by Sean Madigan

Impatiently stirring vegetable dip with carrot sticks or poking meatballs with toothpicks, more than 225 fourth-year medical school students nervously waited to receive a small white envelope that would decide their fate for the next three years.
The students were anxious to see if they would have to move to residency programs anywhere from Tulsa, Okla., to Baltimore. They wondered if they would have to move their families or leave their spouses, partners or children behind.
The University Medical School seniors from the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses learned to which residency programs they were assigned during the Match Day event on March 18 at Bandana Square in St. Paul. Although students were assigned a residency program three days prior to the event, they were unaware of where they would go until they opened their envelopes.
“This is so exciting because they don’t know where they’re going,” said the University’s Medical School Dean Al Michael.
Shortly after noon, Michael exuberantly announced, “go.” Students leapt from their seats, raced to the various corners of the room and snatched the thin envelopes containing their destiny.
“I was so nervous,” said Sonja Swenson, a student pursuing a career in family practice. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I ended up reading a trashy romance novel for hours.”
Swenson, like most of the students, received her first choice of programs. She will move to Duluth in a few months to work at the Duluth Graduate Medical Education Council.
Most students tore open their envelopes and hugged their friends and family. But one student grabbed her letter and ran out of the building saying she wanted to open it with her family.
When Holly Peterson found out she was assigned to internal medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center, she started to cry. But her tears were tears of joy because now she does not have to move her family. She said the suspense was unbearable.
“I didn’t hear a word anybody said until they handed out the envelopes,” Peterson said. “I don’t even know who spoke.”
Peterson said she was relieved because her family will stay in the Twin Cities and her husband will not have to find a new job. Also, their one-year-old daughter will be able to stay close to her grandparents.
For Peterson and her peers, residency programs are the final phase in medical education. Upon finishing their residency programs, students often stay in the areas in which they trained.
“These students have been in school for a long time,” said Michael. “They will have gone to school for a minimum of 11 years (including their residency). But participating in a residency is required before anyone goes out, hangs up their shingle and says ‘I’m going to practice medicine and try to heal people,'” Michael added.
Since 1952, the National Resident Matching Program has been asking students to list their top program choices. Then it matches the students with the appropriate teaching hospitals around the country.
Last year the matching program placed more than 19,800 students in almost 700 teaching hospitals. More than 57 percent of University medical students chose to stay in Minnesota, while almost 42 percent left for other hospitals around the country.