Mirza Balg, left, and Ifyani Ilonzo, exchange hugs after learning about their residencies Friday at the Penn State College of Medicine. (AP Photo/Dan Gleiter) ( Photos below by Lee Talbert/JCPress)
Just before the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine made its Match Day announcements, declaring where medical students will be completing the residency portion of their pursuits to become doctors, Debbie Bailey said she was rather busy.
Bailey was tending a liquor-filled portable bar just outside the Millennium Centre room where the announcements were made Friday.
“A lot were drinking this morning because they were nervous,” Bailey said.
After the countdown from 10 was made, and the students were finally allowed to open their respective envelopes, each revealing the location that would bridge one of the final gaps between them and getting the letters “M.D.” after their names, there were a lot of smiles.
Bailey said it was wonderful to see all the smiles and couldn’t remember seeing a single frown. Each student, with his or her descending-order list of where they would end up, found out where they were heading.
Dean Robert Means, 21 days into the new position, was in attendance with the students, watching their lives change right before his eyes.
“Our people are going to some really good matches,” Means said. “And the majority are staying in our region.”
Pointing to Abdul Sabri, Means was happy to show off an example of someone fulfilling what he called the heart of Quillen’s mission: to keep doctors in the area in the pursuit of rural health.
“This is an example of someone staying regionally,” Means said of Sabri.
Sabri said he matched up with the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga, which sat near the top of his list. He’ll be pursuing orthopaedic surgery, something he and Means say is an extremely competitive field.
Public education has been under fire lately, said Sabri, who is a Johnson City native and proud Science Hill High School and ETSU graduate. Sabri said he interviewed well going up against other applicants from Harvard and other top-rated schools across the country.
“All my education thus far has brought me here,” Sabri said, and unlike others, wasn’t overly nervous. “I was a little bit nervous, but it’s part of the process every physician in America goes through.”
Knowing he wanted to be a doctor as early as he can remember, Sabri said his training began when he perhaps unknowingly perfected his hand-eye coordination in high school, which should come in handy when he operates.
“I’m a hands-on guy and I’ve always worked on my car and truck,” Sabri said. “Now I’ll work out of a sterilized toolbox.”
In all, 64 students celebrated their matches, with members going to institutions like the Medical University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University, University of Virginia, University of Kentucky, Vanderbilt University, Emory University, Yale University and Mayo School of Medicine.
They will pursue careers in anesthesiology, dermatology, otolaryngology, orthopedic surgery and radiology. Three students will complete their residency training through military service.
Match day, Whitney Rich said, is more nerve-wracking than graduation day, and she admits to never having opened an envelope so excitedly.
“Match day is for us, graduation is for our parents,” Rich joked.
She’ll be attending ETSU’s Obstretrics-Gynecology program and is elated to be able to stay in the area with her husband, Dexter, who is also in pursuit of becoming a medical doctor. Rich said ETSU was her No. 1 choice.