happy match day

Medical Center's magical Match Day means start of Houstonians' dreams

Match Day Baylor College of Medicine Students rush board
Courtesy photo
Match Day students celebrating McGovern Medical
Photo by UT Health
Blake Henchcliffe, son Pete, wife Natalie
Courtesy photo
Eva Valilis Tahseen Karim
Photo by Maricruz Kwon
Match Day Houston Meredith Hinds Justin Nguyen kissing
Photo by Deborah Mann Lake
Brandon Esianor, Gabriel Sandoval
Photo by Meredith Raine
Match Day Nujeen Zibari opens letter
Photo by Hannah Rhodes
Match Day Victoria Mitre & family
Courtesy photo
Match Day Geneva White
Courtesy photo
Match Day Taylor and Jaden Kohn
Courtesy photo
Caitlin Comfort and Justin Cardenas
Courtesy photo

The cheers, applause, and all-out screams of joy reverberated through the Texas Medical Center.

On March 16, the dreams of hundreds of Houston medical students came true: they learned where they will pursue their residency training upon graduation.

It's essentially a big reveal, known around the country as Match Day; 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 these students, many who've worked for this moment for much their life, it's is a significant milestone — the lifelong pursuit of becoming a physician.

At McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), 221 students matched to residency training programs across the country. More than 50 percent will remain in Texas, with 23 percent matched to programs at McGovern Medical School. Forty-one percent of the Class of 2018 matched to primary care residency programs, which include internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology. Students who have spent the last four years in medical school will earn their degrees in May, and begin residency training this summer.

“Your hard work and dedication have certainly paid off as is evidenced by the programs that have selected you for your graduate education,” Barbara Stoll, M.D., dean of McGovern Medical School, tells students during the Match Day festivities. “I encourage you to learn from every patient, from every family, from every mentor and every colleague.”

CultureMap follows these local students, as they experience one of the biggest revelations of their personal and professional lives.


At Baylor College of Medicine, students rush to the bulletin board to open their Match Day envelopes, which contain their future plans.

Among the many faces of UTHealth'a Match Day: From left, Neal Jones matched to UC San Diego Medical Center, Kim-Trang Ho matched to Baylor College of Medicine and Tran Le matched to McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

Blake Henchcliffe meets his match

Much to the delight of his family, one of those who matches to McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) was Blake Henchcliffe, 37, a lawman turned soon-to-be doctor. When Henchcliffe wasn’t studying at West Texas A&M University in the Texas Panhandle, he was keeping the peace in Amarillo for the city’s police department.

“That’s how I supported myself while earning a bachelor's degree in general studies and an M.B.A.,” Henchcliffe says. If anyone knows how to handle people under difficult circumstances, it’s Henchcliffe. “As a police officer, you learn how to deal with a lot of responsibility,” he said. Henchcliffe says these skills will serve him well in his career as a psychiatrist.

“To be a good psychiatrist, you must be a good listener, which involves listening to what is being said as well as to what isn’t being said," he says. "In addition, you need to be empathetic.” "Henchcliffe, a graduate of Martin High School in Arlington, sees himself eventually completing a pain management fellowship. Henchcliffe’s wife Natalie and their 11-month-old son Pete joined him for the Match Day festivities.

“I always wanted to go to medical school and now my dream is being fulfilled,” Henchcliffe said.

-- by Rob Cahill

Eva Valilis and Tahseen Karim meet their match

Eva Valilis, 25, and Tahseen Karim, 25, first-generation Americans who met while attending The University of Texas at Austin and began dating at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, were thrilled to both match to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Valilis’s parents are Greek and though she moved around a lot growing up, she considers El Paso home.

Medicine runs in the Valilis family – her father is an oncologist and her brother, Nick, attended McGovern Medical School before her. “When I interviewed for medical school, I knew that’s where I wanted to go and I hoped Nick and I would be in school together,” said Valilis. During Nick’s first year of medical school, he was diagnosed with leukemia and began treatment at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

During her visits with Nick, Valilis became interested in internal medicine and began working with Herbert DuPont, M.D., of UTHealth School of Public Health, on an innovative way to treat a common hospital-acquired infection called Clostridium difficile. Nick was one of Valilis’s biggest supporters and though he passed away last year, he remains a source of motivation for her as she pursues a career in internal medicine.

