The Perfect Match

It's a match

New doctors Venkat Subramanyam, MD '17, and Alyson Cunningham, MD '17, were married a few weeks after Commencement. Match Day put an end to their anxiety about possibly having to live apart during their residencies.

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enkat Subramanyam and Alyson Cunningham have experienced “The Dating Game,” “The Match Game” and “The Newlywed Game” in that order, since beginning medical school in 2013. “Jeopardy” loomed large for the couple during four days last March, but on the fifth day, they only needed a “Minute to Win It.”

They met during orientation at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. Thanks to small classes and study groups, their friendship blossomed into love. He was drawn to emergency medicine and she, surgery. 

Subramanyam popped the question over dinner in New Haven in January 2017 during the height of the season when fourth-year medical students nationwide interview at residency sites. They set a wedding date of June 9; the setting, Goat Island off Newport, Rhode Island. They made their residency lists together, enrolling as a couple in the National Resident Matching Program, also known as The Match. Now it was up to a computer algorithm to determine where they’d live and work … together or apart for the first years of their marriage.

On Monday of Match Week, both learned they had indeed matched—somewhere—as did all of their medical school classmates. After sighing with relief, they held their breath for the next three days. On Friday, St. Patrick’s Day, they joined their fellow Netter School of Medicine students for a ceremony in Burt Kahn Court, complete with a champagne toast. The news they craved sat in individual “pots of gold” on a table in front. Claiming their envelopes, they gripped them tightly as families, faculty and staff joined them in a countdown to noon, when they and thousands of medical students around the country could tear them open. 

Whoops of elation, hugs, kisses and tears of joy erupted from every corner of the room as the students learned where they’d be heading this summer. All 58 members of the Netter School’s first class matched to a variety of prestigious programs, including Yale, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, the University of California at Los Angeles, Mount Sinai and the University of North Carolina. This milestone was perhaps the most significant in the school’s short history. 

Participating in The Match as a couple allows each applicant to link their ranked lists to obtain positions in the same geographic location. A couple will match to the most preferred pair of programs on their lists where each partner has been offered a position.

“As we descended down our preference list,” Subramanyam explained, “we listed options as a couple, but some with the two of us apart. For example, Alyson in Connecticut, Ven in Connecticut; Alyson in Connecticut, Ven in DC; Alyson in Connecticut, Ven in Florida.”

Cunningham and Subramanyam opened each other’s letters. “We had been joking about doing that, but once we picked up our respective envelopes, we decided, why not? We are in this together after all!” Cunningham said. Scanning the news, they quickly swapped letters.

“We just looked at each other and hugged,” she said. “There was a mutual understanding of shared excitement and relief. We not only matched at the same program—UConn—but also at a very desirable one.”

“I put down roots here and I made a lot more friends than I expected to, so I will definitely miss it. Med school was tough, but rewarding. I’m ready,” says Matthew Abrishamian, who headed to Drexel for emergency medicine.

“The fact that they all obtained a residency position and matched into many high-quality programs across the country is a testament to the excellence of our students as well as the quality of the education they received at the Netter School,” said Dr. Bruce Koeppen, the school’s founding dean.

Koeppen explained that before medical students can be licensed to practice medicine in any of the 50 states, they need to pass the three steps of the U.S. Licensing Examination and complete at least two years of a residency (usually three or more years in length). Students take the first two exams while in medical school and the third during their residency training.

“If a student does not match into a residency program, he or she can never be a licensed physician,” he said.

The Netter School had no reputation among residency programs, and the underlying fear was that such programs might not want to take a chance on students from a newer medical school, he added. Furthermore, he noted that if a medical school were to develop a reputation for graduating individuals who do not match into residency programs, its applicant pool eventually would disappear.

