Courage, Persistence Mark Match Day Journey for Medical Students

Mother and daughter had traveled this journey together – when other medical schools thought Jessica Fernandez couldn’t handle their rigorous programs, and four years later when supporters are showcasing Fernandez’s success at UCF as inspiration for others to follow their dreams.

On Friday, they stood at National Match Day, arms around each other, waiting to learn where Fernandez would do her residency training.

Maria Luisa de Curtis Fernandez kissed her daughter’s head as Jessica opened her envelope and learned she’d gotten her top choice – Jefferson Medical College’s duPoint Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. It’s one of only three pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation positions in the country that train doctors to care for children with movement disorders caused by conditions such as traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy and Jessica’s condition, spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia. The rare genetic disorder affects bone growth and causes small stature. Jessica stands 4 feet 2 inches tall.

Jessica Fernandez and her mother, Maria Luisa de Curtis Fernandez, react to Friday's Match Day.

Jessica Fernandez and her mother, Maria Luisa de Curtis Fernandez, react to Friday’s Match Day. (Photo by Suhtling Wong-Vienneau)

DuPont was the hospital program where Fernandez had surgery last year to fuse bones in her spine. She’d fallen in love with the facility’s spirit and that bond intensified when Fernandez did a rotation at the hospital months later.

“They were so motivating and accepting,” she said. “They wanted me to be me. With them, I can help children gain independence and mobility. I can heal patients like me.”

Fernandez was one of 114 Class of 2018 UCF medical students who matched into residencies Friday. Across the country a record-high 37,103 applicants submitted choices for 33,167 residency positions, the most ever offered. UCF’s 98 percent match rate was again higher than the national average of 94.3 percent. During their fourth year of medical school, students interview with residency programs in their specialty of choice. They rank their choices; residency programs do the same. Then a national computer matches the two. The results are kept secret until noon on National Match Day, when students nationwide learn the results.

2018 UCF graduates will do their residencies at top hospitals across the nation, state and community, including Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Mayo Clinic, Orlando Health, University of Florida, Vanderbilt and Yale.

Ion, the College of Medicine’s certified therapy dog, even received his next assignment on Match Day. Ion’s owner, Christa Zino, matched into a surgical residency at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Her residency program director said Ion, a rescued boxer, can join residents on surgical rounds to provide comfort to patients. “I’m so excited,” Zino said. “I love surgery because I can fix things with my hands. I can be that person. Now I just need to find a full-time dog walker.”

Professor Roseann White, who teaches at the medical school’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, attended Match Day to cheer on her neighbor’s grandson and former student, UCF med student Tyler Hall. He graduated from Burnett and is now headed to a pediatric residency at the University of Chicago. Hall credited Burnett School faculty with advising and helping him be ready for medical school and then succeed to he could get his dream residency.

White was equally thrilled. “To see him grow up and embark on his journey to become a pediatrician was very special,” she said. “For Tyler, along with a few others, to be one of our UCF biomedical sciences graduates matching makes me proud of our program.”

Best friends Stephen Rineer and Richard Taylor both matched into pediatric residencies at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. They met during their first year of med school. They studied together, prepared for their board exams together. Their wives are now best friends too.

“We were competitive but in a good way,” Reiner said. Added Taylor: “I’m ecstatic. It means so much to be able to match with my best friend, because we get to move there and already have a family of friends.”

Kyle Cox spent his undergraduate years competing on UCF’s soccer team while he was studying biomedical sciences for pre-med. In May, he’ll graduate and move with his wife to Montgomery, AL, for a residency in orthopedic surgery at University of South Alabama Hospitals.

“I’ve spent so many years in athletics, I think like an athlete and I think that will help me relate to my patients,” he said. “Orthopedic surgery will allow me to help athletes get back on the field and help patients gain mobility so they can get back to what they enjoy.”

After opening their envelopes on the College of Medicine’s Tavistock Green, the future physicians went to a microphone, announced where they matched and placed a thumbtack on a giant U.S. map to mark their residency destination. Dean Deborah German told students that when they opened their envelopes, they were “opening the door to your future.”

Jessica Fernandez was the second student to announce her future. She stood on a stool to see over the podium at a Match Day crowd of hundreds.

“I’m Jess,” she said. Then the future Dr. Jessica Fernandez announced where she will go to heal others. And the crowd roared.