While most Houstonians were enjoying the first day of spring on Friday, some students in the Texas Medical Center were also discovering what their future will hold.
It's a tradition called Match Day that takes place every year on the same day across the nation. In Houston, fourth-year medical students at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School and Baylor College of Medicine tore into envelopes to find out where they will spend their residency, which can last from three to seven years.
Behind each match is a story of hard work, hope for a brighter future and determination to make the world a better place. Representatives of both schools who were on hand sent CultureMap some of the students' very personal stories.
Baylor College of Medicine class president Diane Chen (center) rips open the match board, revealing the envelopes that indicate where each medical student will go on to pursue his or her residency training. Chen matched in otolaryngology – head and neck surgery — at Baylor College of Medicine and will remain in Houston.
— Julia Parsons, reporting
Of the more than 200 excited UT Health students who took part in Match Day, 41 percent will stay in Texas for at least the first year of their post-graduate training and 22 percent will take part in residencies at UTHealth. Among them is 25-year-old Jaimin Shah, who has a passion for medicine that is only rivaled by his passion for sports.
As a first-year medical student, the former Rice University football player thought that he could combine both passions by specializing in orthopedic surgery. Over the last four years Shah’s path would lead him in a different direction.
The New Braunfels native cites the care his mother received at a San Antonio hospital when he was 6 years old as the foundation for his interest in women’s health. As a medical student at UTHealth, his interest in obstetrics and gynecology intensified as he worked on numerous projects with researchers throughout the Texas Medical Center.
Shah was excited to discover that he will stay in Houston and perform his residency at UTHealth Medical School.
“Today was an awesome day. I was among family, friends and faculty who have supported me throughout my time here," he said. "I’m really glad that I matched to UTHealth. My brother is here and I really love the entire faculty so I am really excited. Four years have passed quickly and I am one step closer to becoming a doctor.”
— Deborah Mann Lake, reporting
Cherry Onaiwu, 36, always wanted to be a doctor, but after graduating from Houston Baptist University, she found herself in a successful career as a clinical research coordinator. She could never seem to find the right time to pursue her dream of practicing medicine.
Onaiwu said “life told her it was time” when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She had to quit her job and relocate to be near family in Houston, giving her a chance to rethink where her career was taking her.
During treatment, she was amazed at how much teamwork was involved in her care and thought. “This is something I want to be a part of.”
Onaiwu decided to go to medical school after she was declared cancer-free to extend the same kind of thoughtful treatment to her future patients. “To be able to help people get through these tough moments in their lives is such a humbling experience,” she said.
Onaiwu matched to an internal medicine residency at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I am really excited. They have a great program and great residents,” said Onaiwu, who was surrounded by family that came in from around the world.
She has felt called to work with socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.
— Deborah Mann Lake
At Baylor, 178 students participated in the National Residents Matching Program, and two additional students participated in the Military Match. A little over 43 percent of students matched with residency programs in Texas and 47 students matched with residency programs at Baylor College of Medicine.
Among them were Keila Rodriguez, who grew up in McAllen and went through Baylor College of Medicine’s Premedical Honors College, a partnership with the University of Texas-Pan American that provides provisional admission to BCM upon completion of undergraduate requirements at UT-PanAm. She is fluent in Spanish and majored in biology and minored in chemistry at UT-PanAm.
While in medical school, she has been actively involved in the Latino Medical Student Association, where she has served on the regional board.
Rodriguez will continue her training at Baylor with a residency in pediatrics.
— Julia Parsons
Kelly O’Shea and Daniel Tim, who entered the couple’s match, began dating during their pediatric surgery rotation – just like her parents, who are 1986 graduates of UTHealth Medical School.
“When I found out that’s when my parents started dating, it was funny,” said O’Shea, 25, who is from Munster, Indiana.
Both students come from medical families. O’Shea’s father is an occupational medicine physician and her mother is a psychiatrist. Tim’s father is a pediatrician and his mother is a nurse.
Both have known since childhood that they wanted to be doctors. “Of course, I wanted to be a baseball player and an astronaut and then I got to kindergarten and since then, I’ve wanted to be a doctor,” said Tim, 27, who is from Lilburn, Georgia.
O’Shea, one of 10 children, has always dreamed of being a pediatrician. Tim was drawn to the versatility of internal medicine.
