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Pandemic Teaches Future Doctors Joys of Resilience on Match Day

On Match Day, about 120 UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson students learned where they’ll launch their careers as new residents after graduation.
Sandra Vazquez Salas (center holding sign) celebrates Match Day with her family and friends. A UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson fourth-year student who’ll graduate this spring, she found out she’s headed to Baltimore to do her residency training as a new physician in pathology at Johns Hopkins University. (Photo: Courtesy of Sandra Vazquez Salas)

Pandemic Teaches Future Doctors Joys of Resilience on Match Day

It’s been a long year for everyone, but today, medical students graduating this spring at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson got a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s because it is Match Day for 117 of them.

On Match Day, which occurs yearly on the third Friday in March, results of the National Residency Matching Program are released telling the soon-to-be graduates which U.S. medical institution they matched to for residency training and the start of their careers as physicians. This year, like last year, the largest group ever – more than 42,000 resident physician applicants – participated nationwide.

Karen Ibarra and family celebrate in her backyard. A UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson medical student who graduates in May, Ibarra will head to the University of California San Francisco this summer as a resident physician in training to be a neurologist. (Photo: Courtesty of Karen Ibarra)

Match Day caps off four years of intense study, volunteering, research, clerkships, sub-internships and clinical rotations for UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson students. Over the past few months, they have added the daunting task of conducting multiple interviews – all of them virtual – with their preferred institutions for the medical specialty in which they hope to be trained.

“We are so proud of the Class of 2021 as they learn where they will complete their residency training,” said Kevin Moynahan, MD, UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson vice dean for education. “This class has been especially impactful during the COVID-19 pandemic, as these students organized and participated in numerous volunteer efforts to help both patients and health care providers during these very difficult times. As in the past, I expect a large percentage of the class to match to a residency program in-state, fulfilling one of the college’s many missions: providing much-needed quality health care to all of us who live in Arizona.”

Due to the pandemic, the ceremony was virtual. Students celebrated privately and then joined an event that was livestreamed online. The two-hour festivities included inspiring speeches by faculty and heartfelt outbursts of emotion from students and their families and friends.

Tucson Match Results

Class of 2021 students matched at prestigious institutions including but not limited to: Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, Stanford University, University of California San Francisco, Montefiore/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Mount Sinai Medical Center, University of Michigan, University of Iowa, Wake Forest University, University of Texas Southwestern, Mayo Clinic and Cook County Health in Chicago.

The graduates will pursue specialties in areas such as anesthesiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, neurology, surgery, pathology, psychiatry and radiology. Nearly 50 percent of the class will go into primary care, helping address the dire need for more primary care physicians throughout the state and nation. 

Residencies generally start in July, and residents are required to go to the institution to which they matched.

Match Day highlights include:

Forty-six graduates will complete their residencies in Arizona.

  • 31 in Tucson (13 primary care)
  • 10 in Phoenix (6 primary care)
  • 4 in Scottsdale (2 primary care)
  • 1 in Goodyear

Thirty-one graduates matched with UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson residency programs.

  • 28 will train at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson through the College of Medicine – Tucson Graduate Medical Education Program
  • Three will train at Banner – UMC South through the College of Medicine – Tucson South Campus

Seven College of Medicine – Tucson students matched to residency programs at the College of Medicine – Phoenix and Banner – UMC Phoenix.

Fifty-six graduates matched into residencies in primary care fields, defined as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology

  • 23 in internal medicine
  • 11 in family medicine
  • 11 in pediatrics
  • Three in obstetrics and gynecology
  • Two in emergency medicine pediatrics
  • 1 in internal medicine pediatrics

Celebrants Joyous in Absentia

Among some of the fourth-year medical students celebrating Friday were:

Karen Beltran will stay put to do her residency in internal medicine at the College of Medicine – Tucson and Banner – UMC Tucson. (Photo: Courtesy of Karen Beltran)

Two Class of 2021 students with much in common, Karen Ibarra and Karen Beltran, matched into a neurology residency at UC San Francisco and an internal medicine residency at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, respectively.

Both are from San Luis, Arizona, a largely Latino agricultural town of about 32,000 people with a few maquiladoras – assembly plants – along the border between Yuma and San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, Mexico. Both also found the UArizona Health Science’s Focusing Research on the Border Area (FRONTERA) Summer Internship as the key to opening their door to medical school. FRONTERA offers undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to prepare for graduate school, hands-on research experience and a better understanding of public health disparities in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Ibarra did her undergrad studies in public health. The future neurologist sees advances in brain imaging for things like epilepsy and strokes, for example, “as an opportunity to bridge complex diseases and those things that we maybe don’t have a cure for yet, but that we’re working on it.”

Beltran is considering practicing as a hospitalist after residency or entering a fellowship in a sub-specialty of internal medicine. She thanked Alejandra Zapien Hidalgo, MD, MPH, a family medicine assistant professor and FRONTERA coordinator with the college’s Global and Border Health Program.

“I had a greater grasp of what I wanted to do in medicine after FRONTERA, sure that I hopefully would work with rural populations. For me, it was definitely a motivation and a reminder of why I’m doing this. We got the opportunity to travel to different clinics in Nogales on both sides of the border. It also introduced me to research. I realized how much I love research and just really was grateful for the opportunity,” Beltran said.

Andrew Alix, originally from Irvine, California, was happy to have matched into a psychiatry residency at the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.

Phoenix-bound Andrew Alix, a UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, will start his medical career as a psychiatrist in training at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix and the College of Medicine – Phoenix. (Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Alix)

An avid desert hiker and trail runner, he’s happy to be staying in the Southwest and close to his family in California and an uncle in the Phoenix area. Alix thanked all his mentors at the College of Medicine – Tucson, particularly Mari Ricker, MD, a family medicine associate professor and Tortolita House Societies Mentor who impressed him with her focus on wellness, meditation and integrative medicine.

Alix is one of 20 Tucson medical students in the second cohort of the UArizona Health Sciences’ Primary Care Physician Scholarship Program. The program offers free tuition to medical students who commit to returning to Arizona to practice in a rural or underserved area after their residencies.

Sandra Vazquez Salas, a Cuernavaca, Mexico, native who immigrated at age 10 with her mother and sister to Phoenix, will load up her two dogs and four cats to head east for her residency in pathology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She celebrated Match Day in Phoenix with family and friends.

Vazquez’s interest in medicine grew after her father, who suffered from hypertension and diabetes, died of a stroke when she was 14. She began her foray into medicine as a guest services representative at what is now Valleywise Medical Center in downtown Phoenix.

Among her clinical rotations at the College of Medicine – Tucson, Vazquez worked with a Douglas, Ariz., pediatrician through the college’s Rural Health Professions Program. She also did community work with the college’s Commitment to Underserved People Programs, volunteering for the MIND Clinic for behavioral and mental health patients and serving as patient coordinator at the Women’s Clinic.

This year, Vazquez was named to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, whose induction ceremony was virtual instead of a dinner. She also missed this year’s dinner hosted by the Hispanic Women’s Corp., whose UArizona scholarship she held for the last four years. “That was a really huge blessing. I’m very thankful for it. Unfortunately, the dinner didn’t happen because of COVID,” she said, adding with a laugh that she would be happy to crash next year’s dinner to celebrate scholarship winners.

Fourth-year students Josh Paree and Yarah Ghotmi emceed the Match Day broadcast and lead the student committee that helped organize it. Paree will do his residency in emergency medicine at the College of Medicine – Tucson, and Ghotmi will do hers in pediatrics at UT Southwestern.