Almost 30 years ago, Trine Engebretsen made history — and national headlines — as Florida’s first liver-transplant recipient. On Friday, Engebretsen added to her pioneering life story as she joined 32 other Florida International University students in the school’s first graduating medical school class.
With graduation only a month away, Friday was “Match Day,” an annual ritual that takes place simultaneously in medical schools around the country.
Each school structures its event differently, but the common thread is this: Match Day is when graduating med school students are paired with the teaching hospitals where they will spend the next few years as residents. Students publicly read their “match” aloud by opening an envelope during a ceremony that combines graduation day euphoria with Academy Awards-type suspense.
For FIU — where hundreds of students, family members, and administrators gathered in a balloon-decorated auditorium — it was a test of whether the brand-new medical school would be well received by the greater healthcare community. With FIU achieving 100 percent graduate placement (often with students landing their first or second choice), that answer was a resounding yes. When announcing their match onstage, students frequently thrust their hands in the air in celebration.
Nationally, about 93 percent of medical students land a Match Day residency.
For Engebretsen, it was the story of a life come full circle. It was while at FIU that the 31-year-old woman from Fort Lauderdale discovered she not only wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but she wanted to be a surgeon — one day she plans to perform the same liver transplant operation that saved her own life as a child.
“I’m able to pay it forward and give back in a new way, and I really like that,” Engebretsen said. She is headed to Medical Center of Central Georgia.
Her husband, Ryan, received a liver transplant in 2008. The pair met while serving as mentors for a website that counsels families affected by liver disease.
Nineteen months ago, Engebretsen gave birth to a son, Andersen. It was a high-risk pregnancy, and its success was noteworthy enough that the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center held a news conference pronouncing him the first baby born to two liver transplant recipients.
FIU’s 33 graduating students had a total of five babies while in med school, with a sixth on the way. Inexplicably, all the babies were boys — another medical rarity. The chances of having six boys in a row are only about 1.5 percent, said J. Patrick O’Leary, executive associate dean of clinical affairs for FIU’s med school. But O’Leary said it was the students’ strong academic performance — as evidenced by their Match Day success — that really stands out.
“I don’t think that we selected them on the basis of their ability to produce a male progeny,” O’Leary joked. “What we’ve shown is that they’ve turned out to be pretty good medical students.”
Dean of the medical school John Rock said more than half of this year’s graduates will be going into primary care, and about a third landed residencies in Florida. Those two numbers are key, as increasing the supply of primary-care physicians — and making sure a good number stay in Florida — were two of the main justifications for state leaders’ decision to grant FIU a medical school in 2006. FIU’s College of Medicine officially opened its doors three years later.
The residency location is important because most young doctors end up settling down in the city where they perform their residency.
Rock said FIU students must compete with those from across the country for the Florida spots, and the one-third who landed in-state positions is about what he expected. Rock said some of those who are traveling to other states may well return to South Florida after they complete their residency because of family ties and the region’s unique appeal.
Across town, other medical schools were also participating in Match Day festivities. All but three of the University of Miami’s 187 graduates were matched Friday, about 43 percent of them landing a Florida residency, up from 33 percent last year. Roughly 41 percent of UM graduates will be going into primary care.
At FIU, the afternoon ceremony was just the beginning of the celebration. Students and administrators all chipped in money (students $5, administrators $100) to a basket that was given to the student whose “match” envelope was the last to be called. That student is expected to buy the first round of drinks later on, though he can spend the remainder of the money however he wishes.
“Since it’s agony to wait. At least if you’re the last one, you get the pot of money,” said FIU student Christine Matthews.