On Match Day, Second Sister Wins First Choice Placement

Neda Shahriari displays the letter informing her that she will do her dermatology training at her first-choice placement – UConn Health. (Bret Eckhardt/UConn Photo)
Neda Shahriari displays the letter informing her that she will do her dermatology training at her first-choice placement – UConn Health. (Bret Eckhardt/UConn Photo)

Growing up, little sisters sometimes feel overshadowed by their older sibling.

But by the fourth year of medical school, Neda Shahriari has worked through that.

“I need to put aside the whole ‘my sister’s doing it, I don’t want to do it’ thing. If I’m passionate about something, I should do it,” says Neda.

It’s four days before Match Day 2017, the fateful day when fourth-year medical students all around the country find out where they’re going to train as doctors. And Neda is explaining why she decided to become a dermatologist. Dermatology’s connection with immunology, how a trained eye can look at a person’s skin and see the signs of deeper health or sickness, captivated her, Neda says. She knew that was what she wanted to do as soon as she learned about it. The only question remaining is where she’ll train.

Mona Shahriari says she loves coming to work each day. Yes, she’s Neda’s big sister, and she happens to be (what else?) a dermatologist at UConn Health. She too was once a fourth-year medical student here, and waited in that combination of happy excitement and abject terror that characterizes fourth-year med students in mid-March.

“Neda opened my envelope because I was too nervous,” she recalls. And Neda, who had forgotten that dermatologists do an extra year of training before starting their dermatology residency and was confused by the phrasing of the letter, paused.

“I was thinking ‘Why is she pausing, what’s wrong?’” Mona says. But then Neda saw the magic words: dermatology and UConn Health. And told her sister the good news. And tears of joy started pouring down her face.

Mona is still glad now. At UConn Health, “I have the privilege of treating people with very complicated and debilitating skin diseases, and I can give them access to the latest treatment modalities,” she says. And it’s not just the academic powerhouse aspect that she likes. UConn’s dermatology department is “number one in terms of camaraderie and unity,” she says.

In the rotunda before the event, Mona says she hopes Neda gets her first choice match. But she’s realistic. Dermatology is a very difficult specialty to get into. Having a strong application is only one part of it. Who interviews you, which medical rotations you do outside your home institution, how strong your competitors are, and how they rank the same programs on their wish lists — all are out of your control.

But Neda says she’s not too worried. She knows she matched, and she only applied to dermatology programs, so she’s going to be a dermatologist for sure. The only question is where. Eventually, she says, she likes the idea of practicing with her sister.

“In the future we’ll be colleagues, we can work together,” Neda says. She laughs when asked if they might have their own firm together. Mona agrees, a joint dermatology practice would be a fine thing.

“Absolutely! Both of us are interested in academic medicine,” so working together in a university setting would be ideal.

Friday morning, the students and their families are milling about, a buzz of excitement in the air as they wait for permission to retrieve their envelopes.

Faculty members are in the room, too. Some just because they like to join the celebration, but others have skin in the game. Residency program directors are often just as anxious to find out whom their new young doctors-in-training will be. UConn Health has 50 residency programs training 650 doctors at any one time. They are as much at the mercy of the Match Day algorithm as medical students, for they can rank their top applicants but the computer has the final say.

The clock strikes 12. The announcement is made: “Open your envelopes.” A pause, a tearing of paper, and then shouting and laughter. The students are happy, and so is Dr. Surita Rao, the UConn Psychiatry program director. She walks over to tell a colleague the good news.

“I’m very excited because we got Caleb Battersby, a musician, very bright, and a future psychiatrist!” He’s also a UConn Health medical student.

Neda’s off to the side, jumping up and down and congratulating her friends, who all matched at their first choice institutions.

And Neda? She matched with UConn Health dermatology, where she’ll get to train alongside her sister. “Shahriari & Shahriari Dermatology” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Watch a video of Match Day 2017 here.