It started with a breathless opening of an envelope and culminated with unadulterated glee.
Match Day, which took place on March 15, is an annual rite of passage for aspiring doctors in the U.S. Essentially a big reveal, the life-changing moment occurs concurrently at medical schools across the country. Match Day is orchestrated by the National Resident Matching Program, where students are paired with residency training programs — from family medicine to neurosurgery.
For Medical Center students who've worked towards this moment for much their life, it is a significant milestone: the start of their career as a physician.
At McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), 130 of the 239 graduating seniors who participated in the National Resident Matching Program will stay in Texas for their first year of postgraduate training. Some 51 students matched to McGovern Medical School programs. In primary care fields — where there is an acute need of physicians — 96 members matched.
Meanwhile, at Baylor College of Medicine, 112 of the students are beginning their residencies in the primary care fields of family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, medicine/pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, or emergency medicine. Some 54 students matched with residency programs at Baylor College of Medicine; 73 matched with residency programs in Texas.
“You’ve spent the last four years preparing for today,” said Barbara J. Stoll, MD, dean of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, adding that “most of your medical education is in front of you — an education that will continue your entire career.”
In this photo essay, CultureMap follows these local students, as they experience one of the biggest revelations of their personal and professional lives.
McGovern Medical School student Cindy Gu, who matched to the urology program at UCLA, excitedly accepts her envelope after her name is called. “I wanted to be there for my classmates and friends, who have gone through the last four years with me, and I’m so happy they matched to their top schools," said Gu. "It feels like all of our hard work has paid off!”
Doctors in the house
Ashley Romo and Omare Okotie-Eboh, both 25, opened their envelopes at the exact same time before breaking into huge smiles as Okotie-Eboh lifted Romo off her feet in a hug.
The couple, who will marry next month, will stay in Houston: Romo matched to Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital in family medicine while Okotie-Eboh matched to McGovern Medical School in internal medicine/pediatrics.
They decided to learn together, their residency programs in the same exact spot in Webber Plaza where he proposed to her. “I’m overcome with joy and gratitude,” said Romo, who is from Dallas.
“This feels unreal.” Okotie-Eboh, who graduated from Cy-Fair High School and Rice University, said, “This is exactly what we prayed for. My family is here and we have deep roots here with our church and friends.”
The couple met during their first year at McGovern Medical School and quickly became friends who leaned on each other for support as they overcame the challenges that come with being a medical student.
Their faith, love of service to others, and love of baking brought them closer, and they began dating in their second year of medical school.
A medical mission trip that Romo and Okotie-Eboh took together to Roatan, an island off the northern coast of Honduras, further highlighted common goals they share. Both want to practice medicine in the U.S., but they also have a calling to care for those in underserved areas of the world.
Ultimately, they say, they would like to serve patients in a U.S. clinical practice that would allow them time to travel periodically to other countries on medical missions.
“It is a great joy to provide care to those in need, and it inspires me to be the best doctor that I can be,” Okotie-Eboh said. He was welcomed to his new residency by Mark A. Farnie, MD, who ceremoniously draped him with an orange lei.
Numb with joy
Baylor College of Medicine Class of 2019 president, Brian Park, reveals the envelopes that hold the match results. Park matched in anesthesiology at UCLA.
Ana Solis Zavala (second left, pictured with Martha Kellems, Christine McGough, and Ana Flores), 26, whose life was saved by doctors after she developed sepsis as an infant, was thrilled to learn that she matched to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for her pediatric residency.
“I was impressed with everyone I met when I interviewed there,” she said. No one has to tell her why the work of doctors is so important.
Shortly after her birth in Mexico City, she developed a life-threatening infection called sepsis. She’s alive today because of the care she received. “Growing up, I recall my parents singing the praises of the pediatrician who cared for me. That’s one of the reasons I want to be a doctor,” said Solis Zavala, who moved to the Houston area when she was 11 years old.
Like the doctor who saved her, Solis Zavala wants to care for children. “I have a younger sister and I helped my mother take care of her,” Solis Zavala said. “I’ve always loved working with children.”
When she’s not studying for medical school, she volunteers to hold tiny newborns in an intensive care unit and to support children whose parents have cancer.
Through McGovern Medical School, she served at a summer camp for children with kidney disease alongside Joshua Samuels, MD, MPH, and conducted genetic research with Hope Northrup, MD. Solis Zavala graduated from The Woodlands High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin.
“Taking care of children is what I want to do,” Solis Zavala said.
