Alumni Association support helps propel Match Day forward

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A mix of nervous laughter and sound advice merged inside the Zembo Shrine Building in Harrisburg.

The messages and well wishes were directed toward Penn State College of Medicine fourth-year students about to embark on the next step of their professional journey, and their families and friends who joined them on this momentous occasion.

Some breakfast staples helped to momentarily squelch the anxiety, only because all the soon-to-be-professionals knew the real reason why they had gathered together.

The reason: Penn State’s Match Day, a special annual event that the Alumni Association endowed with a gift of $300,000 last decade. During Match Day, held March 17, Penn State medical students joined others nationwide to learn their respective futures, opening envelopes that told them where they’d be completing their residencies.

“Let your patients surprise you … and when you get to your next destination, walk in with a mind that is open,” said Summer Schultz, a fourth-year medical student who delivered the Match Day address to a room comprising 134 graduates.

Schultz was the last of a handful of scheduled speakers, including Penn State Alumni Association President Kevin Steele ’92g and Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Society President Kirk Hinkley ’04.

Hinkley’s Match Day in 2004 “was very lackluster, there was no fanfare,” he said. It took place in a lecture hall, and there wasn’t enough space for families to attend. Additionally, food wasn’t served. Students accepted their envelopes, then walked to the front of the room and announced their matches.

Hinkley was a military match, so he knew ahead of time where he was going, “but it’s a special day regardless,” he said.

Much has changed since then, made possible with the endowment.  

“The difference is the celebration, the difference is the presence of friends and family, and the difference is that now the Penn State Alumni Association and the rest of the University system as a whole has taken an interest in it,” Hinkley said.

“It’s a special event, and I think it should be shared with the rest of the Alumni Association.”

The event had been held at a local country club in recent years, with organizers hearing feedback and taking notes this time around for future Match Days. After speakers addressed the room for close to an hour, there was a short break before each student received his or her envelope.

Then, there was more waiting. Something of a running joke emerged, with students knowing their future could be unsealed at any time, though they all knew they had to to wait until noon. That’s the designated time for all medical students — at Penn State and around the country — to learn where they’ll be heading.

Hinkley added that the hope is that each student’s residency ranked them as high as the student ranked the institution, and the results can lead to a highly emotional scene, he said. It’s possible that a student will be accepted at his or her second or third choice, which can sometimes mean relocating to the other side of the country.

As mentioned, Match Day is a national event, with Hinkley and others in attendance saying that adds to the significance.

And while students are now planning to join residencies across the country, one of the lasting messages delivered on Match Day reinforced that no physical barrier can remove them from Penn State.

From A. Craig Hillemeier, dean of Penn State’s College of Medicine:

“No matter where you land, you’ll always be a part of the Penn State family, and we’ll always be immensely proud of you.”

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Last Updated April 10, 2017