Lucky match! USF senior medical students learn where they will spend their residencies
Clear skies, the Hillsborough River and the downtown Tampa skyline helped set the stage for this year’s USF Match Day, held March 17. The open grass yard behind the local restaurant Ulele was filled with senior medical students from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM) as they gathered for Match Day, the annual ritual of finding out where they will spend their residency training after graduating from medical school next month.
The celebratory vibe had a glimmer of green this year – spring green, USF green and St. Patrick’s Day green – with students and family members also wearing specially designed shirts that helped raise $2,500 toward MCOM scholarships. Working with USF’s creative design team, the medical students designed this year’s shirt to reflect St. Patrick’s Day, using the phrase Luck o’ the Match!
The USF MCOM Class of 2017 includes 162 students who matched with residency programs. On Match Day, senior medical students across the country learn where they will spend their residencies, the next step in their medical education, which can last from three to seven years depending upon the specialty pursued. The big reveal follows several months of applying for and interviewing at residency programs and ranking their picks within a formal match through the National Residency Match Program (NRMP).
It is on Match Day that all U.S. medical students find out which programs chose them. The news is available at the same time across the country – at high noon on the east coast and at 6:00 a.m. in Hawaii. This year, the NRMP’s main match was the largest on record.
At Ulele, the festivities began a surprise visit by City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, offering encouraging words to the senior medical students.
“All of us are very proud of what you have done and how you have gotten to this point,” Mayor Buckhorn said. “But more importantly, what I want you to know is that, whether you match at USF or whether you go on to some other great university or medical school in this country, I want you to do one thing for me: I want you to come back to Tampa when you’re done. I think you’ve seen we’re building an amazing city for you. This is that place in America where the best and the brightest want to be. We want you to come home here. We want you to become part of our community. You are part of us. Good luck to all of you. Go Bulls! and Go Tampa!”
Taking the stage next was Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine.
“I want to thank our mayor, probably the biggest supporter of this medical school and its relocation downtown on the waterfront with the Heart Institute,” Dr. Lockwood said.
“And I especially want to thank the support system of our graduates, the family members here, and a big hand for all of them.
“If you are feeling the same level of nervous energy that I did – I won’t mention how many years ago – I can only imagine what’s going through your minds,” he continued. “You’re going to be great doctors. Just keep in mind to put the patient first every day, and you’ll have a successful career and outstanding professional life.”
At noon, Mayor Buckhorn announced the first match and presented an envelope to Jewel Brown, who matched to an obstetrics and gynecology residency at USF.
Each medical school has its own tradition for releasing the match information: some simply hand out envelopes and students open them en masse. The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine has a long-standing tradition for handing out envelopes one at a time, in random order, and allowing each student to open and announce to their classmates where he or she is headed. The additional attention to each student and the additional time for sharing their news creates a festive atmosphere that, over the years, has offered generations of USF students an opportunity to savor the moment that defines their future.
This year’s group includes 50 students in the SELECT MD program at MCOM, who spent the past two years in clinical rotations in Allentown, PA. Ten of the 50 returned to Tampa to open their envelopes at Ulele.
The Class of 2017 also includes seven students matching through the U.S. military, the largest group in MCOM’s history. As happens in military matches, these students already learned where they’re conducting their residencies, but join their classmates at Match Day as part of the Class of 2017.
Although the lawn of Ulele was full of students and their friends and family, anyone who couldn’t make it to the venue could catch all the action via the live UStream, giving access across the world as each student learns where they will spend the next few years of their medical training as physician residents.
Names continued to be announced by Kira Zwygart, MD, associate dean for MCOM Office of Student Affairs. One by one, senior students came forward to accept an envelope, open it, and discover their futures.
As MCOM tradition goes, each student places a dollar into a box – this year a ‘pot-o-gold’ to stay with the St. Patrick’s Day theme – and, because the student names are called in random order, the final envelope holder gets the cash. This year that winning student was Jennifer Carrion who matched in family medicine residency at Florida State University Lee Memorial in Fort Myers, FL.