Twelve percent of Netter graduates are entering family medicine, which exceeds the national average of 7 percent and complements the school’s primary care mission. Subramanyam and Cunningham are among 12 students who matched in Connecticut; 5 matched in other New England states, 13 in New York, 11 in California, 6 in Pennsylvania, 2 each in North Carolina and Texas, and 1 each in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The couple will alternate work shifts among Hartford Hospital, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington and St. Francis Hospital in Hartford. They’ll live in nearby West Hartford, where she was raised. Serving as vice president of her class and founding president of the Netter branch of the American Medical Women’s Association, Cunningham appreciated the chance to shape the Netter School’s culture.

Subramanyam plans to specialize in emergency medicine. For his capstone course, he produced and directed a public service video to educate coaches, parents and student athletes about avoiding youth concussions.

Separate ways

At left, Nicole Gordon, MD ’17, headed to a residency at the University of California at Davis while classmate James Fraser, MD ’17, was matched to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

California Connection

Nicole Gordon, MD ’17, who is pursuing a career in family medicine, was too nervous to open her envelope; instead, her husband, David Bernstein, did the honors. The result? The University of California at Davis. “I’m from California, and this was definitely in my top three,” she exclaimed.

Gordon said family medicine will allow her to maintain long-term relationships with patients versus meeting them briefly in a hospital setting. During one clerkship, she recalled the case of a toddler suffering with a MRSA infection in his leg. “He was screaming with pain. His mother was beside herself at her child’s discomfort,” she said. Even changing his dressing was becoming a nightmare.

“Then the child’s pediatrician came in, and the mom knew him, and all the tension in the room melted. That showed me the power of having a doctor-patient relationship outside of the hospital, with trust built up over time.”

Yale Bound

An emotional Erin White, MD ’17, was thrilled to land her top choice for general surgery: Yale University. Originally from California, she loves living on the East Coast. “It was wonderful here; I loved the faculty when I visited the school—and they totally delivered. I appreciate all the support we got.”

Big City Medicine

Matthew Abrishamian, MD ’17, learned he’d be heading to Philadelphia for an emergency medicine residency at Drexel University. “Wow, this is the end of weeks and weeks of nerves,” said Abrishamian. “I’m a big city guy, so I’m happy about going to Philly. I put down roots here and I made a lot more friends than I expected to, so I will definitely miss it. Med school was tough, but rewarding. I’m ready.”

Surgical Precision

Echoing that sentiment was James Fraser, MD ’17, who was ecstatic to match to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where he will do a residency in general surgery. The aspiring surgeon credits surgical clerkship director Dr. Christine Van Cott of St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport for guiding him in that direction.

“I completed my third-year surgery clerkship at St. Vincent’s and fell in love with the technical aspects of surgery and the team dynamic that I felt was unique to the specialty,” he noted.

By his fourth-year surgery sub-internship, after he had the opportunity to instruct underclassmen, Fraser uncovered a passion for teaching and mentoring. “There is a unique ability for those in the field of surgery to teach in multiple arenas—in the OR, by the bedside with medical management, on rounds, and in clinic. I really enjoy the challenge of having medical students and team members rely on me for accurate and concise instruction, advice and guidance. It’s exactly what I want to do for the rest of my career.”

Fraser said Van Cott’s love for teaching and passion for what she does resonated with him and motivated him to become better in all aspects of his training. He attributed much of his success to the surgical oncologist.

At Commencement in May, Van Cott addressed the first class to graduate from Netter, reminding them, “Being a doctor is not just a job or a career, it’s your identity. Do the right thing, and don’t stop asking questions.”

Emergency Medicine

Kevin Kuo, MD ’17, knows ER doctors must be prepared for anything that walks through the door, ready to react at a moment’s notice. But the 27-year-old medical student was not prepared for the emotions he’d feel watching a young person fight for his life.

Last summer during Kuo’s clerkship at Mount Sinai-St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, a 20-year-old college student came in with a high fever and a cough he couldn’t shake. A workup revealed pneumonia in both lungs, a higher-than-normal heart rate, and low blood pressure. The ER team diagnosed him with sepsis, a life-threatening complication of an infection.

