Tension was high on Thursday at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Weber Plaza. Having finished almost four years of medical school, the class of 240 seniors stood trembling as their names were called out at random. Each received a sealed envelope containing a single piece of paper indicating where the next phase of their medical training — the residency — will take place.
The students were instructed to wait until the last envelope was handed out, after which they tore into the packages en masse. Hands reached for the sky; the courtyard rang with squealing aspiring physicians. Within minutes, the pop of bottles of bubbly overrode the quiet tears of those students who weren't assigned their preferred hospital.
It was a scene that took place at every medical school in the nation at around the same time, according to a national computerized process that pairs students with programs based on their ranked preferences.
Among the celebration of what is known as Match Day were two UTHealth students with arts backgrounds.
A creative at heart, Judson Merritt's past in the world of music included a stint in a London production of the Broadway musical Blast!, as well as two years as band director at The Woodlands High School. But the Houston native doesn't see his medical pursuits as so different from his brief career in music education.
"I think they're very similar. The content is not the same, but teaching a student about music and teaching somebody about their body and health — it's all about getting them to understand what's going on in their body and their mind," he says.
Merritt, 33, is headed to University of California, San Diego for his residency, where he'll focus on emergency medicine. Ever the risk taker, he's jumping headfirst into the SoCal scene with no prior contacts in the city.
"I visited there to interview and it's the most beautiful city on earth," he says. "The weather's gorgeous. The climate's wonderful."
He'll be enrolled in a four-year residency that includes the chance to practice in-flight and disaster medicine. And if he has any free time, he hopes to return to practicing the horn.
Also celebrating in Weber Plaza was one-time ballerina Jessica Mason. The 29-year-old Dallas-native explained to CultureMap, "I always wanted to be a doctor, but first I wanted to be able to dance."
After fulfilling pre-med requirements and earning a degree in dance from Texas Christian University, Mason made her way to New York to pursue a career onstage. After segueing into an internship at New York's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, she came to UTHealth.
From here, she'll be headed to a residency at the UT Southwestern - Austin Family Medicine Program, working towards the goal of becoming a pediatrician with a speciality in sports medicine.
She's enjoyed taking a few dance classes at Houston Ballet while enrolled at UTHealth, but is eager to explore the Austin arts scene.
"It's a great city for culture," she says.