Brown medical students celebrate Match Day at their academic home during the school's 50th anniversary of medical education

For the first time since 2019, the medical community was able to convene in the grand atrium of Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and toast to student residency matches.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — First there was the COVID-19 lockdown. Then another year of the pandemic in 2021, followed by a scaled-down event on College Hill last year. But on March 17, medical students resumed the tradition of celebrating Match Day in their home building surrounded friends, family members and mentors.

It was the Match Day they deserved, said Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Mukesh Jain, especially as it fell during the during the 50th anniversary of medical education at Brown. The 2023 Match Day celebration was held in the Warren Alpert Medical School in Providence’s Jewelry District, with live music, a lavish luncheon spread and three floors’ worth of space for hundreds of people to gather as medical students learned their destiny.

For medical students graduating this spring, Match Day is the culmination of four demanding years of rotations and classes, followed by a nine-month application and interview process.

At precisely noon, after a cacophony of voices counted down from 10 and multicolored balloons cascaded from the ceiling, Brown medical student Benjamin Gallo Marin, from Nicaragua, was among the thousands of medical students across the country who tore open red envelopes containing Match documents. His mother and grandmother, who’d flown in from Nicaragua and Costa Rica, respectively, stood frozen in front of him.

Slowly, a smile spread across Gallo Marin’s face and stayed there. He showed the paper to his family, and his mother’s face filled with emotion. “Stanford Health Care,” it read (Memorial Sloan-Kettering for his transitional year): Gallo Marin’s first choice. He had applied to 76 dermatology residency programs, and another 20 for the preliminary year, which is like an internship for dermatology residents.

“Stanford,” he repeated, letting it sink in.

Gallo Marin praised the quality of mentorship and the atmosphere of support at Brown, from the career services staff to the dermatology program. When it came time to build his rank list, he was struck by the authenticity of his dermatology mentors, especially Dr. Leslie Robinson-Bostom, a professor of dermatology and the director of the dermatology elective.

“She showed such an honest interest in getting to know my values,” Gallo Marin said. “I think that interest in a mentee’s personal happiness isn’t always such a big component of a mentor relationship. … She also took the time to understand what I wanted and what would be best for me.”

The thrill and anguish of match-making

Medical students typically apply to at least 12 residency programs —even four times that many — and may spend the year interviewing at 10 or 20 institutions. Then they rank their top choices based on program type and career aspirations as well as geographical location. Gallo Marin, for example, was seeking a residency program that shared his enthusiasm for global health that would support his goal to bring scholarly innovations from the U.S. to Central America.

Of the 135 Brown students who matched, 21 will stay in Rhode Island after graduation, learning and practicing at hospitals affiliated with the Warren Alpert Medical School. The rest will attend programs across the country. The residency, or post-graduate training for new physicians, can last from three to seven years.

Dr. Roxanne Vrees, the associate dean for student affairs at the Warren Alpert Medical School, noted the significance and magnitude of the celebration for students.

“So much of the medical school journey revolves around sacrifice, both personal sacrifice and sacrifice by loved ones,” Vrees said. “Match Day is just a wonderful way to celebrate the fruits of our students' labor and the glorious triumph of reaching the finish line.”

As the match process has become more competitive, the level of suspense has increased. The 2023 Main Residency Match is the largest in the national program’s 70-year history in graduate medical education, with 42,952 applicants and a record 40,375 positions.

At Brown’s celebration, John Johnson from Greenville, Mississippi, stood in the center of a ring of family members, shaking his head as they snapped his photo with their cell phones. He’d been accepted to an anesthesiology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, at the top of his list.

“I’m really happy,” Johnson said at last.

Other students reacted to the news with shouts and screams. Tia Forsman whipped out a University of Southern California T-shirt and pulled it over her head, overjoyed to be heading to an interventional radiology residency at USC. Beaming, she admitted she’d brought the shirt because she was feeling confident about her chances.

When Sahar Shahamatdar, who is earning an M.D. as well as a computational biology Ph.D. from Brown, found out she was headed to Boston for a medical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, cheers erupted around her. Shahamatdar’s friend Norin Ansari, a fellow Brown medical school alumna who is an oncology and hematology fellow at Yale New Haven Hospital, was thrilled her friend would be staying local.

