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Match Day residency placements signal next steps for SOM Class of ’20

‘At times like these, we realize that we need you as physicians more than ever,’ Dean Flotte tells students

In a few short weeks, 135 members of the School of Medicine Class of 2020 at UMass Medical School will begin their medical careers on the front lines against the COVID-19 pandemic, as new doctors caring for patients from Worcester to Boston, across New England and the nation. As a surreal Match Day unfolded on Friday, March 20, under a state of emergency that urged Massachusetts’ residents to stay home and emptied the UMass Medical School campus, students clicked on emails remotely to discover where their medical careers will start.

“I’m just so happy to have matched at my first choice. I am so excited to start in a new city, and I think it will be quite the opportunity to have training in such a great program,” said Fatoumata “Nogoy” Bah, SOM ’20, after learning that she will serve her residency at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in anesthesiology. “The coronavirus is scary because there’s so much unknown with it. I do feel like UMass has prepared me to be able to adapt to a situation like this. Of course it’s hard to know how to act in a particular situation but I think because of my background at UMass, I feel ready.”

Match Day is the annual, nationwide pairing of graduating medical students with postgraduate residency training programs administered by the National Resident Matching Program. Traditionally, the match is celebrated with an emotional ceremony at UMass Medical School, at which faculty, friends and family crowd into the Medical School lobby to cheer students as they open NRMP envelopes to reveal residency placements. This year’s event stood in stark contrast. Students remained off-campus with family, most in the confines of their homes, practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. They listened to video messages from Chancellor Michael F. Collins, Dean Terence R. Flotte and Sonia Chimienti, MD, associate dean for student affairs, and clicked on their match emails just after noon.

In his message, Chancellor Collins said he was pleased by the number of students who were matched to their first-choice residencies and encouraged all to be proud of their UMMS education.

“When you open an envelope and see the location at which you have matched, you’ll have great excitement. Know that wherever you have matched, it’s meant to be,” Collins said. “You perhaps won’t appreciate it today, particularly in this very unusual time in which we live, but in the future, you will have the privilege to care for patients, to look after their families, and, in special moments in their lives, to hold their hands. You will recognize at that point that you matched at that location to make a difference in the lives of those for whom you are privileged to care.”

Dean Flotte echoed those sentiments.

“It is critically important to us that we still express our pride, and congratulations to all of you, the Class of 2020. At times like these, we realize that we need you as physicians more than ever,” he said in a prerecorded video to the class.

Results from the match show UMass Medical School graduates will play a key role in boosting the health care system at this critical time. Fulfilling the school’s mission to train primary care doctors, 72 students matched in internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology, representing 54 percent of the class. Eleven students matched in emergency medicine. Fulfilling the medical school’s mission to care for the citizens of the commonwealth, 65 members of the graduating class will complete some or all of their training in Massachusetts, including 24 at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

For Nogoy Bah, the match is the culmination of years of hard work that were inspired by her studies at the Health Science Academy at North High School. The program is part of the Worcester Pipeline Collaborative, a partnership between UMMS and the Worcester Public Schools to encourage underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students to purse careers in biomedical research, biotechnology and health care professions.

“I started getting all of these mentorship opportunities and was working with all of these people at the UMass Medical School campus,” she said. “I worked with nurses, respiratory therapists, PCAs and that helped me realize that I wanted to become a doctor.”

She embarked on her educational journey alongside her sister, Hawlatou Bah, who also participated in the Worcester Pipeline. Their parents, who immigrated from Africa, chose Worcester for its educational and work opportunities.

“We moved here from New York when I was about 5 or 6 years old. At that time, my parents decided to take in four of my cousins, so there were seven of us girls living in a three-bedroom apartment,” she laughed as she reminisced. “During that time my parents were working a lot, they really wanted to instill in us the benefit of working hard.”

Both Nogoy and Hawlatou Bah earned their bachelor’s degrees from the University of Connecticut, the first in their family to complete college. Hawlatou Bah will graduate from the Graduate School of Nursing next year with her doctor of nursing degree in the acute care track. She also credits her experience with UMMS through the Worcester Pipeline for her career choice.

“It gave me great insight, and I realized that this is possible,” she said. “People here are really invested in your future, and if you do the right things, focus and set yourself up with the right resources, then you can be successful.”