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Match Day Inspires Cheers and Tears of Joy as Students Celebrate Their Futures

After three and a half years of medical school, a long residency application process, and an exciting, stressful week of waiting, the students under the tent in the Schoninger Research Quadrangle on Friday counted down the final 10 seconds to noon, dodged the confetti shooting through the air, and opened the envelopes that told them where they would spend the next several years of their lives.

Shouts of joy filled the tent as confetti rained down on the happy students and their families.

It was Match Day across the nation, and the screams of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s fourth-year students could be heard across the campus as they celebrated their residency acceptances with family and friends.

“You have been an absolutely wonderful class,” said Edward Abraham, M.D., executive vice president for health affairs, CEO of UHealth, and dean of the Miller School. “We look forward to hearing from you moving forward. Congratulations to all of you, and to your families as well.”

Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, thanked “the most amazing team of medical education deans you’ll find anywhere in the country,” along with the other faculty and staff who contributed so much. “This week culminates with one of the most important days in a medical student’s career — a day when we all find out where the next chapter in their careers will take place,” he said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking leading up to the day, but exciting nonetheless.”

Fourth-year medical student Ahmed Al Bayati, second from left, with his mother, Dr. Huda Husain, his girlfriend Eugenia Iglesias, his brother Mahmood Al Bayati and his father Dr. Jameel Al Bayati.

One of the most excited members of the Class of 2018 was Ahmed Al Bayati, who learned that he was accepted at Vanderbilt for a general surgery residency, and will train to become a surgical oncologist. “I don’t think I could be any happier than I am right now,” he said as tears streamed down his face and the faces of his parents, who are both physicians. “This is one of the best days of my life!”

With a significant amount of cancer in his family, and a few phenomenal mentors at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, “everything kind of fit together,” Al Bayati said. “I looked at every other specialty, but at the end of the road, this was my calling.”

It has been a long, complicated road. Born and raised in Baghdad, Al Bayati worked as a translator for the U.S. military and ended up having to flee the violence in Iraq with his family. They moved to Dubai, where he decided he wanted to be a surgeon. “There were really no surgery residencies for Iraqis there,” he said, so he knew he needed to start over somewhere else.

Al Bayati had to go back to Baghdad because he hadn’t been in Dubai long enough to get a visa. He worked for a combat hospital in Baghdad, where he saw “the most painful part of the war.” And as it turned out, everyone he worked with had trained at the U.S. Army Trauma Training Center at UM/Jackson’s Ryder Trauma Center.

The Franco family: from left, Joey, Deanna, Alexa, Angela and JT.

The road to UM continued at Georgia College, where Al Bayati was a biology major. His mentor there was treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center by an oncologist who ended up being recruited to Sylvester. The mentor connected Al Bayati with the oncologist, and after packing everything in the back of his car, Al Bayati moved to Miami and began an internship with Jonathan Trent, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Musculoskeletal Center, Sarcoma Medical Research Program at Sylvester.

Al Bayati later interviewed with Joseph Rosenblatt, M.D., chief of the Division of Hematology-Oncology and the William J. Harrington Chair in Hematology, for a full-time lab job. “Have you ever even held a pipette?” Rosenblatt asked him. The answer was no, but “he took a chance on me,” Al Bayati said. “Not a lot of people hire people as inexperienced as I was at that point. He gave me that chance.

“I’ll be grateful to him for the rest of my life.”

Rosenblatt came to the quadrangle Friday to celebrate with Al Bayati. “Ahmed came to my lab years ago, with fire in the belly and real scientific curiosity,” Rosenblatt said. “He loved the bench, he had great hands, and he was an inspiration to everybody in the lab.

Kelly Feldman.

“He worked hard, got into UM medical school, and excelled. His second goal was to become a surgeon like his father, and he just got into his Number One residency choice. I’m awfully proud of whatever little role we played in his development and how well he applied himself, and I’m sure he will be one of the great surgeons of the next generation.”

Al Bayati’s father, Dr. Jameel Al Bayati, was a trauma surgeon during the Iraq war, his mother, Dr. Huda Husain, is an OB/GYN, and his brother Mahmood is a first-year medical student at the Miller School.

“I’ve traveled across the entire globe to match in surgery here,” Ahmed Al Bayati said. “I gambled a lot on it. Now I get to do what I want to do, and it’s such a privilege and an honor.”

