A ‘Match-ical’ day for fourth-year medical students

March 18, 2022
Sophia Sourlis, a woman in a khaki jacket and Yoda hat, puts her arms in the air on stage
Sophia Sourlis, aka Baby Yoda, celebrated her match with raised arms and an energetic jump, did she. Photos by Sarah Pack

Sophia Sourlis wasn’t sure this day would ever happen.

During her first year at the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Medicine, the then-25-year-old found out her mother had cancer. In that moment, she admitted, things felt as though they were unraveling. But it was during that difficult time – time that forced her to step away from med school temporarily to care for her mother – that she realized she had another family in MUSC. 

“They really were so great with me. They allowed me to do what I needed to do – like, there weren’t a ton of questions, you know? ‘Just do what you need to do, and we’ll figure it out,’” she said from the front steps of Charleston Music Hall. Inside, just minutes earlier, she had gone on stage to share, with an auditorium full of her peers, where she would be doing her residency. Holding back tears, she added: “This day is super bittersweet. It’s been a long time coming.”

Though her mother is still fighting cancer – she’s a patient at Duke University Medical Center – she was able to make the trip down to watch her youngest child take one of the final steps toward becoming a doctor. But the icing on the cake, the thing that made the day all the more serendipitous, was the discovery of where the soon-to-be anesthesiologist would be doing her residency.

Duke University Medical Center.

Crowd in auditorium is covered by confetti 
Hundreds of students, family and friends gathered for the annual celebration of medical students and their residency matches.

On Friday, Sourlis was one of 151 students from the College of Medicine’s graduating class, most of whom participated in Match Day at Charleston Music Hall. Match Day, which occurs on the same day at medical schools all across the country, marks the end of a months-long process that pairs graduating medical students with hospitals for their residencies. The students rank their top choices, and the hospitals do the same. The students didn’t find out their matches until today at noon.

Because of COVID, the past few Match Days have been a bit different. Last year, it was held outside with no family members present. The year before was even less ceremonious: an email from the National Resident Matching Program (NMRP) at noon. But this year, the entire class was back, face-to-face at a familiar venue, opening envelopes – with contents way heavier than a scale could ever measure – together.

Every year students choose a theme. This year’s was “Space: The next frontier.” And when it came to embracing it, everybody brought their A-games. There were the three Buzz Lightyears, of course; pretty sure there was a Jabba the Hutt somewhere at one point; one super cute spheroid “Star Wars” droid, BB-8; three Star Trek captains; more NASA logos than you’d see at a shuttle launch; and not to be outdone, Department of Family Medicine Chair Terrence E. Steyer, M.D., sporting a jetpack costume, complete with “flames” shooting out of the bottom.

Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the College of Medicine, kicked things off with a little wisdom from his years of experience in medicine. 

“I want to give you all three pieces of advice,” he said. “Be confident in your training … recognize that there’s still a lot you don’t know … and most importantly, respect your patients.”

One by one, students came up on stage – accompanied by music of their choice, as well as photos of them projected onto a giant screen – and announced where they would be spending the next three to seven years of their lives. 

There was Talior Martin, who matched with Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, for pediatrics. She had a message for her mother: “It’s been me and you. It’s us until the end.”

A couple laughs as they cross the stage during Match Day 
James Ngoyi, left, and Amber Roberts cross the stage after both announced their matches for internal medicine. At right, Rocket Man Dr. Terrence Steyer looks on.

There was Echo Buffalo, who in addition to having the coolest name ever, matched with the University of Virginia School of Medicine for family medicine. The South Carolina native, who identifies as Native American and Black, had even more riding on the line with her match: In addition to UVA being her first choice, it was also where her fiance is doing his residency. “After a year apart, we’re finally back together,” she said.

And rounding things out, with some simple, yet- spot-on, perspective, was class president, Will Harris, who will be practicing neurology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “We all get to be doctors now,” he said. “And that’s really cool.”

Of the specialties in which students will be pursuing their training, categorical internal medicine, led the way with the highest number of students at 25 (16.6% of the graduating class). Other popular specialties included pediatrics (12%), family medicine (11.3%), obstetrics and gynecology (7.3%), anesthesiology (6.6%) and psychiatry (6.6%). A total of 41 (27.3%) students will remain in South Carolina to complete their residency training, with 30 of them staying right here at MUSC. 

Just a sampling of some of the places where MUSC’s students matched includes: Johns Hopkins, Mass General, Yale, Columbia, UPenn, Duke, UVA, Georgetown, Cornell, UCSF, UCLA and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

As everyone mingled outside the venue afterward, Bryce Kunkle, aka David Bowie from his “Space Oddity” phase, snapped a photo with his family. A real-life musician in his own right, he will be practicing internal medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center later this year. During his four years at MUSC, Kunkle was known for singing and playing the guitar at school parties as well as local bars. 

“I cannot wait to get there,” he said as he casually waved to a passing stormtrooper. “Georgetown was my No. 1 choice, so I’m really excited.” 

As for Sourlis, the anesthesiologist-in-training going to Duke, it still hasn’t fully sunk in that she will get to work in the same hospital where her mother is receiving care.

“Right now, this is so surreal,” she said. “I worked so hard for this. And to get to share today, the future, with my family? I can’t find the right words to express how I’m feeling – but it’s really good.”