A Match to Celebrate
By Julie Flaherty
Sofia Gambuto has wanted to be a doctor since she was a little girl. The problem was, she was never a stellar student. In her first two years of college, taking pre-med classes, she struggled and ended up doing very poorly, as in “grades that do not get you into med school,” she said. “I didn’t feel I was smart enough to be a doctor.”
So, as people do, she took a semester off to live in a Zen monastery. It was there, while following the Buddhist practice of picking up earthworms on the sidewalk and moving them to the safety of the dirt, that she had an epiphany. The exercise was so comforting and fulfilling, she knew she had to be a doctor. She would do whatever it took. She went back to school, studied her butt off, completely turned her grades around, and got into Tufts School of Medicine.
Her Zen training served her well in the nerve-wracking run up to Match Day, March 15, the day fourth-year medical students learn where they will spend the next few years completing their residencies. That calm helped her and her boyfriend, Shaun Sekhon, also an M19, earn the award for “most chill couple” in this year’s couples match.
The pair had a long list of places where they would be happy to go, Sekhon said, but as the staff handed out envelopes and champagne to the excited fourth-years gathered in the Medical Education Building, he was holding his breath to see if Gambuto would get her top choice, her “dream placement” in emergency medicine at Cook County in Chicago.
They hesitated to open their envelopes. “Should I open yours, and you open mine?” Sekhon asked.
As they put off the big moment another minute—and for readers until the end of this story—all around them there were whoops and hollers—and even an air horn—as their classmates learned their own placements. People swiped paper napkins from the buffet table to wipe away tears of joy. Then began the mad texting to friends and family who could not be there.
Madeline Wetterhahn’s face filled with emotion—tears, joy, shock—when she learned she would be in the rural residency program for obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, the only residency of its kind in the country. An MD/MPH student who is also part of the National Health Service Corps, she wants to work in a rural, underserved area not unlike where she grew up in upstate New York.
“I didn’t think I was going to get it, because there was only one spot, and I’ve been telling myself for the past month it was totally impossible, but I got it. I mean, I think that’s what it says.” She held up her paper, suddenly unsure she could believe her eyes. “It says OB/GYN rural, right?”
Christopher Robertson was there purely for the party. A small number of specialties announce their matches early, so he learned in January that he matched to the urology program at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine. Still, there was no way he would miss out on being with his classmates when they received their big news.
“Within twenty minutes, I got calls from faculty and residents,” Robertson said. “They sent me a care package with Dartmouth stuff, local chocolates and maple syrup, and a letter signed by everyone in the department. I just felt so welcomed. People who work in urology are really nice.”
Students who are in the military also receive their matches early, in December. But David Barra and Merrill Brady were still in for a Match Day surprise. They were called up to the podium, where two uniformed Army officers presented them with the rank of captain and the military corps insignia that they will wear once they are military physicians after graduation.
“The cake is great” is what Carson Roberts looked like he wanted to say as he tried to sneak a second piece off the table. The two-year-old was undoubtedly also happy for his father, Logan Roberts, who got his first-choice internal medicine residency at the Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. The older Roberts served as an engineer in the Air Force for five years before deciding that he wanted to be a physician.
“The time requirements away from my family with medical school were challenging—being gone overnight and the weird hours,” said Roberts, who also has two older children, ages four and six. “But it’s all been worth it, for sure.”
Sekhon and Gambuto had found themselves leading up to this moment ever since their first months at Tufts, when they became study partners. They would review recordings of their classes together and pause to discuss. “We worked really well together,” Gambuto said. “Instead of memorizing, it became more about understanding.”
They quickly found they had similar senses of humor, similar values, and similar reasons for going to medical school. “Our intentions with medicine are all about other people—talking to them, getting to know them, helping them with their suffering,” Sekhon said. “We’ve always been on the same page about that.”
When they finally opened their envelopes, they didn’t jump or yell, but big smiles spread across their faces as they looked at the papers, and each other. Gambuto got Cook County, her dream choice, and Sekhon will be in Chicago, too, in an internal medicine residency at Northwestern University’s McGaw Medical Center.
“You look at it and you’re like, wow,” said a dazed, happy Sekhon, “that actually happened.”