Shahamatdar said that when she evaluated residency programs, she compared them to Brown, seeking a rigorous curriculum and a culture of commitment and support among the physicians and residents.

“To me, Brown is the gold standard,” said Shahamatdar, who also attended Brown as an undergraduate. “I’d say that the success I’ve had thus far is because of the mentors I’ve had here.”

Learning about your future in front your friends and family — and everyone else’s — can be intense, said Stephen Beswick-Bozier. Surrounded by his parents, siblings and grandmother from New York, Beswick-Bozier learned he had matched to the surgery program at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School, where he anticipates feeling well-supported to pursue his goal of becoming a trauma surgeon — and will be a short distance from family as well as friends in New York City.

Being able to celebrate the Match in such a grand manner meant a lot to Beswick-Bozier, who participated in Brown’s undergraduate Program for Liberal Medical Education. His class attended medical school through the pandemic, he noted, and through the social unrest and large-scale protests against police and state violence in 2020. Bozier, the former president of the Student National Medical Association, said he’d been reflecting on his medical school experience as a person of color, entering the field at a time when Black physicians are underrepresented relative to the population.

“This is a momentous thing for all of us to know that not only will we graduate in a few months, but we will have a job, and we can move forward on the journey that we committed ourselves to — which has not been easy,” Beswick-Bozier said. “You’ve put your all into it, and that’s worth celebrating. At the same time, you want to create an enjoyable experience for family that has come to Providence to share this with you.”

After the envelopes were emptied and the fates revealed, the crowd raised a glass of sparkling wine for a toast.

50 Years of Medicine: A legacy of well-deserved celebrations

Brown medical students have been participating in the National Resident Matching Program since the school's M.D. program was established 50 years ago. In the early days, a student would simply open their mail and read their individual match letter when it was delivered to them. As decades passed, Brown medical students convened with their class at a location on campus to open their letters together. 

On Match Day in 1991, the medical students gathered outside the lecture hall of the Biomedical Building on Meeting Street, known as the “purple palace” because of the color of the chairs. This is where most of the medical classes were held, adjacent to the mail room. Dr. Michele Gange, who graduated with that class, said the envelope-opening happened without fanfare. She is one of the students who matched locally: she did her residency with the Brown program at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence and is now a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the medical school.

“When I began my first year as a Brown undergraduate in the Program for Liberal Medical Education, I never imagined I would stay at Brown for my residency,” Gange said. “Seven years later, I fell in love with the field of OB/GYN, my future husband and the Brown program. And now as a faculty member at Brown I can share in the excitement of Match Day with future generations of new physicians.”

In the 2000s, medical students gathered for Match Day at Andrews Hall on College Hill. While it was an official event, there were no countdowns or party favors. Still, the heady mix of emotions was the same.

Dr. Steven Rougas, who graduated in 2009, recalled the charged atmosphere, fueled by years of hard work and anticipation.

“Being surrounded by classmates, faculty, administrators, and family and friends who had supported me immensely along my journey made the day even more special,” said Rougas, who is now the director of the doctoring program at the Warren Alpert Medical School. “Match Day is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and helps to set the course for the rest of your career. Knowing that I had the opportunity to match at my top program and stay in Rhode Island to continue to serve my local community was a dream come true.”

After the spacious Warren Alpert Medical School building opened in August 2011, Match Day celebrations expanded in scope, size and festivity. The University expanded the guest list and hosted a catered reception, which came to include bubbly and balloons. At this year’s event, students could pop into a photo booth to capture an image of themselves before they launched to the next phase of their medical education, and their lives.

Dr. Almaz Dessie, a graduate of the M.D. Class of 2011, said Match Day is an unforgettable milestone moment.

“I was overjoyed and overwhelmed, thrilled with my match, but also sad when I realized I was saying goodbye to my loved ones on the east coast to go to California after eight years at Brown,” said Dessie, who was also an undergraduate Program for Liberal Medical Education student. “It’s an incredible tradition to be part of, and regardless of the outcome, it fills you with pride to realize that after all this hard work, yes, I will be a doctor.”

A full match list for Warren Alpert Medical School’s soon-to-be Class of 2023 graduates is available on the school’s website.