Rebka Tekeste and her husband planned on having children later in life. The 28-year-old was in a grueling medical program that left her little time for anything else.
But sometime life throws you a curve ball. Tekeste found herself pregnant during her third year at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She gave birth to a son and decided she wanted to give him a sibling sooner rather than later. Her daughter Grace was born six weeks ago.
Tekeste held Grace when she walked on stage Friday at the Hippodrome Theatre to receive the letter that would tell her where she would practice medicine for the next three years. Her husband Temesgen Meheret stood next to her holding their 2-year-old son Nathaniel. She will stay in Baltimore for a residency in pediatrics at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Tekeste, who immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia at age 10, joined her classmates, along with medical students around the country, in the celebratory end to medical school and annual rite of passage known as Match Day. The day was a celebration for the whole family. Her dad worked three jobs to give his family a better life and stressed education when she was growing up.
Tekeste said balancing dirty diapers and late night feedings with labs and exams was as hard as it sounds, even with a lot of help from her husband and mother, who quit her job as a cashier to help. During the Match Day ceremony Nathaniel got a little cranky because it was nap time. Meheret almost missed joining his wife onstage, as a result.
Still, they wouldn’t change a thing about the past four and a half years.
“They bring so much joy to my family that the challenge was definitely worth it,” Tekeste said of her children.
This year 37,103 students vied for 33,167 medical residencies nationally, the most ever offered, according to the National Resident Matching Program. Students across the country all received their much anticipated letters at noon.
They are entering medicine as the country faces a looming shortage of doctors. The United State will be short 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Specialty care will face the largest gaps.
Tekeste was among 142 students from the University of Maryland School of Medicine who were called onstage at the Hippodrome in random order to receive their letters. Each student walked to a song of their choice, which ranged from “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys to “Like a Surgeon” by Weird Al Yankovic. Some opened their letters on stage while others did so back at their seats huddled with family, friends or fellow students.
The day is one filled with emotion and anxiety while waiting to hear your name called, relief and happiness after opening the letter.
Serena Yin and some friends decided to open their letters at their seats. Her friends engulfed Yin in hugs as tears streamed down her face after learning she would continue her medical training in neurosurgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Brother and sister Daniel and Minna Leydorf opened their letters on stage. Daniel, three years older than his sister, enrolled in medical school after a career in politics. Minna knew since high school she wanted to be doctor.
The siblings, originally from Annapolis, lived together during their medical school years and served as each other’s support system during stressful times. Daniel joked that Minna, the more serious and disciplined of the two, helped keep him focused. Minna will train in pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Daniel in surgery at Anne Arundel Medical Center. His office was once across the street from the hospital, inspiring him to change careers.
Other students are headed to Cleveland Clinic, New York University Langone Medical Center, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Georgetown University Medical Center and a variety of other places.
Across town, 120 students from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine received their letters all at once after a ceremony in an atrium on the East Baltimore campus.
Christine Boone, who also received a Ph.D. while in medical school, is going to California. The first stop is Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for a transitional program. She then will head to UC San Diego Medical Center to train in interventional radiology and research. She waited about 40 minutes to open her envelope. She wanted to open at the same time as her fiance who finished his medical studies at St. Louis University.
Boone has liked science as long as she can remember. She conducted her first science experiments at age four when she would put objects in the freezer to see the impact of the cold. She wanted to be a doctor after watching her younger sister live with a rare chromosomal anomaly that gave her seizures, which her neurologists described as electrical storms in the brain.
“That idea was really fascinating to me,” Boone said. “From that point on I was enthralled with neuroscience and how the brain works.”
Medicine was a career change for Stephen Lesche, who was a jazz guitarist in the military before getting accepted at Johns Hopkins. He took his first biology class his senior year of college, but thought it too late to change his major. But the joy of that class lingered in his mind years later.
“I loved learning about life and cells, DNA and research,” he said. “I still remember thinking how cool it was.”
Lesche held his daughter Rosalind, 3, as he opened his letter. He will train in ophthalmology at the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown and George Washington University.
The annual Match Day, in its 66th year, was created as a fair way to assign students to residencies where they will further their training for the next three to seven years.
The match process is an intense and cumbersome one where students fill out long applications and undergo extensive interviews with potential programs. The medical centers and students then make their top picks. Based on these preferences, the nonprofit National Resident Matching Program uses a computer program to assign students.
Some will train in general or primary care, while others will pursue specialties, such as orthopedics.
“It represents the culmination in many ways of their incredible work in medical school,” said Dr. Thomas Koenig, associate dean for medical student affairs at Johns Hopkins.
At the Hippodrome, University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean E. Albert Reece encouraged the students to spend their careers being of service to others and seeking excellence and higher purpose. He also told them to treat their patients humanely.
“Always remember that your patients are people,” Reece said.” They are not a disease, not a collection of symptoms or just another case. Your patients are daughters, sons, mothers, fathers and children. Each and every patient deserves your full attention, your deepest respect and excellent care.”