When it comes to Match Day, the exhilaration experienced by students at the UConn School of Medicine is – well, unmatched.
An annual tradition at medical schools around the country in which students are connected with residency programs where they’ll spend the next three to seven years of their lives training at teaching hospitals, the 2021 version Match Day was, like everything else affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, a little different this year. But even though celebrations were held mostly remotely, nothing could stop the excitement from spreading across the UConn School of Medicine and the homes of students and their families tuning in for a virtual ceremony and digital reveal to learn their residency training program matches.
“Congratulations Class of 2021! Today is another milestone in your journey of medicine and all that hard work has paid off. You are ready to be a physician or a surgeon, and researcher, or both,” shared UConn School of Medicine Dean Dr. Bruce T. Liang during his livestreamed address by leadership congratulating the matching students. “As a resident you will be part of health care’s front-line.”
“It’s been quite a year,” also shared Medical Student Affairs Associate Dean Dr. Melissa Held. “We are so very proud of all of you and all your hard work that got you to this moment. Remember, that medicine is a team sport and you will always have a home here at UConn.”
The big reveal for more than 100 matching UConn medical students came at noon on Friday, March 19. Virtually joining from celebrations with family and friends, the students digitally received their graduate medical education (GME) residency training destinies for the next several years, in locations spanning Connecticut and the United States.
As part of the School of Medicine’s largest and 50th graduating class this May, students choosing to participate in this year’s National Resident Match Program (NRMP) achieved a high match success rate of 98 percent. Twenty-nine percent are entering training in the much needed primary care specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. Also, 51 percent of students are remaining in New England, including 35 students in Connecticut; 30 percent in other Northeast states of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania; and 19 percent are headed to other states as far away as Texas and New Mexico.
Couples-Match for Pediatrics
Class of 2021 medical student Julia Plourde, 27, of Avon has couple-matched to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio with her boyfriend Ryan Ciarlo, 29, of Durham. Four years ago, they met on their first day of medical school, and together are headed into pediatrics.
“The suspense is crazy. I’ve couple-matched with my boyfriend. Match Day is definitely different this year, but the school has done a great job to keep in the spirit of Match Day,” says Plourde, who learned of her upcoming residency assignment with her partner Ryan in the comfort of their own home.
Prior to entering medical school, Plourde worked as an athletic trainer after graduating from Western Carolina University, where she first became interested in medicine after shadowing an orthopedic surgeon during her work with student athletes. “I became interested in the rest of medicine because I wanted to have answers to my patients’ questions,” she says.
She was drawn to pediatrics after loving her past experiences working with middle school students. “Kids don’t have the resources to know how to grow up. I want to be there for them and be that self-help book,” says Plourde.
Plourde says there are a number of factors that led her to choose the UConn School of Medicine: “It’s a great program, in my home state. Getting here to UConn, you realize every single faculty treats you like their own. UConn is the most family-oriented place, and has the most amazing, loving, and caring faculty. It’s the perfect place to be in medical school. They taught us how to be a great doctor, and person, during a crazy time in medicine. UConn School of Medicine means the world to me. I feel so blessed.”
Plourde stresses: “UConn has a tradition of producing excellent providers, but also amazing persons. I am honored to be a part of the 50 years, and can’t wait until the next 50, and to see how many more great doctors come out of UConn.”
Ciarlo says he was inspired to pursue pediatrics by the role models he’s had in life, and by the pediatricians he saw as a patient while growing up.
“I’ve been looking forward to Match Day forever. I have always seen the pictures and letters of medical students matching since being a UConn Storrs undergrad. I’ve been dreaming of it for at least the last 10 years,” says Ciarlo.
“I still feel like a kid, and look forward to help taking care of kids. A pediatrician sure feels like what I am meant to be.”
Ciarlo adds: “I don’t know how I would have done medical school without Julia. She’s so special.”
He concurs with Plourde’s assessment of the family feeling that pervades the School of Medicine:
“There are so many caring, kind and supportive people here at UConn School of Medicine that care about us as persons. I love the culture here,” he says.
Early Match to Urology
“I am actually fortunate that I matched into Urology since they do an early match,” says Ghali Lemtiri-Chlieh ’15 (CLAS), 27, of Manchester. Originally from Cambridge in the United Kingdom, he moved to the U.S. when he was 8 years old and received his undergraduate degree from UConn and his Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University before entering the School of Medicine. He was part of the early national match process for the field of urology and ophthalmology that occurs in February.
Lemtiri-Chlieh is headed to his first urology residency choice, Lahey Clinic Medical Center in Boston. His partner, Abigail Healy, of Norwich, found out on Match Day she’s heads to Massachusetts too for residency in neurology at Brigham & Womens Hospital.
Lemitri-Chlieh says that, while working in a radiology lab prior to medical school, the urology field captured his interest because of its full-scope practice of possibilities, ranging from innovative technology to surgery, including robotic surgery. Also, he comes from a strong science household: his father, Fouad Lemitri-Chlieh, is a neuroscience researcher who has worked for UConn and UConn Health in neuroscience for more than a dozen years.
“I’m all UConn,” says Lemtiri-Chlieh. “I was very excited to get into medical school here at UConn. And I’m most grateful for all of the relationships I have made here: I met my partner here at medical school and I’ve made lifelong friends. Being involved in Connecticut’s patient care, and giving back to community I have grown up in, is really special to me.”
Lemtiri-Chlieh says attending medical school during a pandemic forced him to be versatile and adaptable.
“It’s been crazy. Everyone’s been impacted in their own way personally by the pandemic. Our Class of 2021 was the first to apply to residencies virtually instead of traveling across the country for interviews. It’s been a lot of adaptation, including for our clinical rotations, which were limited at first due to the virus, but then we were able to get heavily involved in pandemic care and give back by serving COVID-19 patients on the front line. We will be able to look back and say, Wow we’re a part of that,” says Lemtiri-Chlieh.
He adds: “Our medical school’s 50-year history is incredible. A lot of professors that come back to teach us were once UConn medical students. I would love to come back to Connecticut to practice, and to UConn someday to see the generational buildup – and be part of the lasting legacy.”
Future Female Orthopedic Surgeon
Lilah Fones, 27, of Easton was very excited for Match Day and learning where she will spend the next several years. While not opening a traditional white envelope match letter in person this year, she opened her digital match with some of her medical school friends. She’s headed into orthopedic surgery residency training in Pennsylvania at Thomas Jefferson University.
“I was fortunate to be exposed to orthopedic surgery early in my medical school career through both electives each year of medical school, and programs held at UConn looking to increase females in surgical fields and, specifically, orthopedic surgery,” says Fones.
Fones adds: “I chose orthopedic surgery because it allows me to combine my love for problem solving and working with my hands to help patients return to their previous level of physical function.”
Finding a match this year, like most things over the past year, was a challenge for Fones and her fellow classmates.
“Being a medical student and applying to residency during a pandemic has differed from pre-pandemic times,” says Fones. “My classmates and I all needed to make a decision of where we wanted to spend the next 3-7 years training based solely on virtual interviews without the opportunity to visit in person.”
While this Match Day wasn’t what anyone could have expected, the students from the School of Medicine heading off to their residency programs are nevertheless ready and excited for what the future holds.
“You are forever a member of the UConn Husky Family,” concluded Dean Liang. “Good wishes, good luck, and we love you.”