Al Bayati loves being in the OR and looks forward to forming longtime bonds with his patients — “whatever challenge comes up, you tackle it together” — but he also plans to continue to make a difference in research. “As much as I’m interested in my patients, I’m also interested in research that could alter the course and make cancer a chronic illness like diabetes and hypertension.”

Similar to years past, 24 percent of the graduating Miller School students are staying here to train at UM or Jackson. Thirty percent will train in the state of Florida. In the M.D./M.P.H. program, 47 percent of graduates chose primary care fields, and 36 percent of the M.D. graduates chose primary care.

Many faculty members joined their students for Friday’s celebration. “Having the opportunity to get to know so many of them individually over a four-year trajectory is a priceless privilege,” said Hilit F. Mechaber, M.D., associate dean for student services. “I think I’m the luckiest person on the planet because of the job I have, helping guide them through what is a very rewarding but challenging journey.”

Each medical student and their family had their own story of hard work, hope and happiness. For some, it was also about going home.

If there was a prize for the family that screamed the loudest, jumped the highest and cried the most, it would have gone to the Francos.

“What can I say? We’re an emotional Italian family,” said Angela Franco, the mom, as she laughed through her tears. She and Joey, the father, Deanna, the sister, and JT, the brother, were all there to cheer on daughter Alexa, who matched with an ENT residency at New York University School of Medicine. The Francos, who live in Manhattan, couldn’t have been happier.

“I’m going home,” said Alexa, through tears of her own. “It was my first choice, and I’m thrilled.”

Still, the UM connections are strong. Deanna and JT are alumni, and Angela and Joey are on the Miller School Parents Council, but Alexa, they all said proudly, would be the family’s first physician.

Kelly Feldman, from Orange County, California, is also going home. She came to the Miller School from the University of California San Diego, where she received her undergraduate degree, because she heard the training was so good.

“I can’t say enough about my experience at Jackson Memorial Hospital,” she said. “It was everything I hoped for and more.”

Now she is heading back west to University of California Irvine Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital for a residency in pediatrics.

Kevin Moore, a Boston-area native, came to the Miller School from Harvard, and it is to a Harvard-linked dermatology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital that he will be returning, following a transitional year at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. His medical education at the Miller School, however, was a deliberate choice.

“I chose the Miller School for the M.P.H. program,” he said. “I’m very interested in clinical care of underserved populations, but I am also interested in public health research and medical education. The M.P.H. program gave me all of that. It was a completely different perspective on medicine.”

Moore is especially proud of his work with the Miller School’s Human Rights Clinic, which provides evaluations and medical affidavits to asylum seekers who have experienced any type of trauma.

“I’m incredibly grateful for all the support I have received from the deans and the faculty,” said Moore. “It’s a bittersweet feeling to be leaving here to return to Boston. Being educated at the Miller School is a unique opportunity.”

Armando Alvarez is a Miami native through and through. Raised here, he first decided to become a physician while volunteering at San Juan Bosco Clinic during his sophomore year at UM. He chose to stay for the M.D./M.P.H. program at the Miller School and just matched with a physical medicine and rehabilitation residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital following a transition year at the UM/JFK Medical Center in Palm Beach.

His mother, Ani Martinez, executive assistant to Alex Mechaber, is happy knowing her son will be here for another four years. But Alvarez wants to work in sports medicine, and after his residency is ready to go wherever that may lead him.

“I hope to get picked up by a professional sports team — but as a doctor, not a player,” he said with a grin.

For South Florida native Erica Graff, Match Day was a win-win in every sense. Not only did she get her first choice — an internal medicine residency at Jackson — but her boyfriend, Andrew Richardson, also matched at Jackson, with a preliminary year in surgery, followed by a residency in interventional radiology.

“I’m so happy to be staying home with my family,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be so excited, but now I can’t wait to start. I wanted to stay at Jackson because I thought it would be the best place to do my training. You just can’t compare the patient population here to anywhere else. I can continue to improve my Spanish and continue to serve the underserved. The deans have been supportive every step of the way. I’m just so grateful for my experience, and I think I’ll be at Jackson in some capacity for the rest of my life.”

Her father, Jeff, expressed the sentiments of so many of the parents present.

“We’re super excited,” he said. “It has been a long four years for them — and for the parents, as well. She will be the first doctor in our family, and we couldn’t be more proud.”

See more photos from Match Day here.





Tags: Alex Mechaber, Edward Abraham, Match Day, medical education