Normally, “match day” surrounds medical students with cheering family and friends as they learn where they’ll go for their residencies. COVID-19 denied some of that to the University of South Alabama College of Medicine’s Class of 2021 on Friday — but not the important part.
The supporters who’d normally have swarmed them had to watch via livestream as 67 classmates learned where each other will be spending the next few years. But for the students who’d had to complete their education amid a pandemic — and who will enter their fields amid its decline and aftermath — the occasion was triumphant.
“Today was just very hopeful for me,” said Ravi Rajendra. “When we got that news, when you get your envelope, you’ve been waiting for it for years. But this is the year where things could go wrong. We’ve seen so many things go wrong. And to finally have something go right is incredibly special.”
“I’m really proud of our class,” said Zach White. “The battle is still not over. We’re still doing what we can to fight this COVID-19 pandemic. … We’re going to be on the front lines when it comes to managing this pandemic.”
Rajendra came to South from Montgomery and served as the 2015-16 student body president as an undergraduate. He’ll be working in orthopedic surgery at LSU in New Orleans. “My family is in New Orleans right now,” he said. “We’re going to celebrate over there.”
Smith, who’s from Birmingham, will practice radiation oncology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He’s the president of the class, and keenly aware of the challenges the group had to overcome to get to this point.
“When COVID-19 came in, and started in March of last year, it was tough because it removed a lot of us from our normal clinical lives as medical students,” White said. “That’s different for a medical student, to have to learn all those different things on Zoom and not be in that clinical environment.”
Even the process of interviewing at different residency programs was turned upside down. In-person visits were no longer the norm.
“When we applied for residencies, instead of being able to fly to different places, we actually interviewed virtually for our residency spots,” he said. “So a lot of places that we’ve interviewed at, we’ve never even been before.”
That’s one problem that Ian Garrison and Kendal Dekle won’t have to worry about. They’re both from Mobile and will be staying within the USA Health system — him in orthopedic surgery, her in ob-gyn. That facilitates the other big development in front of them: Their wedding in April.
“It’s been a little crazy,” she said of the process following their engagement in 2019. “Nothing has really been set in stone throughout the planning. We’ve had to be very versatile and play it by ear.”
Once constant in news reports over the last year has been accounts of medical personnel fighting exhaustion during the pandemic. Several students said they’d seen it firsthand, or had reason to think about the unusual circumstances amid which they’ll be starting their careers.
“I got a text from the chairman and he said get ready to work hard,” Rajendra said of the program he’ll be joining.
Dala Eloubeidi said that it came up during the interview process: Older residents told her things had been chaotic during the first phase of the pandemic, with residents facing the same extraordinary demands as veterans. But as healthcare systems had come to grips with the challenges, she was told, they had continued to prioritize residents’ need for education.
“I would say it’s kind of proven to me that medicine as a field always finds a way to push through,” said Eloubeidi. From Birmingham, she’ll be doing her residency in internal medicine at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
“Seeing what our healthcare workers have been through the last year or so, it proves how the field really wants to push forward,” she said. “I think it’s given me hope.”
“There was an exhaustion,” Garrison said of the facilities he learned in, “but I think that gave everybody he opportunity for new growth. And the opportunity to try harder than they had in the past.”
“South has done a really great job, honestly, on trying to get us as much clinical experience as we can in kind of a bad situation,” said Dekle. “I’m very thankful for that.”
“I think the class has been very courageous,” Eloubeidi said. “It has been very flexible in trying to make the best out of a bad situation.”
“I think it shows how resilient our class is too,” Rajendra said of reaching match day. “It’s a group of people who love to persevere. … We really just all take care of each other.”