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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 24, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 27
Here's to the Future

For Kirsten Baca, right, the news was as she'd hoped: She, her husband and son will be heading to Boston.

Match Day brings JHU-educated physicians the news of their residencies

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Last Thursday marked the first day of spring and the opening day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but the drama and new beginnings were not reserved for the changing season and thrills on the hard court — especially for a new crop of doctors.

Most of the 102 students in the School of Medicine's class of 2008 gathered in the Turner Concourse that day to continue Johns Hopkins' annual tradition of having fourth-year medical students open their residency letters in the presence of classmates, professors and loved ones. While March 20 is Match Day for medical schools all across the country, some students elsewhere go online to find out where they will start their careers as physicians.

The National Residency Matching Program pairs the wishes of the students with the needs of hospitals and medical centers nationwide. The process begins with students deciding on their specialization. Then they make a rank-ordered list of medical centers and hospitals to which they'd like to go, complete lengthy paperwork and finally interview on site.

The process dates back to 1952 and came at the request of medical students who wanted a fair and impartial transition to the graduate medical education experience necessary for all physicians.

Nirav Kapadia, David Nichols and Delphine Robotham
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Before the formal part of Thursday's event, those gathered ate, mingled and enjoyed a live guitar performance and the vocal abilities of the Note-A-Chords, the School of Medicine's a cappella group.

Thomas Koenig, the School of Medicine's associate dean for student affairs, and other administrators presented opening remarks, welcoming everyone to the event that was hosted by the Development and Alumni Relations Office and Johns Hopkins Medical Student Society.

"First off, congratulations to you all for surviving the experience," Koenig said, "wonderful, bizarre and idiosyncratic that it is."

At the end of the introductions, Koenig instructed the students to pick up their letters and a glass of champagne to toast.

Anxious students huddled closer together and counted down from 10. The word "zero" sparked the envelope opening, which was followed by a lengthy pause as students read their letter's contents. Next came huge smiles, hugs and several bursts of "you got it!" and "woo-hoo!"

Among the smiling faces was Jonathan Etheridge's.

Etheridge's decision to attend medical school followed his experience as an Air Force flight medic in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. With other medical personnel, Etheridge flew to the wounded in C-130 military cargo planes rigged as airborne ambulances.

Paulette Grey, Denise Muschett, Monique James, Afshan Nanji and Amber Mock
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

"In the early days of the conflict we would land in the desert at night with night vision goggles. We'd stay on the desert floor for only five minutes because of the danger," he said.

He helped tend to as many as 92 injured soldiers during nine-hour flights to German-based hospitals. Although Etheridge has since left the military, one of his brothers has completed two tours of duty in Iraq and another is about to be deployed there. His wife, Morgan, works as a cardiac intensive care nurse at Johns Hopkins. Etheridge's first choice was a residency in emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati. He got it.

Etheridge said he knew the interview went well, and that coming from Johns Hopkins put him in a good position, but he never wanted to get overly confident.

"You know that you have a good chance, but you just don't know until you open the letter. We are all going after top-tier schools, and it's very competitive," he said. "I'm really happy that I'm where I wanted to be."

Nearby, Delphine Robotham also brandished a big smile.

Robotham sought a pediatrics residency at Johns Hopkins, following in the path of her father, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins for more than 20 years.

"My earliest memories include going to Hopkins with him on my days off from school and walking around the pediatric wards," she said.

In her years as a medical student, she joined and eventually was president of the Pediatric Interest Group, an organization that works with faculty members, residents and the community to assist fellow medical students who are interested in a career in pediatrics. She said she chose The Johns Hopkins Hospital as her first choice not only because of family ties but also because "it is where I first fell in love" with medicine and came to admire the many physicians she knows who trained there.

She, too, got her wish. She admits she did have an uneasy feeling in her stomach before she opened the letter.

Former Air Force flight medic Jonathan Etheridge and his wife, Morgan
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

"I'm relieved," she said, taking in a breath. "This is so exciting. I'm so happy to stay at Johns Hopkins and with such a great program."

For Kirsten Baca, the ceremony culminated as she had hoped, with an acceptance letter from Massachusetts General Hospital.

Although she likes Boston and the people she met at the hospital, she admits that other places had their appeal, too. She also had to factor in her husband, Andrew, and 11-month-old son, Henry.

"It was hard to rank the programs. You want to put three or four as your top choice," said Baca, whose residency will be in anesthesiology. "It's a big decision, as this is where you are going to spend perhaps the next 10 to 20 years of your life. But I'm very pleased and excited. We are going to a wonderful place."

In keeping with a new Match Day tradition, begun last year, a map of the United States was put on a pedestal, and students were asked to use pins with their names on them to mark the spot of their residency. Pins were placed from coast to coast, but a thick cluster formed in Maryland. Thirty-two percent of the students will remain at Johns Hopkins, taking up residencies at The Johns Hopkins Hospital or the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The top-three specialties represented were internal medicine, pediatrics and ophthalmology.


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