Match Day 2012: USF medical students find their fortunes [VIDEO]

Today, the class of 2012 arrives at Skipper’s Smokehouse to find their fortunes.

It is Match Day, that annual ritual where medical students across the country find out where – and in what specialty – they will do their graduate training, or residencies.

It will be a whirlwind of exhilaration and devastation and uncertainty and change. Some students will get to see the culmination of their years of dreams and hard work. Others must find new directions for their careers and their lives. Some will leave home; others will head for unfamiliar vistas. Parents and spouses and children are all at the mercy of the Match Day algorithm, waiting to see where students will go and whose lives will be turned upside down.

Match Day 2012, Nicholas Governatori, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

Nicholas Governatori reacts as when he finds out he matched in emergency medicine at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Associate Dean of Student Affairs Steven Specter looks on.

Three of these students of 2012 never expected to see Match Day.

Alexandra Feliciano was told she couldn’t be a doctor.

Priyanka Kamath didn’t want to become one.

And Harry Lomas took 20 years to make it to medical school.

Yet here they are.  And they, too, are waiting to see their fate.

* * *

Alexandra Feliciano was 10 when she passed out on the playground.

The incident turned out to be nothing serious; she may have overheated. But it marked a pivotal point in her life – because she received a heart scan.

“Seeing my own heart beating and hearing that ‘whoosh, whoosh’ – I was completely engrossed,” said Feliciano, now 28. She began dreaming that day of a career in medicine.

 It was not an easy road. Feliciano’s mother brought her and her siblings to Florida from Puerto Rico when Alexandra was seven. Her mother worked as a hotel maid; her father was largely absent.

Money was scarce, and dreams were scarcer. Well-meaning adults dispensed pragmatism with heavy doses of doubt upon Alexandra’s ambitions.

“Well, you know, that’s really hard,” they would tell young Alexandra when she said she wanted to become a doctor.

But the discouraging words only cemented her resolve. That determination only grew as Alexandra saw how her family’s circumstances limited their access to healthcare. They were living in rural Florida, and Alexandra’s mother would have to travel an hour to visit a doctor.  She would bring Alexandra along to translate.

Alexandra wanted to make it better.

USF Match Day 2012

Alexandra Feliciano announces her match.

In the end, she persevered. Feliciano trained first as a nuclear medicine technician, but found it didn’t offer the connection with patients that she wanted.

And today, Alexandra Feliciano will find out where her future lies – but she already knows she will dedicate her career to helping those less fortunate.  She is seeking to match in family medicine.

“I want to give back to the underserved population,” she said. “I feel like there’s a need there. And they are so appreciative of anything you can do for them – even when all you’re doing is speaking in their native tongue.”

She also wanted a specialty that would allow her to focus on working closely with her patients.

“I love people,” she said. “I need that personal contact. To me, that’s medicine – reaching out and listening and touching.”

Feliciano has already made working with underserved populations, particularly migrant workers and other Latino groups in need, a priority during medical school. She has been a co-president of the Latin American Medical Students Association and received the Philip T. Gompf Award for Perseverance and Social Justice.

She plans to continue that work wherever she goes – but she has no idea where that will be. While many medical students seek a particular program or region to match in, Feliciano approached the Match as her “opportunity for adventure.” She’s applied for family medicine programs in several states, all of which offer proximity to the populations she wants to help. Her top choices are in North Carolina and Tennessee – especially because two of her sisters live there.

“But I’ll be happy wherever I end up,” she said.

And for now, she plans to return to Florida after residency. She knows there are patients here who need her help.

* * *

Harry Lomas joined the U.S. Army Rangers straight out of high school.

It was what he always wanted to do, and he was good at it. He jumped from planes and invaded Panama.

But his goals changed after his mother got cancer. Lomas cared for her until she died.

He then returned to the Army, joined Army Special Forces and went to Haiti.

Through the Army, Lomas became an emergency medicine physician assistant, and then got a master’s degree.  When the war started, he spent a week helping out at Ground Zero, and then returned to active duty, and eventually deployed to Iraq.

Lomas then transferred to MacDill Air Force Base. Married with a child by now, Lomas still found time to take organic chemistry and physics as prerequisites for medical school, all while still in the Army.

Finding time to apply to med school was a bit harder. USF had to move up Lomas’ interview because he was scheduled to redeploy to Iraq.

Match Day 2012, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, Harry Lomas

Harry Lomas, congratulated by Dr. Specter, accepted his match envelope with his family.

Lomas returned from Iraq and arrived at medical school at age 37, making him one of the older entering students. He came in determined to keep an open mind about what path he would take – but “oncology was always in the back of my mind,” he said.

Working in the operating room with Dr. Richard Karl in surgical oncology further developed his desire to work with cancer patients.  Dr. Sarah Hoffe introduced him to radiation oncology and his affinity for physics and clinical research made it a good fit.

And, most of all, Lomas became passionate about helping cancer patients talk through the complex treatment choices they have to make and the unique fears they experience. Aggressive surgery might be best for one patient, watchful waiting for another.

“Dr. Karl is a fantastic mentor,” Lomas said. “He really gets it…What is best for that patient? What are the implications for them? How does it affect their lives?”

Now 41, Lomas knows he’s already matched in this very competitive field – but he doesn’t know where. It could mean a big change for him, his wife Stephanie, and their three children: Josephine, 6; Lilah, 3; and Harry V, 1. Lomas will do a preliminary year in one program and then go on to a radiation oncology residency somewhere else.