Then the crowd of newly matched students gathered together for what might be their last photo as a class. Everyone cheered in unison, thrilled to have matched.
Stats: From the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine: 162 students matched; 37 students (23%) are staying at USF; 70 (43%) are staying in Florida; and 56 students (35%) chose primary care as their specialty (internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics). Click here for more details about the nationwide Match from the National Residency Match Program.
For many students, Match Day is a defining moment
Student narratives by Rachel Pleasant
They find out where they will launch their careers. For some, Match Day continues paths of determination. Here are some of their stories.
For Mayssan Muftah, becoming a doctor means being able to help rebuild her patients’ health — while also breaking traditions and stereotypes.
“I had a patient tell me once that I had totally changed his ideas of what Muslims are like,” said Muftah, 23, a Syrian-American who lives in Tampa. “I like breaking down people’s ideas of what a woman in a head scarf should be doing.”
Muftah, a third-generation physician, will specialize in gastroenterology, just like her father and grandfather, but in many other ways, she is forging her own path.
“In the Arab culture, not very many women become doctors. They might go to medical school — my grandmother did — but they rarely go into practice,” Muftah said.
Muftah is intent on having a career and a family. This spring, she will marry her finance, Ammar Nassri, an internal medicine resident who starts his fellowship this summer. Because of their impending nuptials, Nassri was unable to attend Match Day. Muftah chose to open her envelope privately a few moments before the match ceremony commenced, so that she could share the news with Nassri via a FaceTime call.
While her fiancé finishes his gastroenterology fellowship, Mayssan will be doing her internal medicine residency. Her future plans include finding a balance between her career and being a mother. She wants to show young Muslim women that they can pursue their dreams and not to give into stereotypes.
“If you want something, you have to go for it,” she said. “You can’t let anyone stop you. You can be everything — and it’s worth it,” she said.
Unlike her father and grandfather who work in private practice, Muftah plans to practice in an academic setting. There, she will encounter patients from all walks of life, and in all likelihood, certain prejudices, too. Muftah is undeterred.
“I can break down misconceptions about the Muslim faith,” she said, “and change ideas about what someone like me should be like.”
Muftah matched in internal medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.
Like most children, SeQuoya Killebrew and her two siblings made frequent visits to their pediatrician’s office as they were growing up, and with every runny nose and fever, she became more certain that one day, she too would become a doctor.
“I really admired my pediatrician,” said Killebrew, 26. “My parents trusted her wholeheartedly to care for their children, to help them and to look out for their best interests.”
The goal of becoming a pediatrician sustained Killebrew for years, throughout high school, undergraduate studies at Florida A&M University, where she earned a degree in biology, and her first two years of medical school.
In her third year, her first clinical rotation just happened to be in internal medicine, and soon, Killebrew was rethinking her professional aspirations.
“I realized I really like internal medicine. It’s a challenging field. You have to study all the time. You can’t be complacent,” Killebrew said.
Later that year, during her pediatrics rotation, Killebrew made her decision. She would become a hospital-based internist rather than a pediatrician.
“I realized that kids aren’t fun when they’re sick, and when they’re better and more fun, it’s time to send them home,” she said. “I like the dynamic of working with adult patients.”
Killebrew aims to work in a hospital setting because of the impact she’ll be able to make on patients when they’re at their sickest.
“When your patients are in the hospital, there is something seriously wrong. I’ll be able to be their advocate, to sit down with them, hear their stories, coordinate their tests, make sure everything gets done, and then send them home healthier and with the tools to live a better life,” she said.
Though she will be treating adults rather than children, Killebrew will still strive to emulate the compassionate care her pediatrician delivered each time she and her brother and sister had a stomachache or needed an immunization.
“People trust you wholeheartedly to take care of them. You’re a counselor and a confidant, as well as a doctor,” she said.
Killebrew hopes to be matched with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. And she did, in internal medicine.
As the son of a beloved USF Health faculty member, one might think Sam Slone is merely following his father’s footsteps into medicine.
Not so, said Slone, who like his father, Frederick Slone, MD, will specialize in gastroenterology.
