Alexis Holmes and Sophia Yapalater
One year ago this month, the world stopped. You likely remember exactly where you were when you learned that we had to go home, and stay home. We know exactly where we were — walking out of a testing center having completed one of the many milestones of medical education: Step 1 of the USMLE medical boards (the first part of the United States Medical Licensing Examination). Our personal celebrations upon completing this milestone were met by an email sharing that medical students were being pulled from clinical rotations, and that all in-person school events that coming week were cancelled, most notably Match Day.
Match Day is typically a memorable in-person celebration where graduating medical students around the country (and internationally!) gather with their families and friends to find out where they will continue their medical training. In a typical year, the Perelman School of Medicine’s Jordan Medical Education Center atrium buzzes with excitement as students, surrounded by their advisors, peers, and loved ones, open their envelopes which hold their long-awaited match result — the hospitals where they will train as medical residents in their chosen specialty after both students and programs have ranked their top choices. For most, this moment is much bigger than graduation. Our hearts broke learning that the class of 2020 wouldn’t have the celebration that we medical students spend four-plus years anticipating.
Along with the rest of the world, the pandemic caused immediate and far-reaching disruption for medical students. We watched from the sidelines as classes moved online and our mentors and future colleagues became the first line of defense against the ravages of COVID-19. And over the past year, particularly during the first few months, we all had to learn tough lessons along the way.
A year ago, we didn’t imagine that the class of 2021’s Match Day would be just as impacted by the pandemic. After enduring an unprecedented final year of medical school — including cancelled away rotations, a revised residency application season, and an entirely virtual interview season — we set out to, as they say, turn lemons into lemonade. How could we ensure that our peers felt as appreciated and celebrated as they would feel in a non-pandemic year?
We decided that we would bring the celebration to them.
After submitting our rank-lists on March 3, we launched the Perelman School of Medicine’s first ever Match Month, a series of socially distanced events counting down to Match Day, celebrating students along the way. With the help of the Student Affairs office, we created individualized “party-in-a-box” themed gift bags for matching students. Each celebration kit was filled with balloons, signs, t-shirts, confetti, and other items to help each of our classmates create a celebration in their own home during the virtual Match Day celebration.
Our COVID-safe match celebration also included a series of raffles, supported by a number of local and national companies who generously donated celebratory gifts to Penn’s future medical alumni. While this year, students won’t have the chance to open up an envelope disclosing where they will train for residency — as most will find out their results safe at home and online — we’re preserving the tradition by creating a surprise box full of envelopes. Each student will be “matched” to a prize, ranging from scrub caps, white coats, clogs, gift cards to professional coaching sessions and candle making classes, and more. We were absolutely floored by the generosity of the places we reached out to, who viewed Match Day with the same excitement that we did.
Of the many lessons this past year has taught us, one is to remember to celebrate the big wins and moments. The pandemic, while able to take away an in-person ceremony, cannot take away the milestone of matching into residency, a culmination of our years of hard work, perseverance, and dedication. During this stressful time, in this unprecedented year, we are so happy to be able to foster joy and excitement with our fellow graduating students.
Alexis Holmes and Sophia Yapalater are graduating medical students in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Holmes is matching into Dermatology and Yapalater is matching into Internal Medicine.