On Match Day, students remember those who helped get them there
Published on Monday, March 20, 2023
By: Gary Pettus, email@example.com
Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/UMMC Photography
Thalia Mara Hall seats 2,040 people, and on Friday, Match Day 2023, most of those seats were filled.
But there was an empty seat that was also on Gregory Wilson’s mind.
It was the seat that should have been filled by Fannie Harris Wilson; his mom died not long before he entered medical school.
It was a day when he and other senior medical students at the University of Mississippi Medical Center couldn’t help but remember those who also deserved to be there for Match Day, one of the greatest milestones in their lives.
“It’s been hard knowing that the person who made me believe in this would not be here to see it,” Wilson said, “but, even so, my graduation from medical school will be her legacy.”
Of course, such a legacy belongs to the living, too. In spite of Match Day of rising winds and falling temperatures, loved ones, friends and mentors crowded into Thalia Mara Hall to discover where their students would spend the next several years, the years when they will learn a specialty.
“You have been a big part of getting them here,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “You” meant most of the people jammed into the Jackson theater that day.
They were witnesses to an Oscar-night-like occasion, with some twists: the medical students opened their own envelopes on stage and announced their “award,” or match: family medicine at UMMC; psychiatry at Rutgers; neurological surgery at the University of Vermont; internal medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago: that’s where Gregory Wilson matched.
“I had wanted to be a doctor since I was in the fourth grade,” said Wilson, a Jackson native, “but there were times when I would try to weasel my way out of my big dreams; I would tell my mom I didn’t think I could do it.
“But she always let me know that she saw in me the gifts God gave me, and that there was a fire instilled in me for a reason. She held me up when I would try to tear myself down.
“My dad and my sister have always been there for me, too. So, I’m thinking of my family this day. And I’m also thinking I’m going to finally be able to take a breath.”
For both Ally Elliott, a Meridian native, and her husband – he will be, as of May 6 – Will Laurenzo of Oxford, the prize is Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina: Ally in internal medicine, Will in emergency medicine.
For Elliott, there were several empty seats on Match Day. Her paternal grandparents, physicians Dr. Robert Elliott and Dr. Mary Catherine Elliott, passed away recently; her maternal grandmother, Mary Adams, died of brain cancer when Ally was a sophomore at Ole Miss.
“I had been struggling with the decision to be a doctor at that time,” Elliott said. “I was with my grandmother when she died in hospice care. It was my first time to see someone die. During her illness, I realized again how much I wanted to be able to care for people.
“I re-discovered my purpose when my grandmother died.”
Elliott and Laurenzo were among the 1,239 couples participating in the 2023 Main Residency Match, various versions of which are held in medical schools in the U.S. and other countries. The couple is looking forward to having a two-doctor marriage.
“There is a lot of sacrifice involved,” Laurenzo said, “but, by being on the same page, you balance each other; you’re also able to put medicine aside sometimes and talk about other things.”
As for Elliott: “Having Will around, someone who knows exactly what I’m going through, well, without him, I don’t know if I could have gotten through medical school as smoothly I did,” she said.
Medical school spouses were in abundance on Match Day. Among them was JudiBeth Stephens’ husband, Cole, who saw her announce a match in obstetrics-gynecology, preliminary, at UMMC.
Stephens, too, had an empty seat she wished could have been filled – by someone she had never met. Judy McNeese passed away before Stephens was born.
“I heard that she lit up every room she went into, and made people feel special,” said Stephens, who grew up in Mantachie. “Even though I never met her, she inspires me to be my best self every day.” She was named for her grandmother.
Stephens is part of a remarkable graduating class. It is the largest, with 163 students scheduled to receive their medical degrees on Commencement Day in May. Every one of them, 100 percent, matched to a program; they represent 27 specialties.
Since September, they have been officially applying to residency programs, scheduling interviews with program directors, and ranking their choices. A computerized mathematical algorithm matches the hopefuls.
Hours after Match Day dawned, and shortly before the ceremony begins, students were able to go online and learn where they matched – but not everyone did; Amia Green didn’t have to.
Because she had applied to a military program, Green found out early – in December – that she had matched at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, in ophthalmology.
She decided to announce her match on stage anyway; it was a moment she wished her dad’s mom and her mom’s mom could have been around to share.
“If my grandmothers had been here, that would have been the icing on top of the cake,” Green said. “I know they’re looking down at me right now and are proud.”
Like many of the graduating students, Green, who grew up in Byram, is the first physician in her family. And, like her, most, if not all, were thinking the same thing: “How much work has gone into this day,” she said.
“How much sacrifice, how many tears. Just all the moments that have led up to this right now. And let’s just take in everything and be in the moment, knowing that everything won’t be the same any more, but also knowing it’s for the best.”