“I was always good in math and science. I wanted to use that to help people at the same time. By the time I was in middle school, I had decided that I would become a doctor, too,” said Slone, 26.
In fact, it wasn’t until his son was applying to college that he heard him say he wanted to become a physician, Dr. Slone said.
During his clinical rotations, Slone explored a variety of specialties, but gastroenterology “just felt right.”
“You have to do something you like. With gastroenterology, I’ll see inpatients and outpatients. I can specialize, but also provide a wide range of services. It’s the area in which I feel I can have the biggest impact for patients,” Slone said.
During medical school, Slone participated in research involving the use of fecal microbiota transplants to treat autism, taught Basic Life Support to members of the public and volunteered with Tampa Bay Street Medicine, an organization that serves Tampa’s homeless population.
All the while, Slone felt his confidence as a medical provider growing.
“At the beginning of medical school, you think, ‘There is no possible way I can learn everything I need to,’ but little by little, you do, and then you realize, ‘I can do this,’ ” he said.
After he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1978, Dr. Slone matched to the University of South Florida for his residency. Like the vast majority of medical school residents, Tampa is where he stayed after his graduate education, building a life in tandem with his practice.
The younger Slone was born and raised in Tampa, graduating from Jesuit High School. He completed his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Florida — to have the away-from-home college experience — but after graduating in 2013, came right back to Tampa for medical school. This is where he hopes to stay; he ranked USF as his top residency location.
Regardless of where his career takes him, Slone is eager to begin his life’s work — and his dad is eager to watch his son make a name for himself.
“This is one of the proudest moments of my life, to see him achieve this goal,” Dr. Slone said. “Whatever he sets his mind on doing, he will do the work it takes to not only do it, but to excel.”
Slone fulfilled his hopes – he is staying in Tampa in an internal medicine residency at USF.
He won’t be there to cheer them on as they open their envelopes.
He can’t wrap them in congratulatory hugs after they cross the stage.
But somehow, Sean and Shaara Argo hope, their dad will be watching this Match Day, and he’ll be proud.
“I’m sure he will be,” said Shaara, 26, of Don Argo, who died of cancer in 2008.
“He always held us to very high expectations.”
Added Sean, 30: “He always said that if you weren’t using your head, you might as well have two rear ends.”
Though he won’t be there to celebrate with them, their accomplishments, Sean and Shaara agreed, have everything to do with their dad, as well as their mom, Kathy, who lives in Rockledge.
Don taught calculus at what is now Eastern Florida State College. Some of his courses were broadcasted on public access television, earning him the nickname, “Math Man.”
“People would just come up to us and say, ‘Hey, it’s the Math Man,’” Shaara said.
Ever the “Math Man,” Don had his children doing linear algebra by the time they were 5 and calculus by middle school.
“We couldn’t go out to dinner without the napkins and placemats being covered in math problems,” Sean said.
Meanwhile, their mother, a former software engineer turned stay-at-home-mom, was the nurturer, the one who instilled in them the importance of doing for others.
“She is just that type of person,” Shaara said. “She taught us empathy and compassion.”
With these two perfectly balanced influences in their lives, Shaara and Sean grew. Shaara gravitated toward medicine early in life. She recalls a photo taken when she and her brother were 3 and 6. They each held stethoscopes to the other’s chest.
“She was very serious about it,” said Sean.
Shaara earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a master’s degree in medical sciences from the University of South Florida before enrolling in medical school.
Sean, on the other hand, began his higher education as a physics major at USF, but changed his mind during the last years of his father’s life.
“He was in and out of the hospital,” Sean said. “He would schedule his surgeries for over his winter breaks from school, so we had Christmas in the hospital many times. Sometimes he had really good doctors, and sometimes he had doctors who lacked that human element.”
Those experiences led Sean to change his major. He also earned a bachelor’s in biomedical sciences and master’s degree in medical sciences. Afterward, he went to work for a Florida Department of Health laboratory. There, he tested blood samples for diseases, day in and day out, day after day.
“The same things happened at the same time every day. I realized it wasn’t for me,” Sean said.
