A photo of a large crowd of people holding signs
The Class of 2024 learned their residency matches on Friday, March 15. (Photo by Arda Athman, School of Medicine)

May we have the envelopes, please: Match Day was a big reveal for VCU medical students

Framed by the pandemic, the Class of 2024 persevered – with a 99% match rate for residency programs and wise reflections on the journey.

Share this story

Backdropped by colorful lights and glimmering disco ball balloons, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Class of 2024 filed into The National theater on March 15, excitedly anticipating the 2024 National Resident Matching Program results. Noon was near, and the graduating students were about to learn which specialties, and which hospitals or care centers, they had matched to for their residency training.

Amid the Match Day mingling and celebrating, associate deans Nicole Deiorio, M.D., and Chris Woleben, M.D., congratulated the graduating class and shared some notable numbers of this year’s match. One was that the Class of 2024’s overall placement rate was 99%. Another was that 59 students will stay in Virginia for their residencies, with 37 of them remaining at VCU.

“As a state school, it is really nice to know that 59 of you will be sticking around to serve the community,” Deiorio said to the crowd.

Arturo Saavedra, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine, was all smiles when he took the stage on his first Match Day since arriving at VCU in 2023. He commended the soon-to-be graduates for their accomplishments, offered a special thanks to their parents for raising exceptional future doctors and encouraged them to reflect on those who supported them throughout medical school.

“You will learn much more during residency, but you will always remember your faculty and family, especially during the hard times,” Saavedra said.

Moments before noon, Luan Lawson, M.D., senior associate dean of medical education, led the crowd in an exuberant countdown from 10. And when the hour arrived, among their families and friends, students ripped open the envelopes to reveal the results they’d been working toward for four years.

Here are insights from a half-dozen students as they made their match – and reflected on their medical school journeys.

Madison Sokol / psychiatry

A photo of two women standing next to each other and holding signs.
Madison Sokol (left) and Riley Payne served as MSG M4 class president and MSG president-at-large, respectively. (Photo by Arda Athman, School of Medicine)

When Madison Sokol looks back on her four years at VCU, she remembers her 10-person study group spreading out across a studio in the McGlothlin Medical Education Center, associate dean Woleben passing out Halloween candy while they crammed for an exam and the daily hallway meet-ups with her classmates once clinical rotations started.

Sokol has been involved with the Medical Student Government since her first year and was thrilled to step up as class president as an M4 (a fourth-year student). Advocating for her peers through the MSG and leading the planning of Match Day came naturally to her, she said, and she loved the opportunity to interact with her class “even more than I already was.” Most rewarding, though, has been witnessing her peers find their specialties and come into their own. 

“Looking back on how little we knew when we got here, and seeing people not just know things but really be confident in what they know, is so satisfying and reassuring to me,” Sokol said. “I would love for everyone in my class to be my own doctor.” 

Sokol, who was aiming for a program somewhere between Richmond and Washington, D.C., said she “had a gut feeling” she would end up staying at VCU. She was right. 

“I’m over the moon,” she said as friends and family hugged and posed for photos around her. “It’s perfect.” 

Matching into VCU means continuing to build on many of the relationships she established as a student, and Sokol said she’s eager to dive in and gain more independence as a clinician.

“I’ve noticed the kind of confidence that others have around you as a fourth-year versus as a third-year, and every year you get a little more autonomy and trust, which is reflected in how you see yourself in your own clinical decision-making,” Sokol said. “As a resident, I’m most excited to try more, see what I’ve learned in practice and really just be able to take ownership of that.” 

Riley Payne / neurology

For MSG President Riley Payne, Match Day was the culmination of a collective and unique experience for the Class of 2024. She and her classmates began their medical education in fall of 2020, in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Starting during the pandemic drew us closer in some ways,” Payne said. “It made us work harder to find friends and activities. We shared a lot of common anxieties and excitement during that time.”

To more strongly connect with classmates amid virtual classes and limited physical proximity, Payne joined the MSG to uplift a class that lost out on several monumental first-year events, including the new student orientation, the white coat ceremony and the annual School of Medicine formal known as Med Ball.

“It was a way for me to meet people and help find ways for us to still enjoy our medical school experience, despite everything going on,” Payne said. “It is also a great way to engage with administration and make sure we have a say in our education.”

This year, Payne participated in the couples’ match with her partner, who attends University of Virginia School of Medicine. The process, for couples wishing to match at the same or nearby institutions, is complicated, but their efforts paid off: They will both soon head to the University of South Florida School of Medicine, where Payne will join the neurology program.

“It’s amazing, I’m so happy,” Payne said. “I was on FaceTime with him while opening to make sure we matched together.”

Jean Wu / psychiatry

A photo of a man and woman standing next to eachother. Behind them is a red neon sign that says \"I Matched!\"
Chair of MSG Wellness Committee Jean Wu (right) matched into VCU's Psychiatry Residency Program. (Photo courtesy of Jean Wu)

Jean Wu, chair of the MSG’s Wellness Committee, described the Class of 2024 as the “guinea pig class” because of curriculum changes, like shifting to a mostly virtual education during their M1 year due to the pandemic. The students also were the first class to take the revised Step 1 Exam, the first part of the medical licensing exam, which was shifted to a pass-fail format in 2022 to alleviate student stress.

“As a class, I feel like we had many unique challenges,” Wu said. “I’m really proud of how our class has been able to overcome all of these firsts, and I have so much respect for my peers and their resilience.”

