For graduating medical students, Match Day is the event that determines where they will spend the next years of their lives. On this day each year, students across the country learn where they will complete their residencies before obtaining medical licenses. Typically, this process happens in-person, with the graduating students able to celebrate the occasion with their loved ones. However, due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Match Day took place virtually.

Students still found out where they and their classmates would carry out their residencies, but through webcams rather than shared meeting spaces. With the online space replacing the physical, students adapted to the new parameters by watching a slideshow of photos from their time at UW and putting together a shared Google map to plot the locations of all their new homes.

Timothy Kelly and Yanni Chang – two students from the Department of Global Health – were among those who took part in the virtual Match Day experience last month. Kelly, who participated in both the Global Health Immersion Program (GHIP) and Global Health Clinical Elective (GHCE), says despite the circumstances, he was still able to turn the virtual experience into a bit of an event.

“I got together with a couple of friends, cooked brunch together, and logged into the virtual Match Day,” Kelly said. “I was matched to the Emergency Medicine program at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York.”

Chang completed a Master of Public Health in 2019 while also pursuing a medical degree. On Match Day, she learned that she’d be staying in Seattle, as she was matched with the UW Psychiatry Resident Research Program. Her Match Day experience started early in the morning on a computer screen and ended atop a peak.

“The virtual Match Day was an interesting experience!” Chang said. “I found out that I had matched with UW at 9 a.m., and it was so nice to celebrate with my partner, as well as my mom and brother (on the phone). In true Northwest fashion, we celebrated later in the day with a hike.”

Of course, while Match Day means new beginnings, it also brings an end to the students’ time with the Department of Global Health. As they prepare to enter their next chapter, during a global pandemic no less, both Kelly and Chang reflected on the knowledge they obtained during medical school and how they will apply it moving forward.

“My experiences with both GHIP and GHCE gave me insight into the public health policies that various countries have and how that impacts how they treat their more marginalized populations,” Kelly said. “Given that I will be working in New York City in communities with large numbers of immigrants, I feel better prepared to diagnose and treat tropical diseases as a result of my experiences with DGH.”

With her placement in the Psychiatry Resident Research Program, Chang will shift her focus toward mental health, a field she said she took an interest to during her time with DGH.

“I hope to continue working with colleagues around the world to improve population mental health by eradicating structural barriers and reducing stigma and bias. Looking to the future, I am excited to use my skills of critically assessing evidence, understanding root causes, and designing and conducting studies during the next phase of my training.”

Beyond just affecting their Match Day experience, COVID-19 has also impacted the way Kelly and Chang think about global health as a whole. With the virus casting immense uncertainty over the entire world, those beginning their careers in health have encountered a brand new variable at the start of their paths. Both Kelly and Chang expressed thoughts on how a worldwide event of this magnitude has shaped their thoughts on local and global health systems. While the School of Medicine’s Class of 2020 will always remember their Match Day for its unusual and unprecedented circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic also presents a fascinating time to begin their careers as medical professionals.

“The pandemic plus my GHCE experience in Mombasa, Kenya helped me realize how many countries around the world are unprepared to handle a pandemic such as this,” Kelly said. “The hospital I worked at was one of the biggest public hospitals in Kenya and yet still relatively ill-equipped to respond to a pandemic of this magnitude. My experiences with both GHIP and GHCE helped me gain an appreciation for the quality of our healthcare in the US, all of its problems notwithstanding.”

“I think that the pandemic has shed light on the health resource distribution asymmetries in our local US health ecosystem,” Chang said. “The most marginalized and vulnerable individuals continue to be disproportionately impacted, and it is clear that the principles and practices of global health are critical to an effective response on local, national, and global levels during this emergency.”