“I had these skills, and the experiences we went through with my dad being sick. That’s when I decided medical school was the best fit for me.”
Shaara had headed straight into medical school, which is how she and Sean, four years apart in age, ended up in the same graduating class.
“We’ve answered the same three questions ever since: Are we twins? No. Do we live together? No. Do we study together? No,” Sean said.
Although, his last answer isn’t completely true.
“I taught you how to make flash cards in med school,” Shaara said to Sean one warm afternoon a few days prior to Match Day. “I remember. It was amino acids.”
As they progressed in their studies, Sean and Shaara each chose specialties that perfectly reflect their personalities.
Shaara, the organized, flashcard-making sibling, has chosen pediatrics.
“She is the one with the calendar. There are timetables for immunizations and developmental milestones. She’ll be the one to make sure that every kid is progressing on time,” Sean said.
Sean, who so detested the predictability of the laboratory, will specialize in emergency medicine.
“He is very spur-of-the-moment and spontaneous. He will definitely be able to jump from task to task in a way that makes sense to him,” Shaara said.
Shaara is hoping to match at USF, while Sean is crossing his fingers for the University of Florida or Florida Atlantic University.
Wherever their careers take them, Sean and Shaara will be carrying their parents with them.
“I want them to know that everything they did for us our entire lives, all the sacrifices they made, it made this easier,” Shaara said. “They had such a perfect balance. We hope to embody them both as physicians.”
Both got their preferred matches! Shaara matched in pediatrics at USF. And Sean matched in emergency medicine at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
He knows how it feels to be a stranger in a foreign land.
He can still recall the heartbreak of his parents’ divorce.
He’s watched his home burn down, and he’s spent his summers counseling children battling for their lives. Now, Ariel Peñaranda is ready to put these and many other experiences to work for others.
“I have an understanding of what it’s like to go through these things. I know the struggle, and I know that if someone is there for you and there to listen to you, it can get better,” said Peñaranda, 27, who entered the USF Morsani College of Medicine through SELECT, a leadership track that prepares students to take active roles in changes to our health care system.
A native of Colombia who immigrated to Miami when he was 11, Peñaranda first considered becoming a medical doctor when he was in middle school, but that was mostly because both his parents are lawyers and he wanted to take a different path in life.
During his undergraduate years at the University of Miami, he veered away from medicine, earning a bachelor’s degree in motion pictures and psychology. As he progressed in his studies, however, he found that he was more inspired by the time he’d spent volunteering at an Orlando camp for children diagnosed with cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions than the prospect of editing movies behind a computer screen all day.
“Medicine was a way to combine my love of people and science,” he said.
His undergraduate degree, unusual as it may seem for a future doctor, actually represents what he aims to achieve in his medical career.
“I like listening to people’s stories,” he said.
Peñaranda, the oldest of four siblings and a slew of cousins, has always loved children, and long planned to specialize in pediatrics, but changed his mind after his psychiatric rotations.
By specializing in psychiatry, Peñaranda will be able to spend his days doing what he likes best — listening — in order to devise a course of care that incorporates individual and group therapy, role modeling, and other patient-centered interventions. After his residency, he plans to pursue a child psychiatry fellowship.
“When I walk into the room, I’m not going to be asking for the chief complaint and then writing a prescription,” he said.
In all of his patient interactions, Peñaranda will dig deep, using his personal experiences to relate to those under his care. He gave the experience of being displaced from his Allentown apartment after a fire late last year.
“People have been so kind and have helped me through that,” he said. “I’ve been through that and now I can help others going through the same things.”
Peñaranda added he is especially interested in working with children whose behavioral and emotional issues are affecting their academic performance. He hoped to be matched with Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. And he was.
Communications team supporting Match Day 2017: Anne DeLotto Baier, Grace Beck, Freddie Coleman, Vjollca Hysenlika, Mark Leaning, Tina Meketa, Ryan Noone, Elizabeth Peacock, Rachel Pleasant, Emily Rathbun, Sandra Roa, Ashley Rodriguez, Sarah Worth, Eric Younghans. Technical support by Andy Campbell.