By Wendy Sarubbi | March 15, 2013 1:28 pm

The University of Central Florida celebrated a milestone today when its charter medical school class of students placed in residency training programs across the country.

Students are pursuing a variety of specialties, from primary care to highly competitive sub-specialties like neurosurgery, diagnostic radiology and orthopedic surgery. They will train in hospital programs across Florida, including Orlando Health and the University of Florida, and across the nation, including the Mayo Clinic, Duke, Tufts, Brown and the University of Washington.

“It’s a great day for our university and our community,” said President John C. Hitt. “Our students have followed their pioneering spirits and accomplished so much with the help of our talented faculty and staff members and the support of so many generous scholarship donors. When our students move on to their residencies, they will be exceptional ambassadors for the College of Medicine, UCF and Central Florida.”

Thirty-five students from the College of Medicine’s charter class participated in Match Day 2013. More than 40,000 participated nationwide. Most medical institutions will not hire doctors unless they complete a residency, so there’s a lot riding on Match day. Results are kept secret until noon EST on national Match Day.

“I am happy with our match results,” said Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the College of Medicine. “Our students reached for the stars in pursuing their dreams. They will continue their training in Florida and across the nation representing Central Florida as the first group of UCF-educated physicians.”

The match is similar to an online dating service. Medical students select their preferred residency program from a list of possibilities nationwide. Residency programs housed at universities and hospitals alike list their top picks. A centralized computer spends weeks sorting and coming up with the best “match,” which is announced on the designated Match Day.

There was a lot of anticipation leading up to Friday at UCF and beyond. The community eagerly awaited results after donating more than $6.5 million to fund full scholarships for every student in the class of 2013, making UCF the first medical school in U.S. history to provide full scholarships to an entire class. The scholarships provided $160,000 for tuition, fees and living expenses for all four years of medical school.

Students stood in front of an overhead banner where gold glittered clothespins held sealed white envelopes. Each envelope held a letter telling them where they had placed. As the medical school clock tower struck noon, the class, their families, donors, faculty and staff began counting down at 10…9…8…At “1” students tore into their envelopes to get the news. Tears, laughter and cheers erupted throughout the halls. Hugs and tears were common as parents and donors congratulated their students.

“I’m on Cloud Nine,” said M.D. student Mitch Popovetsky, who matched in internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Every day this week has been a countdown until now. I was so excited I had to read my letter four times just to be sure.”

The College of Medicine was the first building to call Medical City home. Today the growing biomedical cluster located near the Orlando International Airport includes Nemours Children’s Hospital, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, a University of Florida Research and Academic Center and the Orlando VA Medical Center under construction. Collaboration among these institutions and hospital chains such as Orlando Health and Florida Hospital also gave the charter class students unique opportunities for hands on training.

Tiffany Chen is one of five UCF students going to the University of Washington Affiliated Hospitals. “”I’m ecstatic,” said Tiffany, who opened the envelope announcing her obstetrics-gynecology residency, screamed and then turned to hug her mother. “I was in rounds all week, which was good because working distracted me. But it was hard to sleep last night.”

The match is the last big hurdle for charter class medical students before graduation on May 17 and the start of their medical careers.

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