Prepared for anything

Kevin Kuo, MD ’17, works in the emergency department at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he completed an ultrasound clerkship before heading to Mount Sinai-St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

In a few hours, the patient progressed to septic shock. When his oxygen levels plummeted, a breathing tube was inserted. And then the young man’s heart stopped. Kuo’s own heart accelerated as a code was called. The aspiring ER doctor took his turn performing heart compressions, each two minutes in length, as the team toiled for an hour to bring the young man back.

“By my eighth cycle, I was drenched in sweat, my arms were numb, and my hands were sore, but I didn’t want to give up,” Kuo said. “I kept thinking, this young guy isn’t supposed to die like this.”

The moment when the physician in charge pronounced the time of death for the unresponsive young man is etched in Kuo’s memory. He knows it won’t be the last patient he loses.

He officially became a doctor on May 14, when the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine awarded doctor of medicine degrees to him and 57 other members of its inaugural class. On Match Day, Kuo learned that Mount Sinai wanted him back, this time as a resident in emergency medicine.

Kuo’s experience in the ER that day taught him there is more to medicine than treating the patient—someone needed to deliver the tragic news to the young man’s family.

“It made me realize what an impactful role doctors have in this life-changing moment families will remember forever. And I also realized there will be patients out there who, regardless of how much we do, will end up dying anyway.”

Kuo, who grew up in California, said basic medical services were considered unaffordable luxuries for his family. He chose emergency medicine because he enjoys treating patients from every socioeconomic status and people from diverse cultures. “In today’s political climate, some people feel health care is a privilege and not a right, and I strongly oppose that view,” he said.

During his third year of medical school, Kuo spearheaded the creation of the Netter School of Medicine’s Bobcat Community Health Clinic, which is operated monthly during the academic year by seven to 10 volunteer medical students and professors out of the Weisman Americares Free Clinic in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s most populous city. The clinic provides underserved individuals with screenings for diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol and BMI under the direction of a licensed physician who also prescribes medicines. More than 70 medical students volunteer during the academic year under the supervision of faculty. This fall, the clinic hopes to offer acute walk-in medical care services to the uninsured.

“We saw the need for an increase in health care access for this community, and I wanted to leave a legacy of impact and service. We visited some sites and asked the medical personnel if they would like assistance from medical students,” Kuo said.

The group was prepared with Spanish interpreters, but was surprised at the diversity of languages spoken by patients, especially those who spoke French Creole, which Kuo described as a hard-to-reach pocket within the community. “They had the most need, and they don’t have the access or the ability to seek out care,” Kuo said.

Kuo chose emergency medicine because he enjoys treating patients from every socioeconomic status and people from diverse cultures. “In today’s political climate, some people feel health care is a privilege and not a right, and I strongly oppose that view.”

In recognition of his efforts with the clinic, Kuo was presented at Commencement with the U.S. Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award, which recognizes medical students who have had a positive impact on public health in their communities. He also received the Gerald R. Berg, MD Service Award, for selfless and compassionate service to the community.

In addition to Mount Sinai, Kuo had clerkships at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, the Netter School’s primary clinical partner, and also at Stanford in California. He was impressed by the breadth of his experiences at each of them. “I couldn’t be happier with my education,” he said. “The faculty and clinicians teaching us were supportive of my endeavors and interests from day one, and I’ve made friends for a lifetime.”

Being a member of the school’s first class, he was a bit hesitant at first. After all, the school had received preliminary accreditation, but the full certification didn’t come until this past March.

Both his mother and his significant other, Sarah, a teacher in Southern California, flanked him on Match Day as he tore open his letter to learn that the couple would be continuing their long-distance relationship. “She loves New York City, and we will visit back and forth,” he said.

Emergency medicine is at the top of the high-burnout medical specialties, but Kuo said the profession is taking steps to mitigate that now. He’s young and raring to go, but as he grows older, he admits the stress could take its toll. 

For today, he relishes the intellectual challenge inherent in emergency medicine. “These patients don’t have a history on record, and if they crash on you, they could die right in front of you. I’ll have to figure out in a short amount of time what’s wrong, make that decision based on the information provided, and let my clinical judgment and instincts take over. The most I can hope for is that I do my best,” he said.

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