Instead of opening envelopes, Keck School of Medicine of USC fourth-year students opened emails. Instead of exchanging hugs and high-fives with their classmates on the quad, they shared messages and photos.

The outpouring of joy and camaraderie of Match Day endured Friday. COVID-19 couldn’t dampen that. 

Exercising the kind of caution we’ve all had to live with the past couple weeks, med students around the country stayed home and awaited word of where they’ve been matched for residency programs. Weeks of waiting and anxiety ended as the soon-to-be-doctors learned where they’ll spend the next three to seven years of their lives. 

Before the emails went out from KSOM administration at 9 a.m., students received a video message from the school’s dean, Dr. Laura Mosqueda:

“Good morning! It’s Match Day today,” Dr. Mosqueda said. “And while the current circumstances prevent us from celebrating face-to-face, this should not, in any way, diminish the accomplishments and hard work you’ve all put forth during your time here at the Keck School of Medicine.

“I hope you are filled with anticipation and excitement – and probably a little bit of nervousness – as you look toward this next big step. And certainly, I look forward to seeing the impact all of you are going to make in the lives of your patients, and in your communities, at the local, national and — knowing you — international levels as well.”

Match Day, as a tradition, dates to 1952, but the process was made much more efficient and fair in 2012 with the advent of a Nobel Prize-winning algorithm that pairs hospital programs with new doctors.

Some facts about Match Day this year,according to Teresa Cook, director of medical education administration.:

  • Administered by the National Resident Matching Program, 19,326 students across the country took part. A total of 179 Keck School students participated in the main match.
  • Of those, 26 percent were matched, for part or all of their residency training, at LAC+USC Medical Center in Los Angeles.
  • Seventy-two Keck students will venture outside California for at least part of their training, including 21 in New York state.
  • Internal medicine was the most popular specialty, with 35 students entering that, followed by emergency medicine (21) and family medicine (17).

Ravali Reddy uses an Instagram filter to announce she’s headed to her first choice of Stanford, aka “The Farm.”

For the most part, the celebrations were low-key, as students Skyped or Zoomed with family and friends, while keeping in-person gatherings necessarily small.   

Ravali Reddy, co-president of the graduating class, matched her first choice, Stanford Medicine, near her hometown of San Francisco. She’s going to be an OB/GYN. Her fiance was in the room with her, and she shared the good news with her parents and cousins and their families online back in the Bay Area. 

“It’s just a lot of emotions,” Reddy said. “It’s nervousness, it’s excitement, and I think there’s also just a lot of pride in that moment. It felt like this is the big moment where you get to finally figure out where you get to go to be a doctor.”

The other class co-president, Krishan Patel, matched into the internal medicine program at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Ketetha Olengue held a 7:30 a.m. video call with friends from elementary, high school, college, USC and all points in between. With her boyfriend present, she learned along with everyone else that she’d be going to Stanford Med, to be a psychiatrist. “I just yelled it out, and everyone was so happy. My mom and dad were on the call. It was just a really beautiful day,” she said. Her plans for the weekend? Stay in and watch movies about psychiatry.

Ketetha Olengue and partner Marqel Armani Lee react to her landing Stanford as her first choice.

Andrew Spitzberg, who’s from Queens, New York, also is going close to home for his residency: Zucker Hillside Hospital/Northwell Health in Glen Oaks, a neighborhood of Queens. He’ll be a psychiatrist too.

Spitzberg’s girlfriend was with him before the emails were delivered, and they and his roommates enjoyed takeout and a cake with a fondant stethoscope. He acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic had made the day somewhat anticlimactic. “This was a lot more of a somber occasion than we had hoped,” he said before noting that everyone everywhere has had to make sacrifices. In New York City, there’s a tremendous need for doctors of all kinds.

“I’m well aware of the importance of what we’re doing right now.”

— Landon Hall and Laura LeBlanc