Karim was born in Houston to Bangladeshi parents and raised in Huntsville. He realized his passion for pediatrics, his chosen specialty, during a college trip to Bangladesh, where he worked at a hospital with children who suffered from diarrheal illnesses. “That really opened up my eyes. After you take away the first-world amenities, it’s just you and the patient,” said Karim. Both Valilis and Karim are class officers at McGovern Medical School – Valilis serves as academic senator and Karim as service senator.


by Hannah Rhodes


Meredith Hinds and Justin Nguyen meet their match

There were tears in the eyes of Meredith Hinds, whose hands were shaking after her match letter revealed that she will be joining fiancé Justin Nguyen at Yale-New Haven Hospital for their residencies. They met during a fall mixer during their first year at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, trained for a marathon together and had their first date in the spring. He popped the question from a balcony at Disneyworld against a backdrop of fireworks.

Their Match Day circumstance was a bit unusual not only because they were part of what’s known as the couples’ match, but also because Nguyen matched early in his chosen specialty, urology, which has its own match system.

Hinds’ path will take her to pediatrics. “I have always loved working with kids, especially underserved kids. I want to equip parents with the knowledge to take care of their child the right way. You create a team with the parent and I like that added dimension.”  Hinds and Nguyen both grew up in the Houston area just 20 minutes apart. She went to The Woodlands High School and he went to Klein High School. “

At the end of the day, we make a really strong team and he’s worth it,” Hinds said about the anxiety leading up to the big reveal. “I wouldn’t have made it through all this without him.”

They’ll marry in Houston on Saturday, March 24.

-- by Deborah Mann Lake

Brandon Esianor meets his match

Former competitive inline speed skater Brandon Esianor, 25, and his mother, sister and aunt all wear black or gold to the Match Day festivities at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in the hopes that he would match to Vanderbilt University Medical School – and he does.

Esianor was born in Brooklyn, New York, but spent much of his childhood in Ghana, where he developed a strong work ethic that has been integral to his medical career. At the age of eight, he returned to the U.S. to live with his mother in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Esianor’s mother introduced him to inline speed skating and he went on to win many national medals and competed at the international level.

The University of Texas at Arlington graduate now cycles and will compete in the 2018 BP MS 150 but says speed skating taught him about sacrifice and dedication. He will be able to use those skills during his otolaryngology residency program. “From the improvement in quality of life to the lifesaving measures of head and neck cancer surgery, the versatile nature of the specialty and impact made on patients has inspired me,” said Esianor. He made a name for himself at McGovern Medical School.

In his second year, Esianor served as president of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the oldest and largest student-run organization focused on the needs and concerns of medical students of color. During his tenure as president, the chapter was recognized as SNMA National Chapter of the Year. “Through SNMA, I found purpose outside of the classroom and confirmed my passion to diversify the face of medicine,” says Esianor, who will be the first doctor in his family.

Esianor was also elected by medical school peers from across the country to serve as a National Delegate on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Administrative Board.

-- by Hannah Rhodes

Nujeen Zibari meets her match

Nujeen Zibari, 26, was born and raised in Plano as a child of political refugees from Kurdistan in northern Iraq. She grew up wanting to work in health care like her father, who arrived to the U.S. in the 1970s with $200 in his pocket and spoke no English, but worked hard to become certified as a physician assistant.

When Zibari was 4 years old, her cousin was diagnosed with a rare metabolic disorder. Zibari asked her father why he couldn’t help treat her cousin. He answered that there were specific doctors who cared for children – “kiddie doctors” – and they would provide him with the best care. “Since then, I’ve always wanted to be a pediatrician,” said Zibari, who matched to Baylor College of Medicine. When Zibari was 15, her cousin passed away – he was 19 years old. “Whenever I’m tired, I remember him always,” said Zibari. Like Zibari’s father and cousin, her mother is a source of inspiration for her.

