The spring of a medical student’s fourth year marks the final stretch of the long road toward a medical degree. Excitement looms for the opportunities that lie ahead.

This year, however, the end of medical school has been an experience like no other before it. The COVID-19 pandemic forced academic medical centers to adjust their teaching practices. Fourth-year students adapted to incorporate virtual learning, and they could not go through away rotations that offer educational experiences outside of their medical institution.

With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the country, and with a better understanding of the virus, there is hope on the horizon. It is with this promising outlook that the University of Kentucky College of Medicine ensured its fourth-year students could maintain a sense of normalcy – with safety measures in place – for one of the biggest days of their medical careers: Match Day.

“To me, Match Day is a culmination of four years of hard work, grinding, and sometimes making a lot of sacrifices,” said Class of 2021 president Benjamin Doty, who will pursue a residency in emergency medicine at the University of Arizona. “It’s a celebration of the decisions that you’ve made previously because they got you here. And just as much as it is for you, it is for your family members, the faculty, and the amazing people in the UK College of Medicine who have accepted us with open arms and taught us how to treat our future patients with compassionate care.”

Match Day ceremonies occur simultaneously at medical schools across the country. At noon, students open letters to learn what residency program they will attend, and in what specialty. Students list their top choices, and the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) pairs those choices with the needs of hospital residency programs.

The UK College of Medicine Class of 2021 celebrated among one another in a safe, socially distanced celebration at the Kroger Field Woodford Reserve Club. The college also provided an option for students to celebrate virtually through Zoom and for guests to tune in through a YouTube livestream.

“Our students have faced a year of uncertainty, but they remained calm amid the storm and embraced the necessary changes we implemented to ensure safety through their medical education,” Dean Robert DiPaola, MD, said. “I’m thankful that the UK College of Medicine was able to commemorate this class in a safe celebration. We are appreciative of their willingness to adapt to these ever-changing times and are excited for their accomplishments that lie ahead.”

Overall, the Class of 2021 matched into 57 different institutions and 18 different specialties. Approximately 42 percent chose to pursue a residency in Kentucky, and 39 percent of total matches were to UK HealthCare, the clinical enterprise of the UK College of Medicine.

Though the past year brought forth several challenges and forced everyone to adjust, fourth-year students expressed their preparedness for the next steps in their medical careers thanks to faculty and staff at the UK College of Medicine.

Lan Jiang is pursuing a residency in pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. ”In the long term, I want to become a pediatric intensive care provider,” she said. “I view the ICU as a place for hope, love, and healing, and I’m so thankful that on Match Day, I learned I get to follow that dream.”

Aisha Jamal, who will pursue a residency in family medicine at the University of Michigan, said the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded her that medicine is her calling, and she is excited to start her next chapter.

“I’m really looking forward to putting the knowledge that I’ve learned into making these decisions and taking leadership roles,” she said. “I hope to become a beacon of hope for my community.”