A life of service
McGovern Medical School senior/U.S. Navy Ensign Logan Oliver, 26, had already received his marching orders and starts his internal medicine residency in June at the Naval Medical Center San Diego.
Although the contents were less of a surprise, Oliver was still thrilled to open his envelope and celebrate with friends.
“It’s really satisfying to know all the hard work paid off and to celebrate with classmates. I’m relieved and excited, knowing that graduation is around the corner,” Oliver said. “
Unlike their civilian counterparts, students pursuing careers in military medicine get their assignments months ahead of time. As a member of the Navy Medical Corps, Oliver’s job is to make sure sailors, Marines, and their families and retirees are healthy, ready, and on the job — be it land or sea.
“My dad showed me the value of service to country and community. I think this is a great outlet to give back to the community,” said Oliver, whose dad Larry Oliver graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as an Army captain.
Not the only doctor in the family, Oliver’s sister Rachel Oliver has already earned her medical degree and is doing an emergency medicine residency in Tampa, Florida.
Once the general part of his residency is complete, Logan Oliver plans to specialize in gastroenterology. “A lot of people have gastrointestinal issues. This is an area where I can make a big difference to a lot of people,” he said.
Oliver graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas, and earned a chemistry degree at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
While Oliver admired and appreciated all his mentors, he was particularly affected by the attitude of Amanda Helminiak, MD. “Dr. Helminiak makes each of her patients feel heard, respected, and well-cared-for, which is a skill I hope to emulate as a future physician,” he said.
The art of medicine
After graduating from college with a degree in political science, Baylor student Ann Xu took a year off to figure out what career she wanted to pursue.
One person who inspired her through his passion for his career was her father, Longhua Xu, who is a sculptor. She spent the year off working with him to restore sculptures around the country, specifically one in their hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
After realizing that she wanted a career that gave her as much joy as sculpting did for her father, she decided that medicine was the best fit.
The patience and attention to detail she practiced while restoring sculptures are valuable lessons that she brought with her to medical school. Xu matched in internal medicine and will be staying at Baylor College of Medicine.
Mani Singh, (pictured with his father, Waheguru) 26, wasn’t nervous until names started getting called. Then, his right leg started to bounce.
In the end, the waiting and the four years of hard work paid off. Singh matched to his first choice for residency – New York Presbyterian Hospital – where he will study physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Singh will spend one more year at McGovern Medical School to train in internal medicine before moving to New York to complete his specialty training.
Singh said he looks up to his father, Wahegurua, a self-made man who came to the U.S. with ambition and smarts, but little money. Singh said he hoped his father and mother were proud. Waheguru Singh said his dream was to become a medical doctor, but he instead focused on chemistry and has had a long career working in a research lab. He said the pride of seeing his son match to a residency program made him feel like his own dream was fulfilled.
Mani Singh will train in a specialization that helps patients with physical limitations regain their functionality and independence. “The specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation focuses on patient wellness rather than just the medicine,” he said. “It includes physical health and mental health. These patients may have gone through a big change and they are trying to reclaim their normalcy. Working with those patients stuck with me. It combines everything I like.”
Singh is also skilled in the research lab, and hopes to uncover mysteries related to spinal cord injuries. “Research keeps you honest,” Singh said. “You have to stay up to date with new techniques and evidence, and you don’t forget the knowledge base as you progress in your medical career. It’s a long game, and even the small findings you have are satisfying.”
He started his academic career as a biochemistry major at the University of Texas at Austin. Singh grew up in College Station, Texas, where he graduated from A&M Consolidated High School.
The Advocate, MD
When Baylor student Cristina Saez was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease, at the age of 10, she did not know that the diagnosis would set her on the course for her future career.
Her unique experience of being a pediatric patient with an invisible illness made her realize she wanted to dedicate her life advocating for children, ensuring that they know their voice matters and that their disease is only one chapter in their story.
She is pursuing a residency in pediatrics and hopes to become a pediatric rheumatologist. Saenz matched in pediatrics at UT Southwestern.
Making Dad proud
Every year on the first day of school, David Romo would tell his daughter, Ashley, “Go get your future.” After learning of her match, Ashley tearfully hugged her father, telling him, “Dad, I got my future.”
Sarah Namil (right) held a sign that her mother, Nathalie Namil (left), designed, which announced Sarah's match and future home.
Spirit of St. Louis
McGovern Medical School student Ana Solis Zavala celebrated matching to her pediatric residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital with her family.
A bright future
Fourth-year medical students at Baylor College of Medicine learned where they will be doing their medical training for the next three to seven years.