After all the persecution she and her husband endured in Iraq – growing up in a war zone and watching friends and family members be killed – they persevered. Zibari’s mother taught her to work hard and always be selfless, giving and loving. During her time at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, Zibari has worked on research and outreach projects for underserved communities, including improving access to primary care providers for former juvenile detainees and organizing students from UTHealth’s six schools to participate in a day of service.

Zibari is also involved in McGovern Medical School’s global health scholarly concentration and will complete her capstone project in Kurdistan later this spring.

-- by Hannah Rhodes

Victoria Mitrie's Match Day at Baylor College of Medicine 

Just like hundreds of other Houstonians, Victoria Mitre couldn’t just stand by and watch as Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the city of Houston and surrounding areas. Originally from Argentina, Mitre and her family have called Houston home for eight years.

Through a Facebook group, Mitre mobilized more than 980 Baylor students, residents and faculty to communicate relevant news related to the hurricane and coordinate Harvey relief efforts. She and classmates organized Harvey cleanup crews, which consisted of about 350 hands-on volunteers, who helped more than 50 families in the Baylor community in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Mitre is pursuing a residency in pediatrics and is fluent in both English and Spanish. She matched in pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

Geneva White's Match Day at Baylor College of Medicine 

Geneva White had her career path all figured out – after graduating with a degree in physics she would spend two years in the Peace Corps and then begin her career in the field that she was passionate about – quantum optics.

At the age of 21, she set off to rural Tanzania to teach physics and mathematics in a town with no electricity or running water. While living in the community, she realized that at some point in the year, each of her students got sick with illnesses that would be preventable if they had access to basic healthcare. She felt that this amount of illness was unacceptable and decided to pursue a career in medicine and eventually go to these rural parts of the world to provide healthcare.

White, who is fluent in French and Swahili, is pursuing a residency in anesthesia and hopes to apply her skills in global surgery after completing her training. She matched in anesthesiology at the University of Michigan.


Taylor and Jaden Kohn's Match Day at Baylor College of Medicine 

Taylor and Jaden Kohn share many things in common – their alma mater, their medical school training, and their mutual interest in reproductive health. The two first met during their undergraduate training at Baylor University and both wanted to pursue medicine, but took different paths for their medical training. After college, Taylor took a year off to complete a Fulbright Scholarship in the United Kingdom, where he received a master's degree for his research in Alzheimer’s disease and plaques in the brain.

During medical school, Jaden took an extra year to complete a master’s degree in public health, where she focused on health services research and healthcare management. They got married midway through medical school, and now Taylor is pursuing a residency in urology and Jaden in obstetrics and gynecology. Their mutual interest in male and female infertility has been useful for their research because they are able to give one another feedback, share perspectives from another point of view, and generate new research ideas - they have even published six papers together.

Taylor participated in the early match for urology, which occurred in January, and will be completing his training at Johns Hopkins. Jaden matched in obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins.

Justin Cardenas' and Caitlin Comfort's Match Day at Baylor College of Medicine 

That first week of medical school can be overwhelming, so when Justin Cardenas and Caitlin Comfort met while studying in the library, neither was expecting to meet the person they would spend the rest of their life with.

Justin knew he needed to know more about Caitlin as soon as she asked him to move his laptop charger so she could share the outlet. They eventually became study buddies and started dating thereafter. They got engaged in September 2017 and will be getting married on May 5, 2018. They found that dating while in medical school helped them collaborate and allowed them to draw on each other’s strengths.

Justin, who serves as the class president, is matching in orthopedic surgery. Caitlin, who is passionate about public policy and patient advocacy, is matching in pediatrics. They are participating in the ‘couples match,’ designed for those who wish to match in residency programs in the same city.

Justin and Caitlin matched in orthopedic surgery and pediatrics, respectively, at Baylor College of Medicine.