The envelope, please: FAU med school grads get matched for residencies

Holding 10-month-old daughter Rosemary in her arms and with 5-year-old son Nathan at her hip, Florida Atlantic University medical student Lindsey Elmes announced to her classmates that she is heading to Cleveland to practice emergency medicine at Case Western University Hospitals.

“It feels surreal,” Elmes said as the first graduating class at FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine was matched on Friday with their residencies. Not one of the 52 members seeking a residency was denied a residency — a remarkable feat, faculty said, for a first graduating class.

The graduates will star in their own real-life “Scrubs” starting in July, pursuing 15 specialties, including neurosurgery, radiology, psychiatry and emergency medicine. The residencies will last three to seven years and are the final stage of their long journey to becoming full-fledged doctors.

“You are going to some of the best, most prestigious programs in the country,” said Dr. David Bjorkman, dean of the college of medicine.

Individual students learned of their matches at noon by opening envelopes placed under blue ribbons on a table. Later they announced their residencies to their classmates, putting a flag pin on a map of the United States. Some were staying close to home at the University of Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, but others were heading to hospitals at Harvard and Yale.

It was a joyous but highly emotional event with students and their parents and faculty and staff fighting back tears.

Dr. Lindsey Henson, vice dean for medical education, choked up as she addressed these first graduates before they got their envelopes, imploring them to be honest and compassionate toward every single patient and to remain curious. “At least half of what you learned in the last four years is going to be wrong in 10 years, and the problem is we don’t know what half,” she said.

Henson called the students pioneers for choosing a new medical school. “You had no guarantees except our word for it. We had no track record. There were no upperclassmen to give you the lay of the land,” she said.

In 2011, these students chose to be the test cases for FAU’s first accredited medical school. FAU had been working as an extension of the University of Miami’s medical school for a decade. The new school offered students smaller classes and more interaction with faculty.

While nearly all of that first class was matched Friday, about 10 are sticking around to continue their studies and will seek a residency next year.

Among the celebrants were three married couples and Elmes, a former middle school teacher. She gave birth to her daughter during her time at FAU. “I like to make things hard,” she quipped, crediting her “amazing” husband, John, with helping her juggle motherhood and medical school.

Megan Behm-Downes and Eric Downes, who were married last year, were paired up with the University of Florida’s Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. She is going to be a pediatrician, while he is pursuing psychiatry.

“It’s a little bit harder for couples,” she said. “You have to go on about 15 more interviews.”

Another couple, Nicole Fergosi and Doug McConnell, are heading to the University of Louisville School of Medicine. They put the pin in the map together.

Dr. Stuart Markowitz, the senior associate dean of student affairs who served as master of ceremonies, described residency match day as NFL draft day for nerds. He recalled how he met these soon-to-be residents at the door of the medical school four years ago and how they jelled like no class he has seen in 11 years as an educator.

“This class is like a family,” he said.

Louis Richman, who spoke to the class before envelopes were opened, joked that some of his classmates when they were third-year medical students thought “match day” was some new version of the dating app Tinder.

Thomas Difato of St. Augustine said he found opportunities at FAU that were not available at other more established programs. “We’ve had an impact on curriculum,” said the would-be radiologist, who is heading to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Difato and his classmates went on numerous interviews and then listed their preferred programs. Some got their first choice, others one down on their list, but all were thrilled to get matched.

“I think I’m more nervous than he is,” said Difato’s mother, Felicia Difato, before he got his envelope.

Lisa Oliveri from suburban Boca Raton was excited that she was staying near home after she got matched with the University of Miami’s Jackson Hospital to become a psychiatrist.

Ashley Evilly of Clearwater was heading to the University of Texas in Austin to study emergency medicine. It was her first choice.

When John Beauchamp picked up his letter, he walked away by himself, opened the envelope and then gave a fist bump. It wasn’t his first choice, but he’s heading the University of Texas at Houston to study emergency medicine.

Difato said he was excited to finally earn a paycheck in his chosen profession.

“I’ve had jobs at Publix, a golf course and a clothing store, but never as a doctor,” he said.

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