By Wendy Sarubbi | January 21, 2015 3:11 pm

Class of 2015 medical student Rikin Patel matched into a highly competitive urology residency Wednesday, and credited his research project on robotic surgery with inspiring his passion for urology as a specialty. Patel will do his residency training at Albany Medical College in Albany, NY, where he spent a month-long clerkship earlier this year.

Nationwide there were 433 applicants for urology residencies. Of those, 296 were placed. Residency slots – especially in certain specialties like urology – have become increasingly competitive as America increases its number of medical schools and more students in the U.S. and worldwide seek residency training.

The match is similar to an online dating service. Medical students select their preferred residency program. Residency programs at universities and hospitals list their top picks. A centralized computer spends weeks sorting and coming up with the best “match,” which is announced to medical students nationwide on National Match Day, which is March 20 this year. Some programs like urology and military service match announce results earlier. Patel was the only student in the Class of 2015 to seek a urology residency match.

“Rikin has worked very hard over the past four years, and he has been very dedicated to pursuing a career in urology,” said Dr. Marcy Verduin, the College of Medicine’s associate dean for students.  “I am incredibly proud of all he has accomplished and happy to celebrate his success today.  The fact that the urology match was so competitive this year, with more than 130 applicants not able to secure a residency position, makes Rikin’s accomplishments that much more impressive.”

Patel said his two-year FIRE (Focused Inquiry Research Experience) study of robotic telesurgery – the possibility of surgeons remotely using computerized robots to do urological surgery over distances – inspired him in his choice of specialty. All UCF medical students must complete the two-year research project with the help of a research mentor. The medical school’s goal with the FIRE initiative is to develop a strong spirit of inquiry in its students and an appreciation and understanding of how research can improve patient care.

“The feelings I have about matching are indescribable,” Patel said. “Building up to the match, you’re so anxious. Then you find out and you think of all the people who supported you along the way – family, friends, mentors and how much everyone else played a role in getting you ready to take on this next challenge.”

One of those mentors was Dr. Roger Smith, chief technology officer for Florida Hospital’s Nicholson Center for Surgical Advancement, who leads a team of researchers in using simulation technology to train surgeons. Dr. Smith served as Patel’s FIRE mentor. “My FIRE project showed me that surgery can be fun and the new and exciting technologies that are being used to provide better care to patients,” Patel said.

The medical student also studied with Dr. Hubert Swana at Nemours Children’s Hospital as he performed complex reconstructive urology surgery procedures on young children. Then Patel participated in the urology elective clerkship at Albany Medical College, which is considered a “sub-internship” because it was similar to the experience of a first-year resident. Patel did early morning rounds with patients preparing for surgery, saw up to five surgeries a day, and did follow-up meetings with post-operative patients. “A lot of my patients were pretty sick – with conditions like cancer. They were scared and some didn’t have a lot of family to visit them. A hospital is a busy place, so as a medical student, I had time to go back see them and spend time with them,” he said. “I had the privilege of talking to them about their care and seeing how they were really doing.”

Patel and his classmates will graduate from UCF on May 15 – the new medical school’s third graduation. He begins his three-year residency training in June.

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