it doesn’t go 100% your way,” and to be at peace with what happens.

“And if you don’t already know,” she said, “the residency programs you matched into are so excited to have you.”