Om Evani on the left and Emily Harris on the right
Om Evani and Emily Harris have appreciated the opportunity to navigate "the ups and downs" of medical school together. (Tom Kojscsich, University Marketing)

Class of 2022: Future doctors Om Evani and Emily Harris aim for the competitive couples match on Match Day

The fourth-year VCU School of Medicine students will complete their residency programs in the same city

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Fourth-year VCU medical students Om Evani and Emily Harris have spent countless hours during the past few months interviewing at various residency programs around the country for the couples match. On Friday, Evani and Harris and hundreds of their VCU School of Medicine classmates celebrated Match Day, a day when medical students across the country find out where they will spend the first few years of their careers as doctors in residency. Evani and Harris matched in their specific specialties at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina, their top choice.

“It’s so exciting,” they said in an interview on Friday. “We are overjoyed. Last night we couldn’t sleep but now we are thrilled. We will spend one year interning at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News and the next four at Duke. We are excited to start this journey.”

Going through the process was time-consuming with no guarantees.

“Everyone tries their best, but in the end, it can be unpredictable,” Evani said, talking about landing that perfect match. “When you are a couple, it adds a little wrinkle. The couples match is harder than a regular match, but it’s obviously worth it.”

Participating in the National Resident Matching Program as a couple allows two applicants to link their rank order lists, usually for purposes of obtaining residency positions in the same geographic location. The couple matches to the most preferred pair of programs on their rank order lists where each partner has been offered a position.

The process of matching as a couple is competitive. Last year, 94.1% of the VCU Class of 2021 matched into a first-year medical residency position they’d applied for, close to the national average of 94.8%. Of those who did not match into positions they’d applied for but were subsequently offered unfilled positions before Match Day, more than 99% of VCU students matched into a first-year medical residency position. Nationally, the match rate for couples last year was 93.4%.

Because the process can be difficult to navigate, Harris and Evani met with Chris Woleben, M.D., associate dean for student affairs in the VCU School of Medicine, to see how they could increase their odds of matching to the same city.

“He talked us through the process and gave us great advice. He offered to check over our lists before we submitted them to make sure they aligned properly. You don’t want anything to be off,” Evani said.

Woleben typically has five to 10 couples yearly that want a couples match.

“By far, the majority end up in the same city, and some in the same program,” Woleben said, noting the process for a couples match is slightly different from individual matches. “Many look for programs in larger geographic areas, such as Philadelphia, New York City, Boston or Los Angeles, where they have multiple options for overlap.”

Because the process involves a great deal of strategy, couples need a “little more handholding,” he said.

Harris and Evani were easy to work with, Woleben said.

“They are excellent candidates,” Woleben said. “Academically, they are very solid, and both are involved in leadership activities at the School of Medicine. Plus, both are really nice people, which will make it easier for them to match together.

During the process, Harris and Evani also sought advice from doctors who have gone through the couples match to get their perspective and learn any techniques that proved helpful.

“The prior students who couples matched advised us on how to structure our emails to programs and ways that we could increase our chances of obtaining interviews at the same places,” Harris said. “That was really successful for us.”

Finding that special someone

Both Harris and Evani got interested in the medical field early in their lives.

“My mom had breast cancer when I was young, and I wanted to take care of patients like her,” said Harris, who graduated from University of Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Evani, who has a bachelor’s degree in both biology and economics from UVA, learned about the medical field from his mother, who is a psychiatrist.

“I always had a view into medicine,” he said. “I got involved in the rescue squad at UVA, and that’s what piqued my interest.”

Harris and Evani graduated from UVA in 2016 but never formally met on campus. However, Harris recognized him from UVA and introduced herself on the first day of medical school at VCU.

Evani thought Harris was very friendly. “We found out we have a lot of mutual friends from college,” he said.

“We first formed a great friendship, and then we started dating,” she said.

She finds Evani to be hard working, someone who always pushes her to be better.

Evani said he considers Harris one of the smartest people in class.

“She keeps me on my toes, and she challenges me to not only be a better student but also a better person,” he said.

The two spend much of their free time together, often with Harris’ 3-year-old rescue dog in tow. They love exploring all that Richmond has to offer, and they’ve found work-life balance to be important.

“You have to be intentional about it and work for it,” Harris said.

VCU sets students up for success

When Harris started at VCU, she was set on going into oncology because of her experience with her mom’s cancer.

“Radiation oncology was an elective, and I fell in love with the field right away,” she said. “It gives you the ability to form strong relationships with your patients.”

Unlike Harris, Evani didn’t know what specialty he wanted to pursue until he received advice from an attending physician at the School of Medicine.

“The attending said, ‘Find the one part of each rotation you like.’ I took that to heart,” he said. “I chose radiology because I always loved looking at the imaging and thought it was exciting how many patients you are able to impact in the hospital.”

Both came to VCU because they were familiar with the School of Medicine.

“My mom was a psychiatry resident here and worked as faculty for many years,” Evani said. “Being here as a student has been everything I dreamed of.”

“I can’t say enough great things about all of our professors and the attending physicians we have worked with. They are supportive, kind, and love to teach. We have gained a lot of lifelong mentors,” Harris said.

She targeted radiation oncology partly because of the outstanding department at VCU, she said.

“Everyone in the rad onc department is amazing and great to work with,” she said.

“The culture in the radiology department is also incredible,” Evani said. “They got me interested in the field early on and were so much fun to work with.”

Evani is a member of the Medical Student Government on the MCV Campus.

“The student body is a good group of people, really supportive of each other,” he said.

Harris and Evani feel fully prepared for their careers and are appreciative of the support they have received from the medical school administration.

“I think VCU does a great job with the core rotations that every medical student has to complete,” Evani said. “Even though we may not be going into those fields, it’s important to have that foundation of knowledge. We’ve had fantastic clinical training, and we are working with really great doctors that show you the right way to do things. They set you up for success from day one.”

The culture at VCU is very patient-centered, they said.

“That’s what I have loved about being here,” Harris said. “It’s something I want to carry forward into my career.”

Medical school can be stressful and all-consuming, but the two have been able to support one another and will continue to do so during residency, they said.

“It’s great to have someone who knows what you are going through,” Evani said of Harris. “There were so many ups and downs in medical school, so it was amazing to have her support through it all. I knew I could always rely on that.”

“Medical school took a lot of time, and it was great to have Om with me through it all,” Harris said. “Having my best friend go through it with me has been a blessing.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Om Evani and Emily Harris’ residency match.