Lomas has ranked nine programs; his top choice is in Virginia, with Moffitt Cancer Center a close second. Depending what happens, the family could need to sell their home – fast.

“We’ve been packing like crazy,” he said.

But they’ll find out today whether they should keep packing up boxes.

* * *

This isn’t Priyanka Kamath’s first Match Day. When Kamath was a junior at Hillsborough High School, she came to USF’s Match Day – to see where her mother would match. The stakes were high: a match elsewhere could have meant Kamath would have had to spend her senior year in a new school.

Fortunately for Kamath, her mother matched at USF, and the family stayed put. Her mother, Dr. Kanchan Kamath, now practices internal medicine in Tampa.

She has been an inspiration for her daughter.

“I saw that passion for practicing medicine in her,” Priyanka Kamath said. “She loves it so much. She has never taken a second of it for granted.”

But it wasn’t always that way.

Kamath says her mother always took wonderful care of her two children, even after she started medical school when Kamath was in eighth grade. She loved how her mother would meet her at Barnes & Noble or Panera, and the two would sit and do their homework together.

And Kamath was always proud of how her mother pursued her dream later in life, even after her parents’ more traditional views on appropriate choices for women initially kept her from pursuing a medical career.

“It was watching her work so hard,” Kamath said. “I didn’t know if that was the right thing for me.”

So Kamath looked for other paths. She majored in economics and anthropology. She thought about optometry school. She traveled to India, where she worked for an organization that helped women forced into prostitution.

And gradually, Kamath’s views began to change.

Match Day 2012, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, Priyanka Kamath

Priyanka Kamath watched her mother, now an internal medicine physician in Tampa, match at USF. Today, she opens her own envelope.

“Easy isn’t always the best thing for people,” she said. “Finding something that challenges you and is exciting is important. It just took me a couple of years to figure that out.”

Once she did, Kamath didn’t look back. She decided she wants to become an OB/GYN so that she can advocate for women.

But first she has to get through Match Day. Kamath and her fiancé, Vimal Patel, plan to marry in just a few weeks. And the high school sweethearts have been in a long-distance relationship for a decade.

Patel, now finishing his MBA in Texas, has been offered a job in New York. So Kamath’s top two choices are there, so they can be together.

If those don’t work, Patel will follow her. Her other choices are in Austin, Texas, so Patel won’t have to move, and then Chicago and Washington, DC, where it would be easier for him to find work. Except, of course, for one other place on the list: USF.

That would be just fine, too. Then there would be two Dr. Kamaths in town.

* * *

By this morning, students had already packed Skipper’s Smokehouse long before noon, when Match Day was set to begin. The air hummed with tension. Lomas and his wife brought all three children; Kamath’s mother is back at the site of her own Match Day; Feliciano’s mother is her, while her sisters are watching USF Health’s live stream of the event from their computers.

When her name is called, Anna Wouters practically runs to the stage. “How hard is it to open an envelope?” William Carson asks his classmates when it takes him too long to open his and find out that he’s going to UCLA and then UCSF.

Then it’s Feliciano’s turn. She takes a deep breath before she looks, then turns to the camera.

“My sister, are you watching? Are you watching?” she yells. “Family medicine at the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga!”

It means Feliciano will be in the same town with her sister Yajaira, with sister Eleida nearby.

More names are called. Nicholas Governatori is so excited that he jumps up and down screaming out his match: St. Lukes-Roosevelt in New York. Nobody has any doubt that this is exactly where he wants to be.

Then it’s Lomas’ turn. He brings up the whole family, with the girls in pink sundresses and little Harry V in his arms. Dr. Steven Specter, associate dean of student affairs, opens the envelope for him. Lomas kneels down to read it next to his daughters: Riverside Regional Medical Center for a year, then Virginia Commonwealth University. His top choice. Stephanie Lomas and the girls start doing a happy dance.

“You guys get to see SNOW!” she tells them as the girls dance off stage.

“I’m so excited,” she says as they pack up the kids. “I’m overjoyed. I’m so proud of him. I’m so happy.”

Lomas grins.

“It’s what we wanted,” he says.

Of course, it does means they’ll have to sell the house.

Soon it’s Kamath’s turn. She opens the envelope and reads with a smile: University of Texas, Southwestern. Not New York, but it means her fiancé won’t have to move.  It’s the next best thing.

Next Christiana Bernal chokes back tears when she finds out she’s matched in pediatrics at her top choice, Vanderbilt. Sherif Said throws his hands in the air to call out his match – anesthesiology at the University of Southern California. Timothy Miller is quieter as he reads his match: neurosurgery at Duke.

Robert Rossi’s name is called near the end. He arrives at the front and talks to the camera: “Hi Mom. Love you.” Then he yells out his match: the University of Chicago.  “Oh my God. I got it! I got it!” he says. Friends line up to hug him.

The last few names are called, and then the suspense is over. All that’s left to do is huddle up for the class picture.

The class of 2012 has matched.

Match Day 2012 group photo, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, Class of 2012

Everybody gets a match! The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine Class of 2012

- Photos by Eric Younghans, and video by Amy Mariani, USF Health Communications

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Match Day 2012, Tawanna King, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

A Match Day tradition: As the last student called up to open the match envelope, Tawanna King wins the cash box containing the dollar bill or bills contributed by each student before her.