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'Welcome to your future': Penn celebrates Match Day 2024

The Jordan Medical Education Center fifth floor lobby was brimming with giddy nerves and excitement on Match Day—except for the corner nearest the door to the roof garden, where a meltdown was brewing. 

While his Perelman School of Medicine classmates clutched the envelopes that would soon reveal where they’d spend their residency years, MD/PhD candidate Joseph Aicher was trying to soothe 3-year-old son Peter, who was getting fussy in his red wagon. 

Did he need a snack or sippy cup? Was it past nap time? Just the stress of being among throngs of MS4s and their loved ones? Nope. 

“He wants to open the envelope,” laughed Aicher’s wife Bernadette Bucher, PhD.

A future medical career in an envelope 

Interim Dean Jonathan Epstein speaks at the Match Day podium.
“What a crowd!” exclaimed Jonathan Epstein, MD, of his first Match Day as PSOM’s interim dean.

There was a lot of that excitement going around, as the clock counted down to noon on Friday, March 15th. Every year, the third Friday of March is designated as Match Day, when the National Residency Matching Program lets medical students across the United States know where they’ll be headed for the next phase of their medical training. Or in some cases, if they’ll be remaining in place.

Among the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) class of 2024 matching students, 42 students—30 percent—will complete their residencies at Penn or the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Come summer, the 147 students in the class, nearly one-third of whom like Aicher pursued dual degrees, will be fanning out to 21 states (plus Canada). The most popular specialties are internal medicine, anesthesiology, dermatology, and general surgery.

This class is noteworthy for several reasons. According to Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Wellness DaCarla M. Albright, MD, it is the first group that she and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Residency Planning Prithvi Sankar, MD, “have seen from beginning to end.” They’re the first recipients of a Match Day address by PSOM Interim Dean Jonathan Epstein, MD, who told them, “Wherever you go, you’re going to bring the lessons you learned here, and be ambassadors of Penn.” 

Early lessons in perseverance

Victor Ayeni wears a t-shirt reading “Match Day 2020 – I matched in Internal Medicine at:” and smiles as a person uses a marker to fill in “Duke University."
After opening his Match Day envelope, Victor Ayeni wore his residency destination on his t-shirt: Duke University.

The students brought one other distinction: most of their entire medical school career took place after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite online classes instead of lecture halls and anatomy labs, when most of this class began in the fall of 2020; social distancing for extracurricular gatherings; and postponement of traditions like the White Coat Ceremony, some students who came through the pandemic found a bright side. 

“Even with the pandemic cutting off a lot of opportunities, I've made several friendships that I may not have made if not for the pandemic forcing us into more one-on-one and small-group gatherings,” said MS4 Victor Ayeni. “People also cared more about medicine and health, which meant I got to do a lot of cool community engagement activities in terms of talking about the pandemic, or about the vaccine.”

Ayeni, a native of Georgia from a Nigerian family, was already a big proponent of community engagement from his undergraduate days at Yale University. At PSOM, he became involved with groups like the “Cut Hypertension” program, which provides blood pressure screenings to increase community awareness about hypertension, especially among Black men in whom it is prevalent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these relationships enabled Ayeni and his colleagues to also bring real talk about the disease and the vaccine directly to barbershop customers, outside of the medical setting. 

Community engagement, through the Student National Medical Association and the Gold Humanism Honor Society, as well as at Esperanza Health Center (a nonprofit serving the Hispanic community in North Philly), Prevention Point (which serves people experiencing substance use disorder and homelessness), and more, helped to shape Ayeni’s holistic vision for his future role as a doctor, first in internal medicine residency and later as a cardiologist.

“When patients are hospitalized, they’re artificially cut off from their communities. To see them for who they are, and then treat them the way they deserve, we have to learn about the communities they come from,” he said. 

On Match Day, Ayeni sported a blue shirt with a blank white space for writing in where he matched; it was bought for him by his mother, a nurse practitioner who he says has been one of his biggest supporters in pursuing medicine. Moments after opening the envelope, he was proudly wearing his destination: Duke University, in Durham, NC. There he’ll be joining classmate and close friend Agnes Ezekwesili, who found out in February she’d be heading to Duke through Ophthalmology’s early-match announcement. (Good thing, because she missed the big Match Day—for her honeymoon!)

A match following a parent’s footsteps in service 

Megan Andre and Nate McLauchlan
Even though he learned from the military match in December that his medical career would continue in San Diego, Nate McLauchlan still attended Match Day with his wife, Megan Andre, to celebrate.

Also matching early, through a different program, was Nate McLauchlan. As a participant in the “military match” for residents who pursue their training through the U.S. Armed Forces and who attend medical school on a military scholarship, he learned late last year that his urology residency would be at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. It’s the latest chapter in the career trajectory McLauchlan has been on since he followed in his father’s footsteps at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, for college; from there, he went to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then spent time on active duty in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program before pivoting to medicine. 

Like Ayeni, McLauchlan also entered medical school during the first year of the pandemic. Instead of bonding over shared experiences in anatomy lab, shared study spaces, or chatting over casual meals and walks to class, he met most of his classmates “over BlueJeans and Zoom,” he said. And like Ayeni, McLauchlan feels called to serve others: “At its core, service is about dedication to helping others. Health care workers, teachers, public servants, and many other professionals embody these ideals. I think my personality and skills align well with both the military and medicine, so a career in Navy medicine feels like a very apt way for me serve.”

Once vaccination made in-person learning possible again, McLauchlan enjoyed his clerkship year, and found himself gravitating toward urology during his surgery rotation. He appreciates the specialty’s blend of surgery, primary care, and general medicine. “In my view, choosing a specialty is as much about committing to a trade as it is about finding a tribe,” McLauchlan said. “I think I found my tribe with urologists, a group of humorous and hardworking surgeons who are willing and able to help patients through some of their most intimate medical concerns.”

Joseph Aicher, Bernadette Bucher, and children Peter and Madeleine
MD/PhD candidate Joseph Aicher, bound for the University of Michigan, hugs his wife Bernadette Bucher, PhD, while Peter (in wagon) and Madeleine look on.

He was fortunate to earn one of the Navy’s three residency spots for Urology and looks forward to new adventures in San Diego. But McLauchlan, who sought mentors among the Navy trauma team embedded at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, isn’t ruling out an eventual return to Philadelphia: “This is years off, but if the stars align, I would love to come back for fellowship training.”

Although he matched months earlier, McLauchlan and his wife did come to Match Day and shared in the celebration with classmates. So, they were in a state of calm contentment amid all the dizzy anticipation when Senior Vice Dean for Medical Education Suzanne Rose, MD, MSEd, gave her annual “Welcome to your future!” exclamation to kick off the event. As the clock ticked down to noon, hundreds of students ripped open their envelopes. Back in the corner near the roof deck door, Aicher helped Peter use a letter opener to gently slit open his envelope, while Bucher and 1-year-old Madeleine looked on. 

Soon the couple was on their knees hugging each other: The family was going to the University of Michigan. (Bucher had already accepted a position on the Robotics faculty there, so Aicher had applied only to a few different programs; he was accepted to a joint residency and fellowship in internal medicine and hematology/oncology.) “I’m in!” he said as Peter turned his attention to the letter and envelope, and Madeleine gaped at the happy chaos around her. Aicher hugged his family again. “It’s really happening!”


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