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All in the family: Family, classmate bonds buoy School of Medicine students at Match Day

Whether it’s surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, anesthesiology or any of the 16 specialty areas into which future Creighton University School of Medicine physicians were matching residencies on March 16, the members of the Class of 2018 have been thoroughly schooled in a special kind of family medicine, too.

Match Day, the annual unveiling of where, after four years, medical students around the nation will be taken next in their journeys, inspires much in the way of emotion. Students called to the podium in the Harper Center ballroom to open an envelope and announce their future plans to all the world via livestream often bring spouses, parents, siblings, children up with them for support, and acknowledge the collective anxiety and confidence that electrifies the air between themselves and that other family — their classmates.

“We’re a really tight class, always have been,” said Sarah Pietruszka, who matched into an obstetrics and gynecology residency at Wake Forest University. “The people you see here are like my family, both my classmates and the faculty. They’ve always held me up when I needed it.”

Having practiced as a physical therapist prior to making her medical school decision, Pietruszka launched the new endeavor four years ago, just four months after she and her husband, Drew, welcomed their son, Seeger. Four years later, the Pietruszka family of three was front row and center as Sarah learned the course for their lives over the next few years.

“Going to medical was always something I felt that I wanted to do but I wondered if I could be the kind of mom I wanted to be and also be the kind of medical student I wanted to be,” she said. “My husband was unable to be with me often in that first year, so these people very much became my support system and it’s meant so much to me so I can’t help but celebrate for them and be so proud of them. This is a special group.”

When his father died just after Thanksgiving last year, Matt Chapman discovered just how special a bond he’d found among this class of future physicians. “I heard from everyone,” said Chapman, who is bound for Washington University in St. Louis for a psychiatry residency.

“The genuine support, the love that was there underscored what a family we are. It feels like a high school class, we’re so connected, and we have been since the beginning.”

Matt Chapman’s father, Dr. Kenneth Chapman, MD, was an orthopedic surgeon in the Cleveland area, and Matt was joined onstage by his mother, aunt and a friend as he learned his match.

“I feel he was there, too,” Matt said. “And I know he’s proud. Medicine is always something I wanted to do from the time I was little and I was going with my dad on rounds. Then I was shadowing him in high school and working as an assistant in his office. I have aunts who are nurses and my mother was an ER nurse. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m happy to be able to add another Dr. Chapman into the family.”

The generational continuity was also at work for Michaela McCarthy, who matched for an orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Minnesota. Her father, Dr. Jack McCarthy, MD, is an orthopedist in Omaha. “I always wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t always want to be in orthopedics,” Michaela said.

“That came about in medical school. I always wanted to do something procedural and I don’t think my dad could have been happier than when I told him that orthopedics is what I wanted to do. Since I found out I matched in the specialty, he’s been nonstop letting everyone know.”

Still flush with the nervous excitement of the announcement, McCarthy said the support of classmates and seeing where everyone was headed made the day a brilliant culmination of the last four years the class has spent together.

“It’s an anxiety-provoking event,” she said. “But I think it’s happening just the way it’s meant to happen. We’ve been a close, supportive class and we’re all rooting for one another on Match Day, what more could you ask for?”

Of the 146 students participating in Match Day, 97 percent matched into their number one specialty. Creighton medical students are bound for residency programs at the Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education, Northwestern University, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, Emory University, Rush Medical College, Stanford University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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