Still, Wu said the pandemic highlighted the importance of wellness in medical school, a shift that she believes has contributed to psychiatry’s rising popularity as a field. Wu joined the Wellness Committee in 2020, inspired by her own history of overcoming an eating disorder, which led to a passion for helping others find ways to take care of themselves.

“We can’t show up for patients if we can’t take care of ourselves,” she said.

Originally from Los Angeles, Wu said she was torn between staying in Richmond and returning to California. She ultimately matched into VCU’s psychiatry program, and she said she is excited to stay with her partner, a fellow medical student, and the friends she has made in the city.

“Mixed emotions is how I would capture how I felt that day,” Wu said. “Over the last four years, VCU and the Greater Richmond community has become my home. I’m incredibly grateful to continue my training with VCU psychiatry.”

As she embarks on this new chapter, Wu said she will cherish her time and the lessons she learned on the Wellness Committee.

“Something I’ll take away with me is a systems approach to wellness,” Wu said. “It’s not just about changing your own diet and exercise habits. However best our intentions are, structural factors often have the greatest influence on our wellness.”

Kevin Lam / psychiatry

A photo of a man holding a sign that says \"I MATCHED!\"
Kevin Lam will be traveling to New Jersey for his residency. (Photo by Laura Ingles, School of Medicine)

When Kevin Lam entered medical school, he thought he wanted to be a transplant surgeon. He had recently lost his older brother, Kenny, to complications following a liver transplant and chose VCU partially because of the Hume-Lee Transplant Center. But after a rotation in the Department of Psychiatry, he began to reconsider how he could reach patients like his brother, who struggled with addiction, depression and anxiety. 

Kenny, whom Lam described as generous, selfless and supportive of everyone around him, kept his alcohol use disorder and mental illness hidden from the family until he was hospitalized for late-stage liver failure. 

“I want to figure out how we can destigmatize mental health and reach more patients who, like him, weren’t reached before,” Lam said. “I want patients to be able to discuss it with their families.” 

The more time Lam spent on psychiatry rotations, the more he felt like that was the specialty for him — especially in the transplant psychiatry clinics. 

“I can empathize with how difficult it was for them to get this treatment, and I’m able to communicate and develop a better rapport with these patients,” he said. “It is really difficult, and I truly believe in how difficult it is for them.” 

Lam looks forward to beginning his training this summer at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, part of Rutgers University. The program and its surrounding area in New Brunswick, N.J., have “everything I was looking for,” he said, and he’s especially thrilled that many friends in his School of Medicine cohort matched into programs nearby.

Carolyn May / ophthalmology

A photo of a woman standing in front of stage with giant white letters on it that spell out \"V C U\"
Carolyn May matched early into VCU's Ophthalmology Residency Program. (Photo by Arda Athman, School of Medicine)

Carolyn May was one of the rare students to enter medical school with a specialty in mind and stick to it. She was open to other options during clinical rotations, she said, but when the time came to apply for residencies, she was confident in what she’d known since joining a medical mission trip called Flight for Sight in high school: She is going to be an ophthalmologist. 

“I got to see this really delicate procedure that I’d never seen before,” May said of the cataract surgeries she assisted with in Mexico as a teenager. “I got to help remove their eye patch at the follow-up appointments, and I saw the amazing impact these surgeries had on the patients there.” 

As a student, May said she felt fortunate to connect with mentors in the Department of Ophthalmology, and VCU’s program was one of her top choices. When she and her partner — also a School of Medicine alum, and a current emergency medicine resident — opened her early match results together in her apartment at 8 a.m. on Feb. 6, they were both thrilled to see that she’ll be staying in Richmond to train at VCU. 

“I really feel like VCU has something special,” May said. “It has such a great patient population, and I know that the outstanding clinical training I had in medical school will continue in residency.”

Faizaan Khan / anesthesiology

A photo of two men holding a piece of paper
Faizaan Khan (right) and Panth Doshi both matched into VCU's Anesthesiology Residency Program via the Competency-Based Graduation Program. (Photo by Arda Athman, School of Medicine)

Faizaan Khan was one of six M3s attending the 2024 Match Day ceremony. As part of the Competency-Based Graduation Program, Khan and his cohort are on an accelerated curriculum track and will graduate after three years instead of four.

“Becoming a doctor is something I’ve worked toward for years, from high school to undergrad to medical school,” Khan said. “And now I’m finally one step closer to my goal.”

CBG students select one of seven available specialties prior to joining the program and are matched with a preceptor in their chosen field during their M2 year. Students are then ranked to match into VCU or VCU-affiliated residency programs. Khan, an aspiring anesthesiologist, was a driving force for the specialty’s inclusion in the CBG with his best friend and roommate, Panth Doshi. The pair will be the first anesthesiology graduates of the program.

“We first met in our freshman-year dorm hall and have gone through undergrad and medical school together,” Khan said. “We have been supporting and pushing each other, and I’m so excited that we will continue together as co-residents.”

This summer, Khan starts the Anesthesiology Residency Program at VCU School of Medicine. Graduating a year earlier than his M3 peers, Khan said he was honored and humbled to be part of the accelerated track.

“I would tell M1 me to really enjoy every moment and appreciate your support system,” Khan said. “My family, friends and the faculty here are the reason I made it to this point.”

This story was originally published on the VCU School of Medicine’s news site, where you also can find a photo gallery from the event and a match list.