UCLA, UCI Medical Students Learn Their Fates on "Match Day"

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At medical schools across the country, Thursday is "Match Day." Med students in their final year find out whether the residency program of their choice has accepted them. These students are the doctors who will provide the care to all of us in the coming decades. We sent reporters to two local medical schools to witness this different version of "March Madness." KPCC's Susan Valot was at UC Irvine, but we begin at UCLA with reporter Brian Watt.

Brian Watt: The aspiring doctors at UCLA learned their fates from envelopes taped to a window in the faculty center. Twenty-nine-year-old Candice Bereal opened her envelope with her mother, sister, and fiance looking on.

[Cheers, screams. "Oh UCLA!"]

Watt: The black South Los Angeles native landed her first choice: UCLA. Her father died during her second year of med school. Her other choices, in Boston or Atlanta, would have pulled her too far from the family that helped her pull through.

Candice Bereal: I need their support, so it's a lot better than flying back and forth across the country to visit.

Watt: Bereal plans to practice anesthesiology, and to apply her skills in underserved areas in her spare time. No matter where her residency had taken her, she said she would have returned to L.A. to practice. Roberto Lopez-Freeman of Highland Park also got his first choice: The emergency medicine program at University Hospital in Cincinnati.

Roberto Lopez-Freeman: Growing up, I never had insurance, so I used to get my care at L.A. County USC Medical Center. I knew what it was like to have to go the emergency room and wait hours in line, or figuring out if I was really sick enough to need to go to the doctor because I had to pay out of pocket. And I appreciated it when people came and lent their time in the community so, it was important to me to go back in the community and also lend that time.

Watt: But Lopez-Freeman decided to get out of California, for a while at least, to see how doctors practice medicine in other parts of the country. He and his wife are also trying to start a family and buy a house.

Lopez-Freeman: Starting up as a resident, and making, you know, 8 to 10 dollars an hour, is not really... it doesn't really lend itself to purchasing a home in California.

Watt: No matter where Lopez-Freeman establishes his career, he said he'll do it in an area like the one in which he grew up. Brian Watt, 89.3 KPCC.

Woman: Obstetrics and gynecolocy, University of California Irvine! [Crowd cheers]

Susan Valot: I'm Susan Valot at UC Irvine. Med student Megan Stephenson was one of dozens at UCI who threw a dollar into a black medical bag before being handed her residency acceptance letter. The last person called gets the loot. That's a UCI tradition. David Bailey is the dean of UCI's School of Medicine. He says these students now face another four years of residency training at hospitals.

David Bailey: I think one of the bigger challenges they will be facing is the whole issue of providing health care without adequate funding for it on a national basis. I believe that more and more individuals are going without health care, and they're at risk. And that is very, very difficult for physicians who are trained to give health care to everyone.

Valot: Med student Megan Stephenson is well aware of that.

Megan Stephenson: It's a medical non-system, yes. I think that's one of the big challenges, too. I try not go get so locked down in it just 'cause I think it's, it is really dysfunctional and I think a lot of– there needs to be a lot of change happening. And it can happen at all different levels, and I think the most important thing is sort of starting with the personal interaction between patients and doctors.

Valot: Stephenson's had experience with that already. Before medical school, she spent a year in Africa, working with HIV and AIDS patients. She says she'll draw on that experience when she's practicing medicine here.

Stephenson: I think the people are really what touched me and it's really what sort of breaks into my heart. The medical stuff is, you know, it's difficult, and you see a lot of really hard things, but the people are what you really remember, and their thankfulness for people helping and for people caring, I think, is really important. The humanism in medicine is just... it's paramount.

Valot: Med student, and new UCI resident, Megan Stephenson says you don't go into medicine for the money. In fact, she has a quarter-of-a-million dollars of student loans to pay off once she gets out of school. And soon-to-be Doctor Stephenson says if she had to do it all again, she probably wouldn't.