O’Shea said the couple’s match process was a whirlwind as they arranged their schedules to travel the country together and then decided on their list. When they found out they had both matched to programs in Cincinnati, they were ecstatic. She matched to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and he matched to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
“I didn’t sleep too much last night,” Tim admitted. “Cincinnati is a great location and the faculty were very welcoming.”
— Deborah Mann Lake
If there’s anyone who understands the importance of eye health, it’s a pilot in the United States Air Force. Tim Soeken served active duty for five years as an Air Force pilot before deciding to pursue a degree in medicine.
While training in medicine, he resigned from active duty, but made a commitment to return to duty once he completed medical school.
Soeken participated in the military match and will do his residency training in ophthalmology at the San Antonio Military Medical Center and Wilford Hall in San Antonio. Once finished with his ophthalmology residency, he will have the opportunity to join a small handful of Air Force physicians who also serve simultaneously as fully operational military pilots.
In May, Soeken will graduate from medical school and be commissioned back into the Air Force on the same day. Soeken has been married for seven and a half years and he and his wife have three children: two boys ages 6 and 2 and a three-month-old girl. His family joined him at Match Day.
While at Baylor, Soeken also completed the Space Medicine Track in which his project tested a non-invasive way to monitor intracranial pressure in efforts to solve NASA's newest unsolved health mystery, the Vision Impairment and Intracranial Pressure syndrome (a newly observed cluster of vision and eye changes likely linked to elevated intracranial pressure in astronauts serving long duration spaceflight missions).
— Julia Parsons
For 26-year-old Saviour Achilike, Match Day was the pinnacle event of his academic career. He interviewed at seven neurology residency programs throughout the country and said that ranking them came down to splitting hairs. He matched to UTHealth Medical School and his family surrounded him as he got the good news.
“It is comforting because I have my brother here and other family members who live in the area. There are friends who graduated last year who are also here and my mentors are here, so I am very happy. This is a great place to be. I’m excited to start my career here.”
The Garland, Texas native vividly remembers the 16- to 18-hour days common during his four-year journey at UTHealth Medical School. He partially credits his time as a track athlete at The University of Texas at Austin for instilling a work ethic that emphasized grit and persistence, which sustained him throughout his time at UTHealth.
“We had a saying in track. ‘It was more mental than it was physical.’ You literally had to train your mind to go through the pain. Just when you thought you had reached the edge and you couldn’t go anymore, you could always do a little bit more,” Achilike said.
He feels this mindset will assist him as he encounters the numerous challenges associated with being a physician.
— Deborah Mann Lake
Natalie Diaz and Michael Keller, both 26, matched to residencies in Pittsburgh and couldn’t be happier since they’re getting married May 2.
Diaz matched to Allegheny General Hospital in psychiatry and Keller to UPMC Mercy Hospital in surgery.
“It was very nerve-wracking leading up to the event,” she said. “Up to the point of opening envelopes, I never felt so anxious.”
Their first “official” date was at a fancy restaurant in Diaz’s hometown of Dallas and they have been a couple since. When applying for residency programs, they focused on programs in the same city but were prepared to train several hundred miles apart.
Diaz learned early on about the importance of health care. One of her aunts succumbed to breast cancer in a tiny town with few medical resources south of Mexico City. Diaz decided then that she wanted a career that would allow her to make a difference in the lives of others.
Keller, a Houstonian, comes from a long line of physicians and the only question was what type of doctor he would be. Keller is following in the footsteps of his father and North Cypress Medical Center surgeon Kim Keller, M.D. In fact, when he completes his residency, the younger Keller plans to partner with his father.
While the soon-to-be physicians have much in common, they are rivals when it comes to sports: Diaz went to TCU and Keller to Baylor University.
— Deborah Mann Lake
Kelsey Lau and Jeff Min pose with Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor College of Medicine, after finding out where they’ll be for their residency.
Lau and Min met during their first year of medical school. They hit it off after a group outing to Houston’s Museum District and started dating.
After taking their board exams on Valentine’s Day last year, the couple went on an Eastern Caribbean cruise, where Jeff proposed. They will be married this May in Los Angeles.
Lau and Min will participate in the “couples match,” which allows couples to match to their most preferred pair of programs. Both matched in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
— Julia Parsons